“Death of a Salesman,” the brainchild of the American playwright Arthur Miller, has long been controversially acclaimed as a modern American tragedy despite seemingly “‘pointless academic quibbles'” (Weales, 1962 as cited in Otten, 1999, p. 280+). Receiving the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Death of a Salesman” simultaneously manages to win over audiences’ hearts while entertaining critics’ debates from the amalgamation of intertwined and conflicting contentions. While these debates rage over “the viability of tragedy in the modern age,” one theme becomes prevalent on both sides – that of a “severely flawed society” (Otten, 1999, p. 280+). This ultimately begets questioning and analyzing the interactions between the assorted pressures in the environment and the protagonist, Willy Loman, contributing to “regression” that deepens his “existential inwardness” (Tyson, 1992).This essay intends to resolve the inquiry through analogizing the climate of “Death of a Salesman” to that of chemistry’s phase diagram. A phase diagram depicts certain conditions including pressure, temperature, and volume at which thermodynamically distinct phases occur (see Figure 1 that relates pressure and temperature). Moreover, it is especially important to consider the coexistence of states. Observing the line between points A and B, we notice that any given material will both transition between a solid and gaseous phase as well as exist as both a solid and a gas state at the infinite set of distinct pressure and temperature pairs. A similar phenomenon occurs along the line between points B and D for the solid and liquid phases as well as points B and C for the liquid and solid states. For demonstrational purposes, imagine a pot of water – the coordinate representing the specific temperature and pressure of the water is contained within the liquid portion of the graph. As the pot is heated, the temperature rises, so the coordinate representing the water shifts to the right along the temperature axis. Soon, it approaches the line between points B and C, and through observation, we define that as boiling. While most individuals commonly understand boiling happening at 100° C, the chart indicates that boiling can occur at a lower temperature if pressure decreases – explaining why water is more easily boiled at higher altitudes where the air pressure is lower. Furthermore, the chart interpolates that within the set of infinite points of temperature and pressure, there exists some temperature, T, and some pressure, P, at which the material coexists at all three states – solid, liquid, and gas – known as the triple point.These perfect conditions for the triple point resemble the existential crisis described throughout works of philosophy and flawlessly depict the plight of Willy Loman. Ergo, two factors in the right dosages contribute to his demise – temperature and pressure.Equating temperature with societal competitiveness, we may note that play is encircled by the hope of the American dream. Indeed,Miller’s play is infused with the myth of the American dream which is the belief that an individual’s value as a person is tied to the socioeconomic success that individual has attained since socioeconomic success in America is limited only by the individual’s ability and ambition. (Tyson, 1992)Miller perfectly paints this chimerical dream in order to create an environment of unjustified tension. Through the words of Willy himself, “The competition is maddening!” and that competition forces the “temperature” of Willy Loman’s phase diagram to rise (Miller, 1965). This tension forges constant competition on the assumption that Willy Loman’s socioeconomic status entirely under the control of himself. This dream functions as a double-edged sword. While Loman subscribes to the mentality that he is responsible for his own success, he collapses under the hidden burden of volatility in normal life. Two alternate realities exist in a world without the deception of the dream. The first postulates an optimistic scenario, where Loman could step back to gain fuller understanding of the world around him, worrying less about the ungovernable facets of life. The second posits a desolate future, where Loman is entirely burdened knowing that his future is entirely out of his hands and believing that any effort is impotent. In the realm of chemistry, the former suggests that the temperature would cool to transition to a solid, but the latter indicates a gaseous state – both missing the optimal temperature to achieve the triple point (of existentialism, in Loman’s case).The similarity between Miller’s play and thermodynamics intersect yet again through pressures, which can be analyzed in their societal context. The pressure manifests through Loman’s interactions at work with Howard Wagner, who takes the helm of the company being significantly younger than Loman. The age gap highlights significant differences between the two: while Wagner appears cool and confident, Loman seems to be stubborn and uncertain; while Wagner thrives with newer technologies, Loman is baffled by the thought of a tape recorder. The world seems to be leaving him behind in the one “stable” aspect of his life – his work. In fact, Koprince concludes that Willy Loman is “beaten down by the pressures of modernity” (Koprince, 2012). While work tears Willy apart, opportunities keep him together. From Willy’s daydreaming of the possibilities for Biff to the constant recollection of the success of his brother, Ben, Loman faces constant constructive pressure that counteracts the role of work in societal pressure. These adverse forces keep Loman in the threshold of being pressured enough to succeed, but not enough to lose hope.These perfect conditions culminated in death of Willy Loman – the inability to settle any decision and living on the boundary of the past, present, and future but not existing within any one of them. As Ben likens Willy to a diamond, noting that “A diamond is hard and rough to the touch,” he might not be comparing just the raw wealth of the diamond, but rather the perfect conditions to ensure its existence (Miller, 1965).
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