The Existentialism Philosophy by Jean Paul Sartre on the Example of The Death of a Salesman

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Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2090 Words
Date:  2021-03-14

One of the main features that distinguish human beings from other creatures is the fact that they possess free will that makes them conscious of the consequences of the choices they make in life. They thus have to live and make better choices that will lead to better consequences that will help them in life. This is a feature that has been discussed by different philosophers who believe in the power of choices and freedom to make such choices. One of the most popular schools of thought that touches on the aspect of human freedom and choices made in life is the existentialism philosophy advocated by Jean Paul Sartre. According to this philosophy, human beings have to live an authentic life that makes them account for the choices they make in their life. Sartre warns of bad faith in the quest of human beings to live an authentic life. Bad faith occurs when the freedom possessed by human beings throws men into an existential anguish that renders him in a state of inauthenticity. It makes them believe that they are not in control of the issues happening in their lives. The consequences of bad faith thus lead them to assume or pretend that it is beyond their power to do what they ought to do when in actual sense they know. This state makes one assume a victim of circumstance tag in their life. It is for this reason that most authors and scholars have addressed some social concerns in the society using the concept of bad faith. Of the many cases of bad faith addressed in modern literature, none comes closer to depicting the bad faith in The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. It is the aim of this essay to show how Willy Loman's life was an example of bad faith as compared to his son who makes a turning point and starts living an authentic life as pointed out by Sartre in his treatise on Bad Faith, Being and nothingness.

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In his treatise on Bad Faith Being and Nothingness, Jean Paul Sartre points at one of the main reasons why human beings fail to live authentic lives is the fact that they allow themselves to stick to the conventional path. They have been blinded by the allure of their comfort zones by believing that there is a laid plan and way of doing something. This leads to a limitation that makes them fail to see the other possibilities that exist in their lives. Once the choices become limited, it becomes apparent that a person will succumb to the effects of bad faith which entails living under the mercies of the circumstances that they find themselves. This makes the person become more of an object which Sartre refers to as being in itself and not being-for itself. Arthur Millers portrayal of a character such as Willy Loman is a perfect example of a person living in bad faith as seen in the manner in which he places much emphasis on outward appearance of life in terms of the materialistic concept rather than on a virtuous one.

Jean-Paul Sartre traces the origin of bad faith to human inauthenticity. He argues that it is impossible for human beings to flee from freedom of making choices, responsibility and anguish. Therefore those who choose to believe that there is already a pre-determined course of action and whatever happens to them is way beyond their control only deceive themselves. Essentially Sartre evokes the paradox in running away from responsibility and frustration of making bad choices. He points that such people are inevitably making a choice to plunge themselves in bad faith. Because their counterparts who are living in good faith make the tough decision to strive for authenticity and are constantly aware of the possibility to slip into bad faith (Sartre and Barnes, 2015). In Miller's work we realize that the characters living in bad faith are those who perceive themselves as victims and the ones running away from making choices that befit their current status. Willy Loman is a typical case of a character who was living in self-deception and fails to take charge of his life. He fails to make tough choices that would contradict his false sense of hope.

According to Richelle E. Goodrich there would be no cloud-nine days without rock bottom moments left below. She reminds us that even as we celebrate the uplifting moments in life we should be cognizant that the rough moments are also part of the package. Unfortunately when the dark days strike, many are overwhelmed and instead of accepting the current status they live in denial. This is a perfect case of Willy Loman who constantly lives in a state of denial and fails to recognize the mistakes he has made in life. He thus detaches himself from the reality and lives a fantasy that he so much clings on with the false belief that he was on the right track. It is this case of bad faith and false sense of hope that makes him fall victim to the existential crisis as pointed by Sartre.

In a desperate search for his past Willy Loman does not succeed to rediscover himself and his family support in his career. When he finally decides to commit suicide this only grants him partial discovery of the truth. Willy manages to achieve a basic nature of sales profession which offers him a professional of himself. Unfortunately he is blinded by his colorful career to realize his personal failure and betrayal of his soul and family. Arthur Miller points out that Willy Lomans decision to focus on the aspect of perfection costs him his true comprehension of his emotional and spiritual aspect of his life as Loman and not just as a salesman. It is the incapacity to realize the anguishing love that his family offered that proves to be a real tragedy that tortures him. He attempts to redeem himself by living an inheritance to Biff that will enable him to realize the American Dream.

Willys behavior ties with Sartre's patterns of bad faith. In an attempt to elaborate the formula of bad faith using various analogies, Sartre uses an example of a woman who has consented to go out on a date with a particular man for the first time. The man showers her with complements filled with sexual innuendo but she consciously ignores the intention to maintain what he describes as the first approach. The lady realizes it will be important for her to make a decision sooner or later but she does not want realize the urgency. Because she disarms the actions of her companion and allows herself to enjoy his desires to the extent of not being able to tell what she really wants, the woman is considered to act in bad faith. Through an examination of Willy's case one is able to realize how he allowed himself to be absorbed in salvaging his career despite knowing that he had a personal obligation to take care of his family. His assumption that his family would be impressed by his self-recovery and ignoring their love and attention meant that he had sacrificed his family over his career. From Sartre's analogies Willy had acted in bad faith by being self-centered and assuming the needs of his family.

Willys desire to realize his full commercial and material capacity further turned him into a being in itself as opposed to being-for itself thus an indication of bad faith as described by Sartre. The decisions he made in life were not informed by his conscious self but by the desire to be a successful salesman. This made it difficult to realize that he was detaching himself from those most important to him, his family. The final mantra by Ben that The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds enable us to understand Willy's suicidal thoughts as moral struggle because he realized he had lost the most essential part of his life in attempt to secure material possession (Miller 2015). It finally dawns to Willy that the product he actually sells is himself as he always absent in his family. As Willy Contemplates on the imaginary advise from Ben his assertion to Charley catches up with him that, after all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up being worth more dead than alive.

Willy's lack of a vision for his future makes him question his purpose for existence. In his existential writings, Sartre tackles the importance of having this vision. According to Sartre's conception of the existence of human beings, vision plays an integral part in the determination of how human beings can live an authentic life. It is therefore imperative that an individual who has no concept of how his or her future will turn out to end up failing due to an existential crisis. Willys decision to commit suicide at the end of the play thus underpins his inability to escape the existential crisis. The burden of the past carried out by Willy is evident in his constant day-dreams which further highlight his false hope and delusions of grandeur (Miller 2015). Essentially this marks an initial phase of him coming to terms with the realization that his vision as a successful salesman was inconsistent with his reality and capabilities. This is thus a detachment that shows his lack of vision for the future and thus drives him to the condition of living in bad faith as pointed out by Sartre.

It is also evident that Willy is living a bad faith as can be seen in the manner in which he fails to confront his history. This failure is crucial because it leads him into failing to develop an identity of his own and that which is expected of him by the society. Despite his desires to do so, he fails to reproduce an identity that has been thrust upon him. In serving as a consolation, Willy convinces himself that his career is noble and worth to make him successful. He is also obsessed with preserving a high self-image that can be measured in monetary terms. According to Sartre, an individual lives in bad faith when he allows his career and life to be quantized in capitalistic terms as Willy was doing. In addition, Willy's eminent focus on preserving his sense of self-image makes him ignore the painful revelations of his true self and status. Even when he finally comes to grips with the reality that he has been living a false dream, he fails to amend the indecisions he had made in life and decides to stick on to his fallacy by committing suicide. By suicide, he exemplifies bad faith by trying to fulfill the inevitable aspect of fulfilling a fantasy rather than discard it or restore his family using different standards from his expectations. His rigid nature thus shows that he was living a bad faith.

Arthur Miller's portrayal of Willy shows that the deliberate efforts he makes to elevate his career as a salesman with integrity and all positive attributes exemplifies bad faith. This sense of self-elevation and glorification is one case of what living an inauthentic life is all about according to Sartre. For instance, this self-glorification in Willy Loman can be seen in his description of how his association with New Yorks Dave Singleman who had influenced his salesmanship. This can be seen when he states Hed go up to his room and pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, he made his living. And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. In trying to live as per how Dave Singleman had built his business empire, Willy was living a bad faith that he was not ready to change as can be seen in the quote in those days there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Willy's focus is just to get the attention that Dave had earned and not to live a better life according to his abilities and limitations. This is an indication of the inauthenticity in his life hence a case of bad faith in life as per Sartre's definition.

The choices one makes when confronted with an internal conflict that pits values of human relations and capitalism may determine whether one lives a bad faith or not. In this case of Willy, his...

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The Existentialism Philosophy by Jean Paul Sartre on the Example of The Death of a Salesman. (2021, Mar 14). Retrieved from

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