“Death of Two Families” The plays Hamlet and Death of a Salesman have many themes in common, but two of the important themes from both plays are family and love. These two themes are the most prevalent in both plays. Family seems to be the fundamental theme throughout both of these plays; both having parents that want the best for their kids but do not interact with them very much. The love theme is a bit trickier because both do not show it directly, but hint to it throughout their plays, they both have love interests, which distract them from what they are trying to accomplish.
In Hamlet the theme of family is very significant. The play is notorious for the way it dwells on the issue of incest – Gertrude’s marriage to her dead husband’s brother, Hamlet’s fixation on his mother, and even Laertes’s obsession with Ophelia’s sexuality. An example of Hamlet speaking of his mother’s incest shows up in act 1 scene 2, “[…]She married:- O, most wicked speed, to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! […]” It’s also important to note how the play is particularly concerned with the way politics impact the dynamics of family relationships, especially when domestic harmony is sacrificed for political gain.
Also of importance is the fact that Hamlet involves three revenge plots that all hinge on sons avenging the deaths of their fathers. As with Hamlet, Death of a Salesman has a major theme of family. Willy believes in what he considers the promise of the “American Dream”, owning a house, having a wife, two children and a white picket fence and the idea that a “well-liked” and “attractive” man will lead to a life of fortune and riches.
Oddly enough he becomes obsessed with that idea after his brother tells him that he can become rich if he had gone to the jungle with him, but Willy believes that you have to have a job in the city and be a travailing salesman to have what he considers the American Dream. That assumption is based on the fact that he idolizes a dead salesman who was a single man that died alone on a train. Love is a theme in both Death of a Salesman and Hamlet. In Hamlet’s case though it is more complicated.
The role of sex and love must be viewed in the perspective of Hamlet’s mental involvement in general, and his emotional state unemotional states. Hamlet expresses his anger and restlessness through sexual aggression. And by losing all hope with regards to Ophelia, he loses almost all trust in love. The “loss of love” feeling combined with his sexual aggressions might be some of the key factors in Hamlet. His loss in Ophelia’s love is shown in Act 3 scene 1 when he tells her, “No, not I; I never gave you aught. ” He tells her this when she tries to return his love notes to him.
Without this “emotional disorder” Hamlet might not have achieved his revenge. In Death of a Salesman, love is also present. Willy loved his family very much; he wanted everything for them and for them to live happy lives, but his idea of the “American Dream” and his “condition”, blinded him from seeing what is truly important. The idea of the stockings comes into play a few times during the play. One time when Willy is in the hotel room with the woman and the other when his wife Linda is mending a stocking on the table in the kitchen, as seen in act one, “I won’t have you mending stockings in this house!
Now throw them out! ” Willy has a sudden connection between both his Wife and the woman and it becomes a metaphorical weight as the symbol of betrayal and sexual infidelity. New stockings are important for both Willy’s pride in being financially successful and thus able to provide for his family and for Willy’s ability to ease his guilt about, and suppress the memory of, his betrayal of Linda and Biff. Death of a Salesman portrays a certain style of family life. Willy believes in the idea of the “American Dream” with a wife, kids, house and a white picket fence out front.
Willy also believes that he needed to be well liked and well loved by everyone so that once he passed away he would have a huge funeral, with hundreds of people in attendance. Willy’s failure to recognize the anguished love offered to him by his family is crucial to the climax of his torturous day, and the play presents this incapacity as the real tragedy. Despite this failure, Willy makes the most extreme sacrifice in his attempt to leave an inheritance that will allow Biff to fulfill the American Dream.
This just shows that Willy would go to the ends of the earth for his family; meaning killing himself to leave the money for Biff to fulfill his American Dream, then that makes Willy a real hero. This is scorned in the end when Biff belittled his father saying the man did not know what he should have done in his life, being a construction worker or carpenter. Hamlet also portrays a certain style of family life, although different then the one in Death of a Salesman, it is still a major theme. I think Hamlet tried to be loyal like his dad but once he died, he became power corrupt and power hungry. A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow’d my poor father’s body, Like Niobe, all tears:–why she, even she– O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourned longer–married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules [.. ] ” Hamlet frequently complained that his mother didn’t mourn for his dead father long enough and here, his choppy sentences reveal his anguish over the fact that Gertrude was “all tears” at Old Hamlet’s funeral procession but quickly got over her seeming grief.
Even animals or “beasts” grieve for longer periods of time, Hamlet says. Willy Loman’s parenting style wasn’t like what an ordinary parent. He was willing to give his own life, to make sure his sons and wife had a better life then he did. That is the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of his family to give his own life. Even thought Willy was a “Low-Man” he still tried to provide for his family and even through he wanted the “American Dream” he ended up falling short of that dream, but ending up passing it on to his sons, or rather son, because Happy was the only son who wanted to fulfill his father’s dream.
Unlike in Death of a Salesman, Hamlet has a whole other side to the parenthood. Hamlet’s dad died, and his mom was sad and in grief for a while and then got over it. Hamlet’s reaction to that was not pretty, along with the fact that she wanted to marry Claudius turns Hamlet cynical about women in general. In conclusion, there are two major themes in Death of a Salesman and Hamlet; one being love and the other family. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, ants what is best for his family sometimes not making the right choices and in Hamlet’s case, after his father dies, he looses all trust in women, because his mother marries his uncle right after the death. In Death of a Salesman, Willy is caught cheating on his wife by his oldest son Biff and he looses all trust and respect for his dad. In Hamlet, after his mom wants to marry his uncle Hamlet stops telling Ophelia that he loves her and looses all trust in women completely. Though these two plays were written in different time periods these themes seem to be timeless and easily relatable to modern day trials.