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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.66, No.4, 765 ~ 788, 2020
Reading Depression as a Disability in 20th Century American Plays: Focused on ’night, Mother and Death of a Salesman
Youn-gil Jeong
This paper explores the suicide of the protagonist in ’night, Mother and Death of a Salesman in the light of depression as the undiagnosed disability which can serve as a methodology in psychoanalytic criticism. By arguing that Jessie and Willy are depressed, I move beyond the common usage of the term depression as a synonym for sadness and consider depression as a debilitating illness. Many critics argue that Jessie and Willy want to control their lives and that their suicide enacts that desired control. While most individuals would agree that they are depressed in the colloquial sense of being merely unhappy, no critic has yet explored their depression as a mental disorder. I insist we understand depression in its medical context, for in so doing, we discover that their suicide must be a relinquishing, rather than a regaining. This paper first recognizes clinical depression as it is manifest in their lives, and second, engages the claims of the critics referenced who fail to consider depression in their readings. I argue that the two protagonists’ thinking and behavior demonstrate a mental disability. Thus, their decision to die is not a free choice, but one informed by their illness. For this reason, their suicide can’t be viewed as the rational conclusion to an unsatisfying life. This study could contribute to deepening our understanding of the psyche as well as provide a haunting, potential case study for untreated disorder.
Key Words
depression, disability, suicide, negative self-schema, anxiety
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