Death of a Salesman
Literary Analysis on Death of a Salesman
In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the conflict between a father and son shapes the overall meaning of the work and explains all of the adverse events that occur throughout. The sources of Willy and Biff’s conflicts, which include Biff’s delusional perception of the world as a result of ideas planted in him by his father, Biff’s discovery of his father’s affair, and Biff’s lack of business success all accumulate and result in the ultimate rivalry between the father and son.
Altogether, these contribute greatly to the formation of the concept that personal dreams and desire to achieve success can often negatively interfere with personal relationships, and causing people to loose sight of what is important in our lives, as Willy and Biff exemplify.
Throughout the play, there are flashbacks to Biff’s childhood as a successful athlete and motivated individual. Willy’s pride in his son’s accomplishments is apparent, as he constantly praises him saying, “Good work Biff!” (1561), yet Willy’s lack of acceptance of reality are as well.
Frequently Bernard, a studious young boy, appears and reminds Willy of Biff’s unsatisfactory grades, yet Willy refuses to admit these downfalls and does not accept the reality of his son’s situation. Willy merely tells Bernard, “Don’t be a pest, Bernard! What an anemic!” (1560), and dismisses the negative statements made about Biff. Bernard constantly reappears almost as a symbol of Biff’s conscience, telling him to study or else he will not graduate. Willy does not help the situation and completely combats Bernard’s efforts by filling Biff’s head with lies and selling him on the idea of the American Dream as something that is easily achieved, by giving simple advice such as, “Be liked and you will never want” (1561).
It is apparent that Willy weighs the importance of being well-liked and socially accepted more heavily than actual hard work and success, a negative reflection of his character. Willy preaches his philosophy that, “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead” (1561). This is purely ironic due to the fact that Willy is the man who creates a personal interest in the business world with men of high status, but when all of his friends pass away he is left with nothing but a glorified past to remember. This false reality that Willy paints for Biff fosters the conflict between father and son due to the fact that Biff fails as a result of the way he was raised. Biff follows his fathers ways and words, and by the time he takes his first job he has been raised to think that success and happiness will just come to him without excessive effort on his part.
As any son would look up to and admire his father, Biff took his father’s advice and therefore makes no excessive efforts and put forth minimal work expecting to become successful merely because of his personality. This sense of entitlement is clearly diminished when Biff fails to keep a job and ends up at home. Willy never takes the time to teach Biff a good work ethic, good values, and strong morals, because Willy himself has not even established these within his own character. Therefore Biff steals, does not work hard, and finds it hard to make it in the real world. Willy himself does not know what is important in life, does not have morals, and does not value his family relationships, therefore he has no way of teaching Biff these vital tools for success and happiness. The resentment Willy feels because of Biff’s lack of success becomes the main conflict throughout the play ultimately reflects negatively upon Willy’s lack of ability to achieve the American dream himself, displaying Willy’s overall weak character.
Biff’s discovery of his father’s affair serves as a main turning point for him as a character, a turning point that sends him downward into a life of struggle and lack of achievement. It is at this point that Biff loses respect for his father and begins to recognize the lie that he is living, thus making it a main source of conflict. Willy is in denial about his involvement with Biff’s failure in life, and when indirectly confronted by Bernard about the incident in Boston asking “What happened in Boston, Willy?” (1600), Willy becomes defensive, saying, “What are you trying to do, blame it on me? Don’t talk to me that way!” (1600). After being told about Biff’s reaction upon his return from Boston and the burning of his favorite University of Virginia shoes that symbolize Biff’s dreams and hopes for the future, Willy realizes the extent of impact that Biff’s discovery of the affair had. Willy’s lack of acceptance of reality adversely affects his relationship with Biff because he never takes responsibility for his affair or even has the courage to admit it to Biff.
As a result, when Biff discovers a woman in his father’s hotel room, he confronts his father, “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!” (1618) and all Willy can do is attempt to exercise his authority as a father which ultimately fails. Frequently throughout the play, Happy makes references to the man Biff used to be, asking him, “What happened, Biff? Where’s the old humor, the old confidence?” (1552). Learning about his father’s affair and seeing it firsthand that day in Boston was the turning point for Biff, the point where he grew up and realized that his father was a broken and defeated man, not the successful business man he portrayed himself as and used to be. As a result of this, Biff loses all respect for his father, and alternatively Willy begins to loathe Biff as well. Due to his discovery of the affair, Biff not only sees his father as a failed businessman, but a failed man. A man without money does not make him a bad man, but an adulterer who betrayed a woman who gave him everything cannot be forgiven in the eyes of a son.
Throughout Willy’s continuous failures and defeats, his wife still remains supportive of him and loving, constantly reminding him of her affection for him. Despite this, Willy still yearns to have what he does not and thus pursues an extramarital relationship with “the other woman.” It is clear that Willy finds some kind of comfort and validation in this affair with a woman who makes him feel wanted, yet his wife does the same therefore it is clearly a matter of greed. “Willy’s sense of failure, his belief that he has no right to his wife, despite Linda’s love for him, is what motivates Willy’s deceptions, and those of his sons after him” (Bloom, Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: Death of a Salesman).
This event contributes to the overall meaning of the work as a symbol of the failure of the American Dream by Willy, not only in terms of personal success but also in terms of family relationship and his family’s success. Not only does Willy cheat on his wife, loathe his son, and struggle to keep a job, but he has let his values go and seems to have no moral compass of right and wrong. It shows that he has failed in the business aspect of his life, and also in his morals.
Finally, Biff’s lack of success in the real world contributes largely to the conflict between him and his father. After having countless jobs over a period of several years, Biff returns home with loss of all hope of finding a steady job to support himself. Willy is disappointed by Biff’s lack of ability to succeed, and, “It is to Biff, the returning son, to whom Willy relates most affectively.” (Hadomi, Rhythm Between Father and Son.) It is because Willy can see so much of himself in Biff and relates so heavily to him that these resentful feelings arise.
Biff reflects his father’s failed ideals and expectations for himself, which are represented in Willy’s fantasies and flashbacks regarding Biff’s successful and glorious childhood, as well as expectations that Willy originally had for himself. Willy sees his failed life and career as a middle-aged man, and recognizes similar traits and qualities in Biff. Although he never expresses these, it is apparent that Willy largely sees himself in his son and thus takes out his anger for himself on Biff, resulting in constant fighting and conflict.
The conflicted relationship between Willy and Biff exemplifies the theme of the work that in one’s pursuit of professional and material success, it is easy to become preoccupied with superficial aspects of life while simultaneously losing sight of what matters most. Willy’s preoccupation with his quest for material fulfillment ultimately results in a flawed relationship with his family, and ultimately with his son Biff when Willy sees him following in his footsteps. This conflict between father and son is what shapes the theme of the work and serves to highlight Miller’s purpose and the greater meaning of the play; that nothing is more important than family. (Word Count: 1517)
Comparison of Joe Keller’s and Willy Loman’s Plays
Death of a Salesman and All of My Sons, two different plays written by distinguished playwright Arthur Miller, yet the two main characters Joe Keller and Willy Loman are notably identical to one another. Although both are not faced with similar situations, both Keller and Loman handle their situations with an ignorant and shallow mindset towards the world. Keller and Loman have significant tragic flaws which ultimately lead to their demise. Both characters are unable to accept reality the way others are capable of, the “American dream” has been corrupted and misinterpreted in their feeble minds, and abandonment has plagued them throughout their lives.
The “American dream” seems to play a monumental role in distinguishing what is essential to be successful. Joe Keller believes that his son, Chris, deserves the business he built from the ground, up and does absolutely everything in his power to ensure that Chris will obtain Joe’s business. In Joe’s eyes, risking the lives of soldiers, making an abomination out of his former “best friend”, and separating a family in order to keep his business running smoothly is deemed more worthy than doing the right thing.
Joe feels that he has done the right thing because he carried out these actions for his family.
Willy Loman’s interpretation of the “American dream” is a tad bit more extravagant; Willy believes that the key to success is a matter of whether a person is well-liked or not. Throughout the course of his professional career as a salesman, Willy constantly concocts lies stating how he is well-liked all over the Northeast, as well as his weekly salary. Willy also tried to bring the dream upon his son Biff. While Willy’s son Biff was a student in high school, Willy continuously fed Biff these fantasies that one day, Biff would become a great football player. Willy preferred brawn over brains in Biff. Willy was unable to live the American dream and thus ventured on through Biff vicariously. When Biff decided not to finish summer school and then explore new endeavors out west, Willy began to grow furious with Biff because he was unable to hover over Biff and “lead” him toward success.
In All of My Sons, Joe Keller is unable to perceive reality with his involvement in the busted airplane heads which led to the death of twenty-one soldiers of the Air Force. We the readers notice that the lie Joe tells to others has been so commonly practiced that it’s no longer a fabrication of Joe’s imagination, but in his opinion, the genuine truth. Joe becomes obsessive over Chris inheritance of Joe’s business and it seems as though he does this so that in the event that someone reveals the truth to Chris, there is no possible way that Chris could be ashamed after what his father did for him. Unfortunately for Joe, the truth is revealed too soon and Chris no longer is willing to follow in his father’s “murderous” footsteps; instead Chris is enraged by his father’s past actions and vows to either turn his father in or kill him.
Willy Loman is beaten down by his failure of him and his son to live up to his expectations. Unlike Joe, Willy’s altered perception of reality conflicts with his everyday life. He is over exhausted and constantly has flashbacks which deceive Willy’s perception of reality. His flashbacks usually consist of Willy’s overbearing confidence in Biff’s future.
Willy also has flashbacks where his successful brother shows up. To stack himself up against his brother’s success, Willy lies about how his business is prospering and how he nearly at the top of the metaphorical food chain in the sales world. In reality however, Willy is a struggling business man who barely makes ends meet. He needs to ask his friend Charley for money just to pay bills and make it seem like he is still making money so he is not a failure in the eyes of others. Willy resorts to these flashbacks when he faces adversity or when things are no longer in his control.
Another common theme that leads to both characters fatal demise is their life of abandonment. Joe Keller faced abandonment from his sons Chris and Larry. Chris stood by Joe until he figured out Joe’s lies and mishandling of his business. Joe caused the death of twenty-one other soldiers to Chris and Joe could not be forgiven. Chris abandoned him and was even willing to let Joe rot in prison for the rest of his life.
Larry, although now deceased, also abandoned Joe. After hearing news that Joe’s business was responsible for the deaths of his comrades in the Air Force, Larry decided to take his own life because he could not bear the fact that his father had done such a terrible thing. Chris read Larry’s suicide note to his father and this ultimately lead to Joe finally succumbing to all the pressure around him and forced him to end his life. Joe’s mistakes led to those around him abandoning him in the end, even though he did everything in his power to keep his loved ones surrounding him.
Willy Loman’s whole life was masked by abandonment. Willy grew up without ever really knowing his father, his brother and role model could care less if Willy were to rot in Hell, and most importantly to him, his sons seem to be embarrassed by him and refuse to stand by him through all of his troubles. Also his boss, Howard, fires Willy when Willy is no longer of use to him and can no longer contribute positively towards the sales company.
When at the restaurant, Willy’s son Happy goes as far as to say that Willy is not his father when trying to “pick up” a bunch of girls to later sleep with. Biff abandon’s Willy in the sense that Willy is trying to escape reality and that Willy is not extraordinary, but merely ordinary. Willy, with all his loved ones no longer standing by his side, decides to end his life and make one final attempt at fulfilling the American Dream by collecting life insurance to help support Biff start up a business that Biff is unwilling to succeed in.
Both Joe Keller and Willy Loman were both the typical, hard working Americans. Unfortunately for them, they both contracted horrific tragic flaws which the common person can relate to. Their incapability to properly perceive reality, their misinterpretation of the American Dream, and the constant abandonment they had encountered ultimately led to their own demise.
Willy Loman Existentialist?
Can anyone control their life? Is the power of control in human beings’ hands to make choices and set or know the exact outcome of those choices? Personally, I don’t believe that human beings are awarded with such a power as to be able to change any aspect of their lives. The purpose of my essay is to focus on the life of Willy Loman, a protagonist in a play called Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Is Willy Loman an existentialist or he thinks he has no control over his life? According to my own perspective, Willy Loman is and is not an existentialist.
In his life, Willy Loman desires to be a wealthy and respectful man. His blueprint of becoming successful in life is what he often says, “Be liked and you will never want” (Miller 21). Willy believes that the key to success is being well liked by everyone in the business world. There was an eighty four year old salesman Dave Singleman, who was such an expert in his work that he would make a deal by calling the buyers without leaving his office.
Willy Loman became extremely inspired by Dave Singleman that he believed being a salesman could be the greatest career a man could want.
Unfortunately Willy did not turn out to be the greatest salesman as Dave Singleman was. According to an online dictionary, existentialist is “a philosopher who emphasizes freedom of choice and personal responsibility but who regards human existence in a hostile universe as unexplainable” (“existentialist”). As I said before, Willy Loman is on both sides of being and not being an existentialist. A way that Willy is not an existentialist is that, when Willy goes to Howard, who is Willy’s boss, he keeps confidence in his mind that the reason that he’s going to Howard for will turn out to be in his favor.
Willy wants to ask Howard for a raise and a job in which he doesn’t have to travel. Willy’s method of gaining success by being liked fails here. Willy’s confidence breaks when Howard terminates him from the job. So Willy could not control the outcome of his choice of going to Howard to talk, therefore he’s not an existentialist. The other way in which Willy is an existentialist is that towards the conclusion of the play, Willy thinks of taking a responsibility of his family and therefore doing something that would benefit his entire family.
Willy makes a major decision; as a mater of fact, the biggest and the most significant decision of his life. Willy chooses to finally take control of his life and end it. This time he knows and he’s confident that the outcome of his decision will be in his favor. Ironically, Willy is excited to terminate his life, because that would give his family the twenty thousand dollar insurance that Willy had. Twenty thousand dollars would assist Biff in getting a good start in his career.
Willy took control of his life and made a choice that he believes is responsible and helpful to his family, especially to Biff, therefore Willy is an existentialist. Willy Loman was and at the same time was not an existentialist. There could be many point of views whether Willy Loman was or wasn’t an existentialist. This essay demonstrates my view and perspective of Willy Loman. Works Cited “existentialist. ” WordNet® 3. 0. Princeton University. 21 Apr. 2008. . Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: The Viking Press, 1998.
Death of a Saleman – Happy Loman
Happy shares none of the poetry that erupts from Biff which is buried in Willy– he is the stunted version of Willy’s worst qualities and the personification of the lie of the happy American Dream. As such, Pleased is a hard character with whom to understand. He is one-dimensional and static throughout the play. His empty vow to avenge Willy’s death by lastly “beat [ing] this racket” offers evidence of his important condition: for Pleased, who has actually resided in the shadow of the inflated expectations of his bro, there is no escape from the Dream’s indoctrinated lies.
Delighted’s infected condition is irreversible– he does not have even the tiniest spark of self-knowledge or capability for self-analysis. He does share Willy’s capacity for self-delusion, trumpeting himself as the assistant buyer at his store, when, in reality, he is only an assistant to the assistant buyer. He does not have a hint of the latent curiosity that proves Biff’s salvation.
Pleased is a doomed, entirely fooled figure, predestined to be engulfed by the force of blind aspiration that fuels his pressing libido.
Character Analysis Delighted might too be Willy Jr., due to the fact that this apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Though he is fairly effective in his job, he has his father’s completely unrealistic confidence, and his grand dreams about getting abundant quick. Like Biff, however to a lesser degree, Happy has actually experienced his dad’s expectations. Mainly, though, his daddy doesn’t pay that much attention to him. Willy was constantly a bigger fan of Biff. Happy, possibly since he constantly felt second best, has more of a desire to please his dad. Regardless of his reputable accomplishments in company, and the lots of, many notches on his bedpost, Delighted is extremely lonesome.
Delighted is competitive and enthusiastic, however these sensations are misdirected. Not able to compete on his own terms in business world, Happy blindly pursues females– taken females– simply for the sake of doing so. Appears like he’s taken his sense of competitors to the realm of sex. Obviously, this, much like the world of service, fails to satisfy him.
Most disturbing for Happy is the fact that he can’t figure out why all this isn’t working. He’s followed the rules, done all the right things, yet Happy just isn’t happy. His name highlights the irony of his predicament. If you consider the fact that parents name their children, you could say that Willy foolishly bestowed the nickname on his son in yet another display of misguidance and delusion. Nice.
Just as the saddest part of Willy’s suicide is his continued delusion, the saddest part of Happy’s ending is his own persistent misbelief. Still driven by what he feels he should want (money, a wife), he sticks to Willy’s foolish dreams to the bitter end.
Happy Loman Hap is the Loman’s youngest son. He lives in an apartment in New York, and during the play is staying at his parent’s house to visit. Hap is of low moral character; constantly with another woman, trying to find his way in life, even though he is confident he’s on the right track.
Hap has always been the “second son” to Biff and tries to be noticed by his parents by showing off. When he was young he always told Willly, “I’m losin’ weight pop, you notice?” And, now he is always saying, “I’m going to get married, just you wait and see,” in an attempt to redeem himself in his mother’s eyes. Hap also tries to be on Willy’s good side and keep him happy, even if it means perpetuating the lies and illusions that Willy lives in.
In the end of the play, Hap cannot see reality. Like his father, he is destined to live a fruitless life trying for something that will not happen. “Willy Loman did not die in vain,” he says, “…He had a good dream, the only dream a man can have – to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this where I’m gonna win it for him.”
Death of a Salesman By Arthur Miller Character Analysis Happy Loman Happy is a young version of Willy. He incorporates his father’s habit of manipulating reality in order to create situations that are more favorable to him. Happy grew up listening to Willy embellish the truth, so it is not surprising that Happy exaggerates his position in order to create the illusion of success. Instead of admitting he is an assistant to the assistant, Happy lies and tells everyone he is the assistant buyer. This is Willy’s philosophy all over again.
Happy also relishes the fact that “respectable” women cannot resist him. He has seduced the fiancées of three executives just to gain a perception of pleasure and power. He thrives on sexual gratification, but even more than that, Happy savors the knowledge that he has “ruined” women engaged to men he works for and also despises. He states, “I hate myself for it. Because I don’t want the girl, and, still, I take it and — I love it!” Happy is similar to Willy in two ways. Both deny their positions and exaggerate details in order to aggrandize themselves, and sexual interludes are the defining moments of both of their lives. Willy’s life revolves around his attempt to forget his affair with the Woman, while Happy’s life revolves around an active pursuit of affairs with many women.
Death of a Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man’s inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman’s life. The three major themes within the play are denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder.
Each member of the Loman family is living in denial or perpetuating a cycle of denial for others. Willy Loman is incapable of accepting the fact that he is a mediocre salesman. Instead Willy strives for his version of the American dream — success and notoriety — even if he is forced to deny reality in order to achieve it. Instead of acknowledging that he is not a well-known success, Willy retreats into the past and chooses to relive past memories and events in which he is perceived as successful.
For example, Willy’s favorite memory is of Biff’s last football game because Biff vows to make a touchdown just for him. In this scene in the past, Willy can hardly wait to tell the story to his buyers. He considers himself famous as a result of his son’s pride in him. Willy’s sons, Biff and Happy, adopt Willy’s habit of denying or manipulating reality and practice it all of their lives, much to their detriment. It is only at the end of the play that Biff admits he has been a “phony” too, just like Willy. Linda is the only character that recognizes the Loman family lives in denial; however, she goes along with Willy’s fantasies in order to preserve his fragile mental state.
The second major theme of the play is contradiction. Throughout the play, Willy’s behavior is riddled with inconsistencies. In fact, the only thing consistent about Willy is his inconsistency. From the very beginning of Act I, Scene 1, Willy reveals this tendency. He labels Biff a “lazy bum” but then contradicts himself two lines later when he states, “And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff — he’s not lazy.” Willy’s contradictions often confuse audiences at the beginning of the play; however, they soon become a trademark of his character. Willy’s inconsistent behavior is the result of his inability to accept reality and his tendency to manipulate or re-create the past in an attempt to escape the present. For example, Willy cannot resign himself to the fact that Biff no longer respects him because of Willy’s affair. Rather than admit that their relationship is irreconcilable, Willy retreats to a previous time when Biff admired and respected him. As the play continues, Willy disassociates himself more and more from the present as his problems become too numerous to deal with.
The third major theme of the play, which is order versus disorder, results from Willy’s retreats into the past. Each time Willy loses himself in the past, he does so in order to deny the present, especially if the present is too difficult to accept. As the play progresses, Willy spends more and more time in the past as a means of reestablishing order in his life. The more fragmented and disastrous reality becomes, the more necessary it is for Willy to create an alternative reality, even if it requires him to live solely in the past. This is demonstrated immediately after Willy is fired. Ben appears, and Willy confides “nothing’s working out. I don’t know what to do.” Ben quickly shifts the conversation to Alaska and offers Willy a job. Linda appears and convinces Willy that he should stay in sales, just like Dave Singleman. Willy’s confidence quickly resurfaces, and he is confident that he has made the right decision by turning down Ben’s offer; he is certain he will be a success like Singleman. Thus, Willy’s memory has distracted him from the reality of losing his job.
Denial, contradiction, and the quest for order versus disorder comprise the three major themes of Death of a Salesman. All three themes work together to create a dreamlike atmosphere in which the audience watches a man’s identity and mental stability slip away. The play continues to affect audiences because it allows them to hold a mirror up to themselves. Willy’s self-deprecation, sense of failure, and overwhelming regret are emotions that an audience can relate to because everyone has experienced them at one time or another. Individuals continue to react to Death of a Salesman because Willy’s situation is not unique: He made a mistake — a mistake that irrevocably changed his relationship with the people he loves most — and when all of his attempts to eradicate his mistake fail, he makes one grand attempt to correct the mistake. Willy vehemently denies Biff’s claim that they are both common, ordinary people, but ironically, it is the universality of the play which makes it so enduring. Biff’s statement, “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you” is true after all.
Miller often experiments with narrative style and technique. For example, Miller includes lengthy exposition pieces that read as stage directions within The Crucible. At first glance, it seems that an audience must either read the information in the program or listen to a long-winded narrator. Upon further inspection however, it becomes apparent that Miller’s inclusion of background material allows actors and directors to study character motivation and internalize the information, thereby portraying it in the performance.
Miller provides audiences with a unique experience when it comes to Death of a Salesman. In many ways, the play appears traditional. In other words, there are actors who interact with one another, there is a basic plot line, and the play contains standard dramatic elements such as exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, and so forth. However, Miller’s manipulation of time and space creates a very non-traditional atmosphere that is unsettling but effective because it mirrors Willy’s mental state, thereby allowing the audience to witness his mental instability and take part in it.
Stage directions call for a complete house for the Lomans. An audience will not simply watch the action take place in the kitchen but can observe several rooms within the home. This sounds as if it would be distracting since an audience can view several things at once. After all, what should the audience look at? If more than one character is on stage, whom should the audience pay attention to? Miller solves this problem through lighting. Only characters that are talking or involved in direct action are lit on stage, all other rooms, characters, and props remain in shadow.
The result is a vast number of rooms and props that can be utilized immediately. The audience does not have to wait while a new set is erected or an old one torn down, but instead moves directly and instantaneously into the next scene. Such movement without the benefit of time delays or dialogue transitions produces a disjointed and fragmented sequence of events, much like a dream. In fact, the stage directions in Act I describe the house as follows: “An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream arising out of reality.”
Miller does not stop there. Even though the action of the play can shift from one part of the house to another without delay, the action is still limited to the present. Willy’s dreams, memories, or recollections of past events must be revealed in a manner that is distinct from actions taking place in the present. This is important for two reasons: First, the audience must be able to differentiate between the present and the past in order to follow the action of the play; second, Willy’s increased agitation must be apparent to the audience, and there is no better way to reveal it than to have the audience observe his inability to separate the past from the reality of the present.
Miller achieves this effect by manipulating the space and boundaries of the rooms. When action takes place in the present, characters observe wall boundaries and enter and exit through the doors. During Willy’s recollections of the past, characters do not observe wall boundaries, and the action generally takes place in the area at the front of the stage, rather than inside the house. As a result, the audience can distinguish present events from Willy’s memories. For example, in Act I, Scene 3, Willy pours a glass of milk in the kitchen, sits down, and begins to mumble to himself. He is in the present. He then remembers a past conversation with the teenage Biff and resumes the conversation. Since this is a past event, Willy directs his speech through the wall to a point offstage. This cues the audience that Willy is digressing in the past.
Sound is also used to create a dreamlike state for both Willy and the audience. A flute melody is associated with Willy, Ben has his own music, laughter cues the Woman, and so forth. Once the sound is introduced with the appropriate character, the audience automatically associates the sound with that same character. As a result, Miller is able to prompt reactions and expectations from the audience, whether they are aware or not. For example, in Act II, Scene 14, it appears that things have finally been settled between Willy and Biff. Even though Biff is leaving in the morning, he and Willy have reconciled. This puts the audience at ease, but once Ben’s music is heard, it is evident that the play has not reached its final conclusion. In fact, Ben’s appearance may create anxiety for the audience because it suggests an alternate, more disturbing, end to the play.
As the play progresses, the action shifts to the front of the stage. In other words, the audience becomes increasingly aware that the majority of the action is taking place inside Willy’s head. It is difficult enough to watch an individual lose his or her identity. It is extremely unsettling and disturbing to be forced to experience the individual’s memories, illusions, or perhaps delusions resulting in mental instability. Miller takes that into consideration and then pushes his audiences to the extreme. As Willy’s mental state declines, the audience is forced to watch and to react. As a result, the play may be called Death of a Salesman, but it is a death observed and experienced by every member of the audience.
Expressionism in Death of Salesman
From the opening flute notes to their final reprise, Miller’s musical themes express the competing influences in Willy Loman’s mind. Once established, the themes need only be sounded to evoke certain time frames, emotions, and values. The first sounds of the drama, the flute notes “small and fine,” represent the grass, trees, and horizon – objects of Willy’s (and Biff’s) longing that are tellingly absent from the overshadowed home on which the curtain rises. This melody plays on as Willy makes his first appearance, although, as Miller tells us, “[h]e hears but is not aware of it” (12).
Through this music we are thus given our first sense of Willy’s estrangement not only from nature itself but from his own deepest nature. As Act I unfolds, the flute is linked to Willy’s father, who, we are told, made flutes and sold them during the family’s early wanderings. The father’s theme, “a high, rollicking tune,” is differentiated from the small and fine melody of the natural landscape (49).
This distinction is fitting, for the father is a salesman as well as an explorer; he embodies the conflicting values that are destroying his son’s life. The father’s tune shares a family likeness with Ben’s “idyllic” (133) music. This false theme, like Ben himself, is associated finally with death. Ben’s theme is first sounded, after all, only after Willy expresses his exhaustion (44). It is heard again after Willy is fired in Act II. This time the music precedes Ben’s entrance. It is heard in the distance, then closer, just as Willy’s thoughts of suicide, once repressed, now come closer at the loss of his job. And Willy’s first words to Ben when he finally appears are the ambiguous “how did you do it?” (84). When Ben’s idyllic melody plays for the third and final time it is in “accents of dread” (133), for Ben reinforces Willy’s wrongheaded thought of suicide to bankroll Biff.
The father’s and Ben’s themes, representing selling (out) and abandonment, are thus in opposition to the small and fine theme of nature that begins and ends the play. A whistling motif elaborates this essential conflict. Whistling is often done by those contentedly at work. It frequently also accompanies outdoor activities. A whistler in an office would be a distraction. Biff Loman likes to whistle, thus reinforcing his ties to nature rather than to the business environment. But Happy seeks to stifle Biff’s true voice: HAPPY . . . Bob Harrison said you were tops, and then you go and do some damn fool thing like whistling whole songs in the elevator like a comedian. BIFF, against Happy. So what? I like to whistle sometimes.
HAPPY. You don t raise a guy to a responsible job who whistles in elevator! (60) This conversation reverberates ironically when Howard Wagner plays Willy a recording of his daughter whistling Roll out the Barrel” just before Willy asks for an advance and a New York job (77). Whistling, presumably, is all right if you are the boss or the boss’s daughter, but not if you are an employee. The barrel will not be rolled out for Willy or Biff Loman. Willy’s conflicting desires to work in sales and to do outdoor, independent work are complicated by another longing, that of sexual desire, which is expressed through the “raw, sensuous music” that accompanies The Woman’s appearances on stage (116, 37). It is this music of sexual desire, I suggest, that “insinuates itself” as the first leaves cover the house in Act 1.5 It is heard just before Willy – reliving a past conversation – offers this ironic warning to Biff: “Just wanna be careful with those girls, Biff, that’s all. Don’t make any promises.
No promises of any kind” (27). This raw theme of sexual desire contrasts with Linda Loman’s theme: the maternal hum of a soft lullaby that becomes a “desperate but monotonous” hum at the end of Act I (69). Linda’s monotonous drone, in turn, contrasts with the “gay and bright” music, the boys’ theme, which opens Act II. This theme is associated with the “great times” (127) Willy remembers with his sons – before his adultery is discovered. Like the high, rollicking theme of Willy’s father and like Ben’s idyllic melody, this gay and bright music is ultimately associated with the false dream of materialistic success. The boys theme is first heard when Willy tells Ben that he and the boys will get rich in Brooklyn (87). It sounds again when Willy implores Ben, “[H]ow do we get back to all the great times?” (127).
In his final moments of life, Willy Loman is shown struggling with his furies: “sounds, faces, voices, seem to be swarming in upon him” (136). Suddenly, however, the “faint and high” music enters, representing the false dreams of all the “low” men. This false tune ends Willy’s struggle with his competing voices. It drowns out the other voices, rising in intensity “almost to an unbearable scream” as Willy rushes off in pursuit. And just as the travail of Moby Dick ends with the ongoing flow of the waves, nature, in the form of the flute’s small and fine refrain, persists – despite the tragedy we have witnessed.
In the introduction to his Collected Plays, Miller acknowledges that the first image of Salesman that occurred to him was of an enormous face the height of the proscenium arch; the face would appear and then open up. “We would see the inside of a man’s head,” he explains. “In fact, The Inside of His Head was the first title. It was conceived half in laughter, (60) for the inside of his head was a mass of contradictions” (23). By the time Miller had completed Salesman, however, he had found a more subtle plays correlative for the giant head; a transparent setting. “The entire setting is wholly, or, in some places, partially transparent,” Miller insists in his set description (11). By substituting a transparent setting for a bisected head, Miller invited the audience to examine the social context as well as the individual organism. Productions that eschew transparent scenery eschew the nuances of this invitation. The transparent lines of the Loman home allow the audience physically to sense the city pressures that are destroying Willy. “We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind [Willy’s house], surrounding it on all sides.
The roofline of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings” (11-12). Wherever Willy Loman looks are these encroaching buildings, and wherever we look as well. Willy’s subjective vision is expressed also in the home’s furnishings, which are deliberately partial. The furnishings indicated are only those of importance to Willy Loman. That Willy’s kitchen has a table with three chairs instead of four reveals both Linda Loman’s unequal status in the family and Willy’s obsession with his boys. At the end of Act I, Willy goes to his small refrigerator for life-sustaining milk (cf. Brecht’s parallel use of milk in Galileo). Later, however, we learn that this repository of nourishment, like Willy himself, has broken down.
That Willy Loman’s bedroom contains only a bed, a straight chair, and a shelf holding Biff’s silver athletic trophy also telegraphs much about the man and his family. Linda Loman has no object of her own in her bedroom. Willy Loman also travels light. He has nothing of substance to sustain him. His vanity is devoted to adolescent competition. Chairs ultimately become surrogates for people in Death of a Salesman as first a kitchen chair becomes Biff in Willy’s conflicted mind (28) and then an office chair becomes Willy’s deceased boss, Frank Wagner (82). In, perhaps, a subtle bow to Georg Kaiser’s Gas I and Gas II, Miller’s gas heater glows when Willy thinks of death. The scrim that veils the primping Woman and the screen hiding the restaurant where two women will be seduced suggest Willy Loman’s repression of sexuality.
Expressionism has done more than any other movement to develop the expressive powers of stage lighting. The German expressionists used light to create a strong sense of mood and to isolate characters in a void. By contrasting light and shadow, and by employing extreme side, overhead, and rear lighting angles, they established the nightmarish atmosphere in which many of their plays took place. The original Kazan Salesman made use of more lights than were used even in Broadway musicals (Timebends 190). At the end of act 1, Biff comes downstage “into a golden pool of light” as Willy recalls the day of the city baseball championship when Biff was “[l]ike a young God. Hercules – something like that. And the sun, the sun all around him.” The pool of light both establishes the moment as one of Willy’s memories and suggests how he has inflated the past, given it mythic dimension. The lighting also functions to instill a sense of irony in the audience, for the golden light glows on undiminished as Willy exclaims, “A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!”
We know that Biff’s star faded, even before it had a chance to shine, and even as Willy speaks these words, the light on him begins to fade (68). That Willy’s thoughts turn immediately from this golden vision of his son to his own suicide is indicated by the “blue flame” of the gas heater that begins immediately to glow through the wall – a foreshadowing of Willy’s desire to gild his son through his own demise. Productions that omit either the golden pool of light or the glowing gas heater withhold this foreshadowing of Willy’s final deed. Similarly, productions that omit the lights on the empty chairs miss the chance to reveal the potency of Willy’s fantasies.
Perhaps even more important, the gas heater’s flame at the end of Act I recalls the “angry glow of orange” surrounding Willy’s house at the play’s beginning (11). Both join with the “red glow” rising from the hotel room and the restaurant to give a felt sense of Willy’s twice articulated cry: “The woods are burning!…There’s a big blaze going on all around” (41, 107). Without these sensory clues, audiences may fail to appreciate the desperation of Willy’s state.
Characters and Costumes
Miller employs expressionistic technique when he allows his characters to split into younger versions of themselves to represent Willy’s memories. Young Biff’s letter sweater and football signal his age reversion, yet they also move in the direction of social type. The Woman also is an expressionistic type, the play’s only generic character other than the marvelously individualized salesman. Miller’s greatest expressionistic creations, however, are Ben and Willy Loman. In his Paris Review interview, Miller acknowledged that he purposely refused to give Ben any character, “because for Willy he has no character – which is, psychologically, expressionist because so many memories come back with a simple tag on them: somebody represents a threat to you, or a promise” (Theater Essays 272). Clearly Ben represents a promise to Willy Loman. It is the promise of material success, but it is also the promise of death.6 We might consider Uncle Ben to be the ghost of Ben, for we learn that Ben has recently died in Africa. Since Miller never discloses the cause of Ben’s death, he may be a suicide himself.
His idyllic melody, as I have noted, becomes finally a death march. In Willy’s last moments, the contrapuntal voices of Linda and Ben vie with each other, but Willy moves inexorably toward Ben. Alluding to Africa, and perhaps also to the River Styx, Ben looks at his watch and says, “The boat. We’ll be late” as he moves slowly into the darkness (135). Willy Loman, needless to say, is Miller’s brilliant demonstration that expressionistic techniques can express inner as well as outer forces, that expressionism can be used to create “felt,” humane character. The music, setting, and lighting of Salesman all function to express the world inside Willy Loman’s head, a world in which social and personal values meet and merge and struggle for integration.
As Miller writes in the introduction to his Collected Plays: [The play’s] expressionistic elements were consciously used as such, but since the approach to Willy Loman’s characterization was consistently and rigorously subjective, the audience would not ever be aware – if I could help it – that they were witnessing the use of a technique which had until then created only coldness, objectivity, and a highly styled sort of play. (39) In 1983, when Miller arrived in Beijing to direct the first Chinese production of Death of a Salesman, he was pleased to find that the Chinese had created a mirror image of the original transparent set. Seeing this set, and observing that the kitchen was furnished with only a refrigerator, table, and two (not even three) chairs, Miller felt “a wonderful boost” to his morale (Salesman in Beijing 3-4).
Teachers and directors might offer a similar boost by giving full weight to the expressionistic moments in Death of a Salesman. For directors, achieving such moments may be technically demanding, but they should not be abandoned simply because they are challenging.7 Similarly, the expressionistic devices should not be considered too obvious for postmodern taste. In truth, the expressionism in Salesman is not intrusive. Its very refinement of German expressionism lies in its subtlety, in its delicate balance with the realistic moments in the drama. This ever-shifting tension between realism and expressionism allows us to feel the interpenetration of outer and inner forces within the human psyche. The expressionistic devices also elevate Willy’s suffering, for they place it in the context of the natural order. To excise the expressionism is to diminish the rich chord that is Miller’s drama
Willy Loman: American Failure
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” puts the titular salesman, Willy Loman, at odds against his own psychological decline due to the pressures of society and his own personal failures as a salesman. Willy’s vision of the American Dream, that any man can be successful through sheer charisma and personality, failed him. Now, he has no way to provide for his family and has developed suicidal tendencies.
Willy’s blind faith in his unrealistic version of the American Dream leads to this mental decline and blurs his perception of reality.
Willy Loman’s entire existence was dedicated to providing for his family with his job as a salesman, something he was never very good at. At the time in which the play is set, Willy is well past the peak of his career, and all of his old clients and friends have either passed away or retired. He has virtually no means of income, and can barely feed his family.
This inability to provide for his family is Willy’s ultimate failure, and culminates with him committing suicide in order to provide his sons with the financial stability to pursue a career in sales. Willy’s sees the American Dream as the ability to be prosperous merely through charisma and being well-liked. This is proven when Biff tells his father about him making fun of a teacher with a “lithp,” and Willy does not scold him, but asks him how his classmates reacted.
This implies to the reader that Willy values his sons’ popularity over morals or politeness. Despite his popularity in school, Biff ends up being a failure, just like his father. When Willy attempts to use his personality to ask his boss for a raise, he gets fired, proving his perception of the American Dream to be a flawed one. As an archetype, Willy Loman can be seen both as a tragic hero and as an everyman. He has everything that a man could ever want: a car, a house, a supportive wife, and two sons whom he adores.
However happy his situation may seem at first glance, his life falls apart towards the end of the play, a veritable fall from grace. No matter how hard Willy tries to just let go of his dream, even when it is tearing his life and his sanity apart, he simply cannot let go. The product that Willy sells is never specifically mentioned, leaving the reader to make a personal connection with him, imagining that Willy may be in the same line of business as the reader, and therefore relatable to the common man. Death of a Salesman” is still a powerful drama, more than half a century after it was written. After World War II, Americans faced profound tensions and contradictions.
Authors and playwrights faced these cultural issues with works like Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman. ” Influenced by existentialist philosophy, Miller created a play that challenged America’s idealistic notions of success. By creating the relatable character of Willy Loman, Miller struck a deep chord with the American people that still stands strong today.
The American Dream in Death of a Salesman
In Arthur Millers “Death of a Salesman” the life of an average man of the mid nineteen forties is played out on stage. The play tells the story of Willy Loman and his family. Willy, like so many other men, just wants to be successful and raise two successful sons. He wants to live the so called “American dream” that was so important during this time period. The success of a man and his family was how he was judged, if he and his sons were successful then he must be a great man.
The seduction of the American dream is what Willy lives for, and dies for. As Arthur Miller shows in this play, the power of the American dream is enough to drive a man crazy, and even end his life. The setting of this play tells a lot about how the American dream is being represented. Everyone always wants the big house with the white picket fence and a garden in the back.
The Loman family used to have all of this when the boys, Biff and Happy, were growing up with the big city as just lights in the distance.
As Terry Thompson of Georgia Southern University explains; “Critics have long emphasized the importance of the main setting in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman, explaining how the small home of Willy and Linda Loman-once situated on the green fringes of suburbia and blessed with shade trees, a backyard garden and plenty of open space for two rambunctious sons- has become palisaded by ruthless urban sprawl” (244) the once happy country home of the Lomans has been suffocated by urbanization.
Willy is disgusted by this growing city, saying “the way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows. Windows and bricks” (Miller 1872). Willy Loman once lived the so called American Dream, but it is being taken away from him. Willy wants the American dream, but is not willing to work hard for it. Willy Loman expects everything to come easy to him and his sons. In high school, his son Biff was the football star and both of his sons were “well liked” and they all think that this will carry them through the rest of their lives.
As Thompson puts it; “like eternal sophomores, they continue to believe that the greater world will embrace them, will proclaim them, simply because they are superficially charming, are occasionally witty, and can bluster and brag with the best of them” (247) he points out the flaws in the Loman boys thinking, because the success, or lack thereof, has been revealed in the play. in the first act, Biff, the oldest son, realizes this; “Maybe that’s my trouble. I’m like a boy.
I’m not married, I’m not in business, I just – I’m like a boy” (Miller 1875) this at least hows the maturity of Biff who can realize his own flaws, unlike his father. Willy never fully accepts the fact that he and his sons are not as successful as they wished and though themselves to be. Willy still lives in a fantasy world and refuses to accept that his life is crumbling around him. Willy is notorious for talking to himself and his dead brother, Ben, and daydreaming of the past. Willy daydreams about his brother constantly, because he envies him, he wants to be as successful and important as Ben was.
As Thomas Porter says in his article; “In Benjamin Loman, the struggling and insecure salesman sees the embodiment of the mystery of success, the Eleusinian rite knows only to initiates” (porter 30). Willy’s older brother Ben was a very successful man who walked into the jungle at 17 and walked out at 21 and “by god was I rich” (Miller 1888). Willy always compared himself to his older brother and was never fully satisfied because he was never like him.
Willy had the opportunity to go with Ben when he went to Africa but he didn’t, because he was already married with kids and had a job as a traveling salesman, so he didn’t want to leave all of that behind. After his brother came back rich Willy was never fully happy because he though he missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime and ever being rich and powerful like his brother. Willy wanted his sons to grow up to be successful and happy just as he had always wished to. His oldest son Biff was the star of his high school football team and the younger son Happy was always very well-liked by the others.
Willy always expressed to his sons the importance to be well liked and physically attractive, because that’s what he thought would get them far in life; “I thank Almighty god you’re both built like Adonises. Because a man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead” (Miller 1881). The neighbor boy, Bernard is a great example of how Willy’s theory is proved wrong. Bernard in school was liked, but not well liked, and he focused on his school work unlike Happy and Biff, who failed math causing him to not graduate.
Bernard became the most successful man in the play. This shows that Willy’s way of reaching his dream, the American dream, was unrealistic and unsuccessful, as was the rest of his life. Willy Loman has many false conceptions and beliefs of what success even is. A man cannot be successful if he does not even know what the goal is. As Irving Jacobson said in his article Family Dreams in Death of a Salesman; “Loman wants success, but the meaning of that need extends beyond the accumulation of wealth, security, goods, and status” (247).
What Willy Loman does not realize is that to be successful he also needs his family to find him successful. Willy needs his sons to look up to him and admire him, which they do when they were younger, but Willy ruins this for himself. Jacobson argues that “what Willy Loman wants, and what success means in Death of a Salesman is intimately related to his own sense of family” (248) what Jacobson is saying with this statement is that Willy needs to base his life goals less on the material sense of the word “success” and more on the family side.
Willy obviously does not understand this because he ruins his family values by what he does with other women when he is gone for business, which biff later finds out. To achieve the American dream you must work hard and not doing anything that would get in the way of achievement. Willy has a major flaw in this play which he manages to keep a secret until his son Biff accidentally finds out. Part of the American dream is to be happily married, which Willy seems to be. But Willy ruins this happiness for himself by having affairs with younger women when he is traveling on business.
He keeps this secret from the family until one day Biff comes to his hotel room to tell him about his failing grade in math. Willy has a woman in his room at the time and when Biff sees her, all of his admiration for his father disappears. Willy tries to convince Biff that she was just visiting him and nothing happened, but Biff knows better. Willy ruins his image of the perfect father and husband that he created by doing this. Willy not only does not work hard enough to achieve the dream, but he does things that land him even farther away from it.
Not only is Willy driven crazy by the seduction of the dream during his lifetime, but he lets it end his life also. Willy Loman is a traveling salesman so he is on the road a lot and has had several “accidents” where he has wrecked the car. His wife Linda later found a rubber hose that was attached to a gas pipe that had not been there before. Linda started to wonder if all of these car wrecks were accidents or not and she got her answer when a woman told her that she once saw Willy drive off the edge of a bridge, he didn’t lose control, but just drove off and the shallowness of the water was the only thing that saved him.
Willy was trying in several ways to take his own life. The power of the American dream slipping through his fingers and realizing he was no longer living it was too much for Willy to handle. Enough so to where he was willing to end his life to escape the disappointment he felt towards himself and his sons. The seduction of living this so called dream was obviously too strong for Willy to resist. As the play went on Willy got worse and worse and acted stranger all the time. The scene in the restaurant where Willy reminisced on his affair and Biff catching was what made Willy realize that the dream was gone.
He did not want to accept that Biff did not get the money he had asked for from Bill Oliver, because it meant that he was not as well liked and successful as Willy had hoped he would be. In Willy’s flashback he remembered yelling at Biff to obey his orders and to believe that the woman was just a client, but Biff refused to do either. Willy had always had all the power over his sons and his wife but he was not seeing it slip away. Biff had lost all respect for him which is all willy had going for him.
His family was the only ones who saw him as successful and now that even that was gone, he knew he had nothing. This was the last thing Willy needed, and it was what caused him to take his life. Towards the end of the play, Willy gets the idea in his head that the only way he can finally prove his success and social standing to his boys is for them to see how many people would come to his funeral after he died “But the funeral- Bed that funeral will be massive! That boy will be thunder-struck, Ben, because he never realized- I am known! He’ll see what I am, Ben! He’s in for a shock, that boy! (Miller 1927. )
As Noobrakhsh Hooti and Farzaneh Azipour write in their article Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman: a postmodernist study; “Willy wants to make an impression, to be remembered after his death, to give something to Biff and Happy, and his inability to do any of this haunts him. Once he realizes his life has been futile: he is old, has achived little, is scorned by his boss and his sons, which makes Willy come to face the absurdity of life”(21. ) This statement shows that Willy is so desperate to prove his importance and status to his family, that he is willing to end his own life to do it.
Suicide is often seen as a cowardly move for one to escape their own problems, not very often is it seen as an act of courage or is accepted as a reasonable thing to do. One could argue that what Willy Loman did was the “easy way out” and purely for selfish reasons. On the other hand though, it could be seen as a last resort for him to finally prove himself to his family. As Hootie and Azizpour argued; “what else can Willy do, the, but climb back into his car and drive off to a death that at last will bring him the reward that he has chased so determinedly.
A reward that will make up for his sense of guilt, justify his life, and hand on to another generation the burden of belief that has decayed his soul (21. ) so what Willy did can be seen in two ways, he can be looked at as a coward who took suicide as the easy way out of his pathetic life, or he can be looked at as a sad man who did the last thing he thought would finally prove himself to his family, and finally achieve the American Dream. Everyone wants to be successful and live the American dream, but Willy Loman took that to an extreme.
As Thomas Porter said it “The most salient quality of Arthur Millers tragedy of the common man Death of a Salesman is Americanism” (24) He based the success of his whole life off of those around him and he compared himself to everyone else. When Willy Loman realized that his life was never as good as he thought it was and the dream of power and success was unrealistic, it was too much for him to handle. The power and seduction of living the dream overpowered and controlled Willy Lomans life and eventually ended it. As Arthur Miller shows in this play, the power of the American dream is enough to drive a man crazy, and even end his life
The Real Protagonist in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, contrary to what is commonly expected, many readers actually believe that Biff Loman is the main character or the protagonist. Given that Willy Loman, his father, appears in almost every scene and is also mentioned in the title, the expected trend is for Willy to be universally considered as the main character. Therefore, questions regarding the reasons behind the belief that Biff is the real protagonist arise. In order to establish a valid discussion, it is important to clarify the definition of protagonist in this case.
The main character of the story is supposedly the one who serves as a center or focus of the conflicts and resolutions brought about in the development of the story. A possible problem with such a definition is that other characters may go through several processes of conflict and resolution as well. To prevent such confusion, one must consider the main problem addressed in the story. The main problem in the story is Willy’s deluded concept of success.
As the story unfolds, one will surely notice that he measured success through a materialistic point of view.
He placed importance in the acquisition of larger sums of cash in comparison to what he earned. In addition to this, he viewed the chances of success in terms of how well liked a person is. Also, he was portrayed to be quite an unfaithful husband. His negative characteristics were understandably passed on, although not entirely, to his sons. Given this point, the main conflict in the story that needs to be overcome is to be released from such ways of thinking.
Hence, the task for the main character is to become free from the influences of his father and finally be able to accept a better and more realistic point of view which would result in better outcomes, unlike the consistent proofs of the personal dissatisfaction exhibited by Willy. At the beginning of the story, chronologically, Biff was considerably proud of his father. He believed in everything that his father believed in. All of this was broken after he found out about the affair that his father had.
Since that point, he denounced all the common beliefs that he and his father shared. He no longer believed on the validity of his father’s views. That point was the catalyst for the possible reformation of character and production of solution to the main conflict. Due to the fact that he hated his father, he then acknowledged that the ways that he adopted from his father were wrong, as exhibited from the fact that he lied to people about the real nature of his job by claiming that he holds a higher position.
While Willy never had the chance to reform due to death, Biff had a real chance of solving the problem. This was observed when Biff finally talked to his employer, and as a result, he eventually cleared out his mind of the mistakes that he has made. Hence, in the end, he became considerably free of the negative impacts of his father and was able to view the world in his own sense. Also, another important factor in considering the main character of a story is the ability of the character to connect with the reader.
In other words, the main character is able to convey to the reader that there is a sense of possibility in solving the problem. In turn, the reader typically roots for the character. Willy was apparently nothing more than the embodiment and source of conflict. Biff, on the other hand, was the character affected by such problems, and yet, he eventually worked towards resolution. Hence, given these points, it is quite understandable why many consider Biff as the true main protagonist in the story.
Feminist Analysis Death of a Salesman
What’s great about this play is gives us insight into the past and focuses on an average family and provides lots of material to do a feminist analysis of. The most prominent woman figure in this play is Linda, but the male characters in this play also give us insight into women’s roles and help feed the feminist analyses To get us started, how do the roles and identities of women in this play compare to that of the male figures?
Objectivity of women
Biff and Happy
-“Take those two we had tonight, now weren’t they gorgeous creatures?” -“it gets like bowling, I just keep knockin’ them over and it doesn’t mean anything” -“a girl, y’know, they always believe what you tell ‘em” (27) -Biff was seen as successful in Willy’s eyes when he made the girls swoon in high school -Could this be influenced by Willy and their upbringing or are they just a product of their time? -They see women as achievements: When Biff and Happy are talking Happy says how he’s not happy currently because he wants “his own apartment, a car, and plenty of women” (23)
Women Don’t Have Identities
-“The Woman” that Willy has an affair with doesn’t have a name, she’s always laughing and really sexual.
He slaps her butt ad she laughs and thanks him for the stockings.
She picked him because he was “sweet” and “such a kidder”. She says “I’ll put you right through to the buyers?” SLEEZE. -They see their mother as the epitome of what a woman should be – The only interaction Linda has with other woman is calling them whores, after Biff and Happy leave Willy at the restaurant and she’s angry says “did you have to go to women tonight? You and your lousy rotten whores!”
What do you guys think about the character development of Linda throughout the play? Do you think she is an example of a strong or weak woman? She knows that Willy is suicidal, tries to protect him from other people, and does not lose her temper with him when he acts horribly towards her -We never know more about Linda other than that she does the laundry, cares for her boys, and knows the finances -In the beginning I found it annoying how all she did was take off his shoes, put on his jacket, eager to please him. Only portrayed as a wife and mother, less dimensional than the other characters. -Does this take away from her character development?
-Her goals are measured by Willy’s achievements
-Linda is desexualized
Treatment of Linda/Relationship with Willy
-Willy is commanding to her “swiss cheese”
“You’re my foundation and my support Linda”
-Willy does not let Linda talk “don’t interrupt” (62, 64-65) READ -Biff defends her from Willy but she defends Willy, then Biff says “Don’t go making excuses for him, he wiped the floor with you. He never had an ounce of respect for you (54-55) -Biff and Happy objectify girls (20 + 21) Also, “gorgeous creatures”, ‘it’s like bowling” (23-24) -Linda says” I’m not your maid anymore”
-Described by Happy as having “character and resistance” which is a quality he wants in a woman, unlike the ones he’s been with -Whenever Willy is upset about something she just sugarcoats his flaws and compliments him (37) do you think we just know something she doesn’t, or is there other motivation for her to do this?) -Seems like the first time she ever voiced her real opinion (57) about how Happy and Biff are ungrateful towards Willy -What is the purpose of her character? So that women of the forties could empathize with her situation more
Seen as negative or positive? Doesn’t lead to happiness.
Happy and Biff “raise cattle, use our muscles, men built like us should be working out in the open (24) Uncle Ben
Willy always refers to how their appearances make them well liked “guys built like us should be working a farm” “a man who can’t handle tools is not a man. You’re disgusting” (44) to Charley “thank God you’re built like Adonises” God of beauty and desire
MORE SUBTLE EXAMPLES I NOTICED
When Howard’s wife goes to talk to the recording device she has nothing to offer, as opposed to his son and daughter who wouldn’t shut up his daughter whistles, his son names the capitals of states, his wife says “I can’t think of anything…hello? Oh Howard, I can’t talk into this….” (78) She could have just been shy, she doesn’t have a name, she is known as his wife
Connect Howard’s wife’s role to Linda’s role? This is our chance to see a family woman other than Linda, do you think this serves a purpose, not matter how subtle it may be? Linda is content without adventure, she didn’t want Ben to encourage Willy to go to Alaska (95) Linda is overshadowed by her boys who go out and pursue things.
Arthur Millar shows us the restraints of sexuality as well individuality in this play. Just like Willy Loman struggles to find his place socially and struggles economically, Linda is restrained by her gender.
Death of Salesman Analysis
Women assume various roles in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Mainly we find them in the home, or the “workplace”. For us, they serve as windows to observe and formulate an opinion of the main character, Willy Loman and his boys Happy and Biff. For reference, the women include, Linda Loman (Willy’s wife) the boy’s childhood and current girls/women, “The Woman” (Willy’s mistress), and Jenny (Charley’s secretary). Notably, there are several aspects that unify these women.
First, they are subordinate to the men; second, they are emotionally or materially dependent; third, the men are mutually dependent on the women for emotional or physical needs; and fourth, they serve as male ego supporters. Moreover, the women are portrayed as weak. Granted, societal views of women’s roles have drastically changed over the past seven decades, the women’s characters in Death of Salesman have not.
Miller skillfully navigates us through the past and present in order to capture a complete image of Willy’s life.
I will attempt to do the same with Linda Loman. I selected her because of her distinctive propensity to be overly protective of Willy. My intention is not to understate the relevance of the other women. Yet, my focus on Linda is based on my opinion that she is the central female figure and best ambassador to reveal Willy’s dynamic nature.
Willy: “You’re my foundation and support, Linda.” (1216)
We are introduced to Linda in the present. For the time and even for today, she is the ideal American wife. Caring, nurturing, supportive, and loyal to her husband and children. Yet, today, one may say overly supportive. A captive of the time period, she is limited; and therefore, emotionally and financially dependent on her husband. While here, we are able to feel her comforting and sheltering nature. She selflessly protects Willy from his insecure thoughts, his children, and acknowledging his financial failures. Yet, she cannot guard him from his depression and suicidal attempts and ideations.
The scene opens with Willy prematurely returning from a sales trip. He is explaining to Linda that he could not maintain mental focus and that the car kept veering off onto the shoulder of the road. As we will come to know, she is well aware that Willy’s mental status is declining. She deflects the blame by saying, “Oh. Maybe it was the steering again. I don’t think Angelo knows the Studebaker.” (1213) Willy accepts responsibility, “No, it’s me…” (1214) Nonetheless, she continues to divert the cause by saying, “Maybe it’s your glasses…”(1214) Her well-intended effort to be supportive is unfortunately enabling Willy’s serious “nervous breakdown” to be ignored. In the literary sense, it is an example of situational irony. Her intention to be helpful is not actually helping. For us, it is in this moment with Linda, that we immediately realize that Willy is undergoing serious internal and external stress. It is manifesting into depression, mumbling, mental and physical wandering, and severe depression. It will proliferate throughout the play, and tragically, be the cause of his final decision.
During their conversation we are also introduced to the adult boys, Biff and Happy. Linda informs Willy that the boys are both sleeping, and that, “Happy took Biff on a date tonight.” (1214) The report automatically generates interest in Willy. Which, we can translate to mean, Willy is in favor of his boys being in the company of women. As the conversation continues we are made aware of the tension that exists between Willy and his oldest son, Biff. As well, Linda let’s us know that Willy has a temper. She tells him, “You shouldn’t have criticized him, Willy, especially after he just got off the train. You mustn’t lose your temper with him.” (1215) For me, his temper is validated by his response, “When the hell did I lose my temper?” (1215)
Typically, a non-temperamental person would not respond in that manner. As they continue on the topic of Biff, we get the first glimpse of Willy’s contradictory nature. At one moment Willy says, “Biff is a lazy bum!” (1215) While in a follow up comment he says, “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy.” (1215) Well, which is it? Is Biff lazy, or not? Willy’s contradictory tendency will be further exemplified. I find a touch of comical irony, when prior to going to the kitchen, for a glass of milk, he asks, “Why am I always being contradicted? (1215)
While in the kitchen, we go back in time with Linda and Willy. We see that her support of Willy has endured the test of time, as have his inconsistencies. The younger Linda asks, “Did you sell anything?” (1224) At first Willy says, “I did five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston.” (1224) Linda wants to tabulate his commission so she retrieves a pencil and paper from her apron pocket. She “number-crunches” and replies, “Two hundred—my God! Two hundred and twelve dollars!” (1225)
Once he realizes that there will be an expectation to produce that money, he back-peddles and says, “Well, I didn’t figure it yet, but…” (1225) She is persistent, “How much did you do?” Then a more realistic figure emerges, “Well, I—I did—about a hundred and eighty gross in Providence. Well, no—it came to—roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip.” (1225) As easily as Linda can do the math, so can we. Willy’s original report claims approximately 1,200 gross. When realistically his entire trip probably netted 200 gross. If we are inclined to believe that estimate as honest, he has overinflated his sales by six times the actual amount.
After realizing that the actual commission amount is not enough to cover the monthly expenses, a dialogue ensues that reveals another incongruence and his insecurity. Willy states, “Oh, I’ll knock them dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.” (1225) Again, in the same sentence he contradicts himself. I think we can all relate to feeling “less than” at some point in our lives. Since, I know I can, his previous and following statement elicits empathy on my part. He claims that people are laughing at him when he goes to his sales calls. He doesn’t know the reason, he is just aware. Linda’s perpetual support of Willy continues, “Oh, don’t be foolish” and “Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy”. (1225) She continues to console him and coddles his fragile ego by replying, “But you’re doing wonderful, dear. You’re making seventy to a hundred dollars a week.” (1225) There is something to admire about her positive outlook.
Willy continues to share his feelings about his diminished sense of self-worth. This time, it comes from his critique of his physical image, “I’m fat. I’m very foolish to look at, Linda. I didn’t tell you, but Christmas time I happened to be calling on F.H. Stewarts, and a salesman I know, as I was going in to see the buyer, I heard him say something about—walrus. And I—I cracked him right across the face. I won’t take that. I simply will not take that. But they do laugh at me. I know that…” (1226) I would like to draw your attention to the opening scene where Linda cautions Willy about his temper. We are now in the past, and we have a tangible example of Willy’s temper. In this case, it has even erupted into violence. Linda doesn’t even bat an eye when he tells her that he hit someone. Instead, she is the constant pillar that supports his ego, “Willy, darling, you’re the handsomest man in the world—” (1226) Really, Linda? I can’t imagine my husband telling me he hit someone and not be compelled to probe him further about the incident.
Through Willy’s reminiscent daydreams, we hear the laughter of a woman, who will later be revealed as “The Woman”, his mistress. (1226) Willy has just added another criteria to analyze him against. He is unfaithful to his committed and loving wife. Until now, I could sympathize with Willy’s insecurities, even understand his need to overinflate his earnings and maybe even relate to his temper. But, positioned against my own moral standards, I don’t care for a womanizer. Nor would I make an exception if the roles were reversed. He pulls away from the memory and declares, “You’re the best there is, Linda, you’re a pal, you know that?э On the road—on the road I want to grab you sometimes and just kiss the life outa you.” (1226) Anyone who understands simple psychology realizes that it is guilt that moves him to profess affection for his wife. Yet, a key term he uses provides insight to how he actually views her, “you’re a pal”.
These words cannot be misconstrued to mean: I love you, you mean the world to me, and I can’t wait to rush home to you. As a matter of fact, he retreats into his memories and we spend time with “The Woman”. In this brief moment we can conclude that his mistress provides an outlet when he’s on the road, she fuels his ego, and she suits his purpose by being able to send him directly into the buyers. In return, he fulfills her material need for stockings. (1227)
Back from his memory of “The Woman”, we are still in the past where he is remembering a scene of Linda mending her stockings. He commands her to throw them away. Although we already know Biff and Happy from their own earlier dialogues and Willy’s memories (which I did not address), it is here that Linda provides insight into younger Biff. She tells Willy that Biff must return a football that he stole from the school, and that he is also too rough with the neighborhood girls. (1227) Willy is annoyed with Biff and he explodes at Linda when she urges him to do something about Biff’s behavior. (1228). It is important to know, all of Willy’s past memories and mumblings have occurred while he went down to the kitchen for that glass of milk.
Finally, we arrive at the kitchen, in the present. This part does not include Linda. Yet, I find it important to include because this exchange contains a missed opportunity. Not that there weren’t several others. Happy comes down to check on Willy. He finds his father mumbling, and out of concern and sadness, Happy tells him that he will financially provide for the rest of Willy’s life. In expressing his frustration with Happy’s claim to “retire” him for life, Willy makes an explicit cry for help, “You’ll retire me for life on seventy goddam dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you’ll retire me for life! Christ’s sake, I couldn’t get past Yonkers today! Where are you guys, where are you?
The woods are burning! I can’t drive a car!” (1228) And there it is! A desperate, agonizing plea for attention, ‘Where are you guys? The woods are burning!’. He realizes his condition, he is begging to be acknowledged, begging for attention, and begging for help! He feels alone in his suffering. I could imagine his desperation, and we would not be human if we too did not feel his pain. The neighbor, Charley enters, and Happy is sent away. In the interest of focusing on Linda, we will fast forward through this part. Yet, during Charley’s visit and through Willy’s memories, we meet an influential character in Willy’s life (his successful brother Ben). Charley leaves after a heated round of cards. Yet, we remain in the kitchen while Willy heads outside.
Linda comes looking for Willy in the kitchen. Both boys come down to discuss their father’s apparent troubling condition. Instead of addressing it, she scolds them both for being judgmental of their father. Happy transfers his anger onto Biff and blames his father’s condition on Biff’s failures. This scene foreshadows the underlying trouble between Biff and his father. Linda asks Biff, “Why are you so hateful to each other? Why is that?” (1235) Biff is reluctant to admit that he is resentful towards his father. She cautions that one day the boys will try to come home and there will be strangers in the house. Biff replies, “What are you talking about? You’re not even sixty, Mom.” She reminds him that his father is not doing well and goes on to say, “Biff, dear, if you don’t have any feeling for him, then you can’t have any feeling for me.” (1235)
This is an endearing symbol that all families are interconnected, and we each play an integral role. In a passionate plea she proclaims, “You can’t just come to see me, because I love him.” She goes on to acknowledge Willy’s character flaw, “I know he’s not easy to get along with—nobody knows that better than me—but…”(1235) Willy enters the kitchen and he is delighted to see Biff. His erratic behavior is puzzling, and Biff asks, “What the hell is the matter with him?” Linda defends Willy, as if from a physical threat, “Don’t—don’t go near him!” Out of disgust, Biff snaps, “Stop making excuses for him! He always, always wiped the floor with you. Never had an ounce of respect for you.” (1235) This is a loaded, emotional and hurtful comment. But, we will easily unpack why Biff feels that his father has not cherished his mother.
Another scene, that does not directly involve Linda, is a mandatory addition. Nearing the end, we come to know that the younger Biff caught his father with “The Woman” in a hotel, while his father was on a business trip. (1267) The experience grants Biff a moment of clarity, it also permanently shatters his image of his father. Ultimately, she is the measure that Biff judges his father by. In that hotel room, the reality of his father’s pretentious persona crystallizes. He calls him a liar, and a fake. (1268) We will come to understand that this pivotal moment created a fissure that could never be filled. Inevitably, it altered the chain of events in Biff and Willy’s lives, not to mention Linda’s. They remain distant from that moment forward. Poor Linda is never directly told about the affair, which is the sole reason of why Biff resents his father, and the ultimate reason that has caused Willy to be so depressed.
The most important detail I have saved for last. As I first claimed, I found Linda to be the most important woman that brings Willy into perspective for us. Early on, Linda confesses to her boys that Willy has deliberately smashed the car on two separate occasions, (1237) and that she has found a hose in the basement that he intended to connect to a gas line. Just prior she delivers a very heartfelt command to her boys. For us, Linda sums Willy up, “Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.” (1236)
There we have it, Willy has attempted suicide and continues to be tormented with his ideations. Unfortunately, his final suicide attempt is successful. What a strange word, ‘successful’ can be when used to describe death by suicide. But, in Willy’s mind, through death he could attain financial success, make a lasting impression with his sons (mainly Biff) another form of success to Willy, leave 20K for Linda (huge success), and have everyone acknowledge him with a big “send off” (success in the form of recognition). As we know, in the end, it did not play out that way. The few people in attendance did not view his death as a success. What he left behind was pain.