The Imagery In Death Of A Salesman
No matter how hard we try, we cannot change the past. Much of what we have done or experienced relates to our present lives, in either a positive or negative way. In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Biff must deal with his experiences with his father, Willy. His struggle with some aspects of his past show how personality and charm are being sucked out of society, and how they are futile in the pursuit of success.
One event from Biff’s past that is referred to often throughout the play is Willy’s affair. When Biff walks into that hotel room, and sees The Woman barely clothed, his perception of his father was forever changed. His struggle with determining his feelings for his dad shows how in the end, your personality and how well liked you are do not matter. If you are a phony, as Biff calls his father, you will be disregarded by society. In our modern world, if you are not truly a good salesman, and try to get by on your personality and contacts, you won’t be successful, just like Willy. This is exemplified in the incident with The Woman. To Biff, Willy was a well respected, well liked, loyal man, until he caught him cheating on Linda. As soon as Biff saw how Will wasn’t really the great man he thought he was, he becomes hostile towards him. He begins to see the fallacy and futility in impressionability and realizes that talk is cheap, and true actions dictate your place in society. Willy talk of how many people knew him was immediately thrown out the window when his unfaithful actions surfaced, and Biff turned on him as a result.
Another aspect of Biff’s past that seems to affect his present life is the fact that Willy was always blowing him up to be something the he was not. His father’s commendation and infectious confidence lead to Biff always feeling superior or entitled to high praise. He tries to get by on his charm and strong presence, not on skill. It is, in fact, Willy’s great expectations and hopes for his son are what lead Biff into the habit of stealing things. Realizing the inadequacy of how well liked he is, he steals to maintain his worthiness in his father’s eyes. Even years later, Biff steals the Bill Oliver’s fountain pen. Biff’s inability to be successful throughout the play shows how personality and charm are worthless in the business-like world that he lives in, where only results matter. The contrast between Bernard, a boy who was rarely praised by his father, and Biff, who was adored by his father, accentuates this point. Bernard ends up being highly successful, while Biff makes his salary doing hard labor out west.
It is a common belief that plays seek to capture the attitudes and traditions of their time and convey them to audiences. Miller does just that in Death of a Salesman by frequently using past events in the plot to illustrate the idea that our society is changing from warm and like-able, to cold and businesslike.
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