protagonist Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The writer provides the reader with an exploratory journey through the character of Willy Loman including his strengths, weaknesses and downfall. There were nine sources used to complete this paper.
Throughout history literary authors have used their works to convey a message or meaning. When Arthur Miller penned Death of a Salesman he had know way of knowing that it would become a future classic in schools across America. The story has been examined by millions high school and college students as well as literary critics for years. The character of Willy Loman draws a lot of attention to himself because of the complexity of his nature and character. The character of Willy Loman is a character that provides the reader with an inside view of many different life lessons. Some of the life lessons that the character plays out include the death of the American Dream, what lying will get one, what middle age can cause, and how pride can destroy not only the prideful but all of those he touches. The life lessons that are played out by the character of Willy Loman are lessons that are critically important to the success or failure of real life. Loman is someone who tries hard but because of his personal flaws experiences pain and heartache along the way. When Miller wrote the play he made Willy Loman a bit of a tragic hero.
One of the most important things that Willy Loman portrays through the unfolding of his character in the story is the death of middle aged values. The work that one does is supposed to reap certain benefits according to the American Dream. It is what makes the workers strive, it is what makes one keep going when times get tough. They are all assured they will reach the end of the rainbow in middle age and it will be wonderful. Loman displays the let down that occurs when, for some the end of the rainbow looks no different than the previous path has looked for years (Tuleja, PG).
The suicide of Willy Loman has long been debated. Many believe he so because his dreams will never be reached, while others think he does so after Biff declares his love and Willy knows he has failed his son (Phelps pg 239).
Following the emotional clash between Biff and Willy in which Biff collapses in his father’s arms declaring himself to be nothing, nothing at all Willy immediately begins to analyze the meaning of the exchange (Phelps pg 239). ”
Willy’s immediate reaction to it is to conclude: “Biff – he likes me!” To which Linda and Happy quickly respond with enthusiastic reinforcement: “He loves you, Willy!” And “Always did, Pop” (Miller pg 133). Their reaction suggests that Biff’s feelings are obvious. However, Linda and Happy are repeatedly shown to be among the most deluded, obtuse, and mendacious characters in the play. Earlier, each had made equally enthusiastic and reinforcing – but dangerously inaccurate-comments on the supposed affection of Bill Oliver, Biff’s former boss, for his departed employee. When Biff outlined his plan to persuade Oliver to “stake” him to a business venture, he insisted: “He did like me. Always liked me.” Linda immediately exclaimed: “He loved you” (Miller pg 64). Earlier, Happy had responded to the plan in a similar fashion: “I bet he’d back you. ‘Cause he thought highly of you, Biff” (Miller pg 26). Yet Oliver, when Biff finally sees him in his office, doesn’t “remember who [Biff] was or anything” (Miller pg 104).
Willy committing suicide is a rare occurrence in most literature. It is a sad event that is not reversible and leaves the reader with a feeling of deep emptiness, but perhaps that was the author’s plan all along. The reader gets to know Willy throughout the play, and whether the reader comes to love him or hate him one cannot help but pity the man who felt the only way to be somebody in the end was to die. Willy was a man who had spent his life embellishing. He lied to his wife about how much he sold, he lied to his company about what he was worth, he lied to his neighbor about his truth in work, and most of all he lied to himself about what was important. The character of Willy is one that provides the backdrop for many reader reflections. Most people who reach middle age discover the truth about the myth of the American Dream. People are told that if they work hard, and put one foot in front of the other they will attain the American dream, which in and of itself is never fully defined for those who chase it. Perhaps the very illusion of the dream is what comes to tarnish and eventually burst for those who cross the middle age line and stop to see what they have won. It is what Willy Loman did when the play was written and he found that life was not a pot of gold that one finally reaches, but is really more of the same ole without the energy and idealism of youth.
When Willy dies his family comes to realize how he was suffering form a lifetime of misguided dreams and misguided attempts to succeed while never letting on that it was a struggle. At his funeral Willy’s son Biff suggests that Willy had the wrong dreams and never really knew who he was (Miller pg 38).
Willy worked hard to protect wife Linda from the realities of life, though he did not do it so much out of concern for Linda, but out of a desire to appear larger than life to her for his own egotistical need (Winer pg B02). The many years that he spent telling her what she needed to hear, and letting her think things were fine when they weren’t fed a need in Willy to be something he wasn’t….perfect. Willy based his entire life on being a large fish in a small pond as was evidenced with the way he worshipped his son who played football and would not let go of the past and all the football games Biff endured before becoming injured. Willy’s insistence on clinging to the past and trying to keep Biff a football hero shows Willy’s insecurities that overflow to the rest of his life. He wants to be “somebody” and in his quest he spends years pretending that he does more than he does (Winer pg B02).
Most of the play is geared toward the path Willy takes to discover he has spent his life valuing the wrong things. It is made clear that Willy was not intentionally misleading or filled with embellishment (Bornstein pg 6D). He saw things the way he wanted them to be and he ignored the things he was not ready to face. He believed that he was protecting his family even though there was a deep rooted need to appear perfect to them and that need drove his life and actions. Even when Loman loses his job and has to go to a neighbor that he hates he really believes in his heart in his personal value system. An example is that he hates the neighbor, and has never been nice to him, so while he is willing to take his money he is not willing to work for him. One can tell by the rest of the story that Willy is not lazy by any stretch, therefore it is not a desire not to work that drives his refusal to work for Charlie. It is again, Willy’s personally developed and mostly off center set of values that cause him to react the way he does to the thought of Charlie being his boss. He can handle “borrowing” money from the nenighbor he hates because in his mind he will someday pay it all back with interest, once he gets back on his feet, but the thought of being a subordinate to a man he so disrespects is something he cannot bring himself to do.
The one thing that Willy does throughout the play that is honorable from a motivational standpoint is wants his boys to be liked. He knows if they are well liked their lives will be easier to succeed in. He has spent his life alternating between abrasiveness and selling and wants his boys to understand there is a middle that is the best choice (Characters pg).
Miller makes Willy out to be a sad salesman and someone that the reader can almost pity but not quite (Arthur Miller (http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc10.htm).When Willy makes the decision to commit suicide it is a shock to most readers who believed he would persevere regardless of obstacles. In a way the character of Willy Loman giving up is something that many middle aged readers fear they may do when the time comes to face middle age. Middle age from the perspective of Willy Loman looks pretty bleak. The world is raised to have eternal hope but when Loman gives up the observer may feel like giving up as well (Arthur Miller (http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc10.htm).Willy Loman represents the middle age crisis that so many people hear about or suffer from. It is a time when the dream is not realized and the dreamer discovers it was only an illusion all along (Arthur Miller (http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc10.htm).They commonly go out and buy new cars and they spend lots of money doing the things they wanted to do in their youth but didn’t because they were to busy chasing the American Dream. Once that dream bursts many people step backwards and try to recapture their youth. Loman does not do that and instead when he realizes his entire life has been built on lies and wrong ideals he decides to stop living all together.
Willy’s successful neighbor Charley describes the American salesman this way: “He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine (Nelson pg C01).” In Willy’s case, it’s more like a song and dance, and he can be a maddening figure as Burns shows you the used- up performer whose shtick has run dry.Willy is a deliberately terrible listener (which goes hand in hand with being a tone-deaf chatterbox) (Nelson pg C01). Burns, who cuts a rumpled, craggy figure here, has a commanding voice, and his Willy uses it with the bravura of an opera singer whenever he starts to hear about things he’d rather not: Biff’s chronic failures, for instance, or the fact that Howard, Willy’s young boss, is letting him go. Willy is never more alive than when he has Biff and Happy, his adoring sons — at least in earlier years — at his feet (their adoration seems more valuable to the big-hearted, lunkheaded Willy than a fat commission). He’s a great and terrible huckster, beaming as he sells himself to his kids, filling the innocents with phantom tales of his mercantile prowess and of the wonderful lives that await them (Nelson pg C01).” The one thing Willy fails his children is however is preparing them for the future. He does not teach them that it is okay to fail. When Biff stops playing football Willy refuses to let go of the dream and in turn teaches Biff that without that success he is pretty much a nobody. When His other son does not excel in any way Willy ignores him and acts like he is not a valued member of Willy’s life, which teaches him that if one does not stand out one is worthless. Willy himself teaches them the biggest lesson of their lives about success. He commits suicide when things get rough. This leaves his sons with the lesson that the way out is to quit and the way to remedy past mistakes is to abandon those who were most affected by those mistakes.
When one reads or watches the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller one cannot help but feel anger and pity for Willy Loman. He sets the stage for his eventual destruction when he refuses to be honest even with those closest to him. When things fall apart he has no one to turn to because he has never admitted the struggles. He believes if he is not a hero in their minds he will not be loved. When he finally makes the decision to die it is to perform the last act of sacrifice that he can, though it too is tainted with the desire to be worshipped for doing so. Willy Loman portrays the failure of the American Dream, the realization may come to when they reach middle age, and the inability to recover from the combination.
A father’s dream is to raise his sons to become productive and active citizens. He does so through the example he sets and he does so by the lessons he teaches. Willy Loman spends his life presenting one view to his sons and shielding them from the reality of failure and the ability to recover from that failure. He does so out of his own need to be admired and loved but it is only in middle age that he realizes he has done them a grave injustice. As many parents realize, to late, he realizes he cannot go back and undo the damage he has caused the boys he loves so much and his answer for his crime is to commit suicide so they can at least benefit form the insurance.
Tad Tuleja, Death of a Salesman., The New York Public Library Book of Popular Americana, 01-01-1994. pg
Phelps, H.C., Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman.’. Vol. 53, The Explicator, 06-01-1995, pp 239(2).
Linda Winer, Everyman Revisited / Dennehy is larger than life in a splendid ‘Salesman’., Newsday, 02-11-1999, pp B02.
Lisa Bornstein; News Theater Critic, WILLY LOMAN, TV PITCHMAN SHOWTIME’S ‘SALESMAN,’ BRILLIANT CAST HIT HOME., Denver Rocky Mountain News, 01-08-2000, pp 6D.
Miller, Arthur, Works of Arthur Miller: Analyses Of Major Characters., Monarch Notes, 01-01-1963.
Nelson Pressley Special to The Washington Post, ‘Death of a Salesman’: Olney’s Poetic Pitch., The Washington Post, 10-12-1999, pp C01.
Lloyd Rose Washington Post Staff Writer, The Many Faces Of the Salesman; Onstage, an Enduring American Archetype., The Washington Post, 04-25-1999, pp G01.
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