Cyclical Victimization in Death of a Salesman

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Willy Loman, the protagonist in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, is no more the victimizer of his family than he is a victim himself. Miller explores the possibilities of cyclical mental abuse passed on through familial generations, resulting in failure and confusion of one's priorities and goals. Biff, Willy's eldest son, was the victim of too much love and attention. Happy, the youngest boy was victimized by having received no attention and very little love. Willy's wife, Linda, is a victim of her husband's overzealous promises and lack of execution. Although Willy inflicted such calamity upon his family, there were similar conditions produced in his childhood that were responsible for his clouded judgement, causing him to fall prey to his own family's faulty beliefs, values and treatment. Raised during turn-of-the-century America, Willy is seduced, like many, by the American dream of capitalistic success. Above all, his worst enemy is time as he is a victim of old age. Willy loved his son, Biff, too much. The constant attention he instilled on Biff stifled his child's ideals and mental development, making it difficult for Biff to discern right from wrong and attain responsibility. Always being the favored son, he could do no wrong. When he began to "borrow" footballs from school, Willy, knowing that this was wrong, protected his son's integrity by endorsing this behavior stating: "Coach'll probably congratulate you on your initiative!" (30). Willy also began to instigate thievery among his boys by promoting the theft of lumber from a local construction site (50). Any positive role model Biff had, such as his studious friend Bernard, were criticized and belittled by Willy (33) while he set Biff atop an imaginary pedestal for little to no accomplishment. Willy suppressed concerns about Biff's adolescent behavior, such as "driving without a license" or being "rough with the girls" (40), in an attempt to protect his favorite son from ridicule and punishment. Biff came to rely on his father to protect him or solve his problems. When he flunked math the first thing Biff did was run to his father for help (110). Willy's over-protection and profession of accomplishment when there was none left Biff misguided and unprepared to live with societal expectations. Willy's attention indirectly victimized Biff, and he was subject to his father's foolishness and staunch pride. As a result, Biff became a wanderer, jumping from job-to-job without any solid life goals. Unlike Biff, his brother, Happy, is able to live under society's guidelines to a certain degree. However, Happy's perception of life is skewed by his father's lack of parental guidance. He was a second tier son, and much of what he learned from his father was overheard when told to Biff. He adopted similar stealing habits from Biff when he helped him steal lumber. Now Happy accepts bribes from buyers at work in return for favours (25). His inability to have a stable relationship stems from Willy being proud of Biff for having so many girls follow him around school, but telling him never to promise them anything because girls "y'know, they believe what you tell ‘em" (27). Happy also developed a dependency on performance to hide insecurities towards his father's lack of attention. He constantly performs, by showing off his exercises in front of his father (33), and continues to perform by telling lies to Miss Forsythe, a lady he is trying to impress, in the Chop House (102). Regardless of Happy's performing, Willy victimized his young son by neglecting him, and as a result Happy does not know how to connect with any one around him, leaving him without a single substantial relationship. The failure to communicate with his son has left Happy shrugging off anyone's opinion of him, and forever being blind to the truth.

Linda is a victim of Willy through marriage. Vowing to be faithful and love one another till death do them part, Willy...
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