November 14, 2012
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...