The Nineteen-Forties was a very patriarchal era. The father was the head of the house and his life’s works were passed down to his sons. A strong relationship between a man and his sons was crucial to maintaining a healthy household. Once the relationship began to deteriorate, the entire family unraveled. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman displays how the relationship between Willy and his two sons creates the downfall of the Loman family. The relationship is constantly changing throughout the story. Biff and Happy idolize and have nothing but love for their father when they are children, but when they grow up they realize how their father failed to prepare them for the real world.
Willy Loman is portrayed as an un-fit father. Willy never really had a father when he was growing up. He lost his father when he was very young. Because Willy was deprived of affection as a child, he smothers his sons with love and oppresses them with the nakedness of his hopes for their success. (Carson pg. 92) His older brother Ben stepped in and served as a substitute father. (Carson pg. 90) As a result of not having a true father figure in his childhood, Willy struggled with fatherhood because had no example to base his parenting on.
When Ben passed away, Willy lost his last connection to his father. (Carson pg. 91) Willy’s lack of a real father has left him as an insecure person. He has been trying his whole life to compensate for his loss. Willy is constantly unsure of himself and the way he raises his boys. This can be seen in the scene where he is imagining his dead brother Ben is visiting. Willy says “Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel — kind of temporary about myself.” (Miller pg. 36) He repeatedly asks Ben if he’s raising his boys right and even asks for Ben to stay for a few days. (Miller pg. 36)His insecurity does not allow him to see the inconsistencies of his beliefs and the lessons he teaches his boys. (Carson pg. 92) Willy feels that he needs Ben’s approval for how he is raising his sons. (Centola pg. 28) He can be heard asking imaginary Ben, “Ben, how should I teach them?” (Miller pg. 36) Willy’s problems as a father are shown to be a direct result of his own deprivation as a son. (Carson pg. 89)
The father/son relationship in the play is very ironic. One would assume that a poor relationship stems from lack of love and attention from the father. The Loman family’s circumstances could be considered the complete opposite. From the day his first son was born, Willy Loman’s life goal was to become the perfect father. He becomes obsessed with his image as a father. Nearly everything he does can be traced back to somehow trying to give his sons a better life. Willy values his family more than anything else in the world and only wishes for his sons to be what he sees as successful. (Carson pg. 92) Although Willy is not a good salesman by any means, he relentlessly believes that trying his hardest at work gives others the impression that he is an excellent provider. All of his struggles, sacrifices, and even final suicide are for his sons, not himself. (Carson pg. 92) Willy pawns his diamond watch, received as a gift from his beloved brother Ben, in order to pay for Biff’s radio correspondence course. Willy even commits the ultimate sacrifice for his sons. He believes that by bequeathing them $20,000 in insurance money by committing suicide, he will provide conclusive proof of his immutable essence as a good father. (Bigsby pg. 130) From the first line to the last line of the play, Willy Loman is in constant pursuit of becoming and staying the perfect father.
The saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, relates perfectly to the father/son relationship in Death of a Salesman. Willy has had nothing but the best of intentions when it comes to raising his boys. He constantly attempts to push...