American Literature (P5)
Death of a Salesman Analysis:
(Who is Willy Loman?)
Death of a Salesman is not only the story of the death of a common man but also the death of the American Dream, as defined by the main character. Willy Loman’s skewed perception of the American Dream can be traced to a lifetime of desertion…from his father, to his brother, Ben, and eventually—as he sees it—his sons, namely Biff. With the financial successes of his brother, he measures accomplishment by the amount of wealth, material goods, and (as he puts it), “personal attractiveness” one has. This “personal attractiveness” also means having to conform to societal norms, such as having a “normal” family. Despite being the “all-American family man”, Willy Loman is also an infidel. Therefore, he, in a way, abandons his loyalty to his family, and Biff’s discovery of Willy’s adultery causes the two to have a strained relationship. These abandonment issues run deep in Loman, as being left by his father (and later by his brother), are some of his earliest memories. All throughout the play, Willy has several “memory scenes”, often replaying the past in his head, and talking to his beloved brother Ben. Ben says to Willy, “When I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty one. And by God, I was rich.” This is Willy’s motivation…this is his American Dream...to be like his brother. All he is left with is a few vague memories, and stories of Ben’s success. And it is these stories that he brings with him all throughout the play. Act One begins with,
“A melody is heard, played upon a flute. Before us is the Salesman’s house…As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream dings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.”(boldface emphasis mine)
The flute symbolizes Loman’s father, the first to have abandoned him. Arthur Miller may have intentionally used the flute,...
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