Arthur Miller’s prized play Death of a Salesman tells the tragic story of a conflicted salesman, Willy Loman, who encounters personal failure and disappointment throughout his life. When faced with his numerous failures, Willy chooses to live in the past through memories and flash-backs to convince himself of his success. Loman symbolizes the idyllic American Dream of the time, where the promise of the perfect wife, a beautiful home, and a fruitful life seemed within every American’s reach. As the play unfolds, Willy’s search for financial success becomes the vehicle of his demise, and Arthur Miller exposes the failure of the Dream in contemporary society.
As a young boy, Biff, Willy’s oldest son, showed athletic promise and a charismatic personality that made Willy proud. When Biff’s friend Bernard comes over to help Biff with his math class, Willy criticizes Bernard by mocking him:
Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through (1.272).
Willy’s idea of success teaches his sons that popularity and charisma are often more important than being responsible or earning respect. Willy transmits this flawed idea to his boys and encourages them to ignore school and focus on popularity rather than hard work. Subsequently, Willy has the audacity to ask Bernard, the friend he sees only destined to be average, to cheat on Biff’s exam so he can graduate high school. Willy’s emphasis on superficial qualities and popularity becomes the mantra for his...