Death of a Salesman


An Analysis of Major Characters

Willy Loman

Willy Loman is a traveling salesman who believed in the myth of the American Dream. He believed that he could achieve wealth and success through a moderate amount of work. He is driven by the desire to be well-liked, which is critical for a salesman, but he privately acknowledges to Linda that he is not well-liked. This desire to be well-liked has led him to a number of bad decisions, such as his decision to keep a mistress. When the fact of his affair was discovered by his son, Biff, he ceased to be a hero in Biff’s eyes, which led to a downfall in Biff’s life. Unable to criticize himself, Willy focuses his negative energy on Biff, constantly criticizing him for his failure to live up to Willy’s expectations. Willy wants to maintain the image that he is successful and prosperous, but as he ages, he realizes more and more that the success he has always sought will continue to elude him.

Willy also appears to be suffering from some type of significant mental impairment. He commits suicide at the end of the play, which is suggestive of depression, but the play also features several interludes in which he confuses the present with the past. He also carries on imaginary conversations with his deceased brother, Ben. The family seems aware of Willy’s tendencies to escape from reality; they do not grow alarmed when they find him talking to himself, though they do try to comfort and quiet him in those moments.

Willy’s story has an unhappy ending, and he clearly has several significant flaws, which might lead one to label him a tragic hero. In many ways he is, but Loman is sufficiently different from the traditional tragic hero that critics often characterize American tragic plays like Death of a Salesman differently than they characterize traditional tragedies. In the traditional tragedy, the tragic hero has some type of epiphany during the course of the play. Willy never seems to have that epiphany. Even his suicide is a cop-out; it is not inevitable, and rather than making himself more...

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