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Death of a Salesman

Jun 18, 2002 1714 Words
Darren Ben-Ari
Mrs. Rowe
English III
March 24, 1998

Death of a salesman

Death of a salesman

The Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller is a controversial play of a typical American family and their desire to live the American dream "Rather than a tragedy or failure as the play is often described. Death of a Salesman dramatizes a failure of [that] dream" (Cohn 51). The story is told through the delusional eyes and mind of Willy Loman, a traveling salesman of 34 years, whose fantasy world of lies eventually causes him to suffer an emotional breakdown. Willy's wife, Linda, loves and supports Willy despite all his problems, and continually believes in his success and that of their no good lazy sons, Biff and Happy. The play takes place in 1942, in Willy and Linda's home, a dilapidated shack on the outskirts of a slum. Willy has spent his whole life teaching and believing that you can achieve success by your appearance and by making yourself as amiable as possible. Eventually Willy begins to fabricate stories at himself to be able to live with himself because he can't meet his own expectations. He falls deeper into his lies, making himself and his family suffer for it. (Thesis). In the play Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller proves he is America's social critic when he criticizes Willy's relationship concerning his family, his lack of success in achieving his goals and his dreams along with his inner turmoil and personal collapse which result in suicide. In the onset of the play, Willy told Linda that you "work a lifetime to pay of a house. You finally own it, and there is nobody to live in it" (Cohn 56). This quote shows how Willy strives his whole life to make a home for his family and by the time he sees the realization of that one dream, his family has drifted apart and he is alone with his haunting thoughts and his ghosts. Willy has such high expectations for himself and his sons, and when they all failed to accomplish their dreams, they were unable to accept each other for what they truly were. Willy raised Biff with the idea that success depends on whether or not a person can sell himself and not how smart a person is. Biff's tragic flaw is his acceptance of Willy's values and not creating any of his own. When Biff realizes his father is a fake, he becomes a lost individual and he does not speak to his father for 14 years. In Willy's family it is always Biff who receives recognition, however, Happy strives for attention too. He is constantly heard saying, "I'm losing weight, have you noticed pop?" The key words to emphasize in this quote are "…have you noticed pop?" not that Happy is losing weight, but that Happy exists too and requires the same love and devotion which Biff receives. Although Happy's character can be empathized, he can not be sympathized with because in the rejection of his father, Happy sadly expresses a reaction he felt. Happy and Biff's disappointment do not derive from themselves, but rather their uncertainty in their father's capability of holding a successful job. It is Willy's lack of success in achieving his goals which hurt and destroy the Loman Family. Willy always wishes he could be rich like his brother Ben, however, false hopes harbor Willy's fantasy instead of displaying a reality. Willy discusses the salesman Dave Singleman and how popular he was. It was when Willy saw Dave put on his green velvet slippers and sell merchandise from a telephone in a hotel room, that he realized he wanted to be a salesman. Willy liked the idea of being popular, well liked and having a lot of friends. In 1928, he promises his boys that one day he'll have his own business and he will not have to travel anymore. Even this plan fails him and Willy still must endeavor on road trips to support his family and compensate for his lost goals. Willy proves himself a failure when he boasts to Linda how he made "$1200.00 dollars gross!" however, when Willy and Linda reconfigure their finances, they realize Willy has only made $200.00 gross. "Americans standard of living is the highest of any nation and living in America is more expensive than any other nation" (Bloom 68). Once again, Willy's illusions eluted him. "The tragic hero is devoted to goals. They seek the goals yet never accomplish them" (68). Willy never becomes rich so he must escape to his dreams. Just as Willy thinks something is paid, something else breaks down or needs repairing. Throughout the play all Willy wants is to be rich like his big brother Ben or be revered like David Singleman. Unfortunately, Willy is clueless on how to get there. With stale slogans such as, "The world's an oyster, but you don't crack it open on a mattress." it is no wonder Willy could not attain the personal attractiveness desired in order to become popular. Willy's biggest failure is the subject of his house. The house represents completion and once the house is paid off there would be people to fill it, however the irony proves that once the house is paid, no one is left to live in it. Willy's failure to achieve success leads to his inner turmoil and personal collapse which forces his inevitable death. Willy Loman's failures led to inner turmoil and personal collapse; these problems pushed Willy to commit suicide. When discussing Willy Loman's personal collapse, the fact he could never stick to his dreams may be explained as the reason for his anger towards other people. Howard Wagner is the son of the former owner of the Wagner Company who now runs the business and is responsible for putting Willy on straight commission. This forced Willy to be on the road more. Since Willy had to spend more time on the road than he did at home, he became lonely. Miss Frances is a woman who Willy met in Boston and they had an affair. One day, Biff decided to visit his father and Biff discovered what his father had done. Biff resented his father and did not speak to him for 14 years. Now, away from home and feeling lonely while having his son resent him, Willy begins to resent himself. Later, when he talks to his wife Linda, he stares at a pair of silk stockings she is washing and "experiences flashbacks and hallucinations which is his own consciousness"(Bloom 7). This flashback, as Ruby Cohn describes it is "the intrusion of Willy's past and fantasy into his present [which] resembles a dream, and the word "dream" recurs, from the early scenic direction through the introduction of Willy's sons" (Cohn 51) Willy's biggest turmoil, however, was being not only a good husband, but a good father. Willy felt that in order to be a good husband and father, he would have to provide for his family and eradicate their debt. To do this, Willy made the biggest sacrifice; he killed himself so that his family could use insurance money to clear their debts and his son Biff could attain all the hopes and dreams which Willy never had. The irony in this scene is that while Willy is talking to his dead brother Ben, he is planting the seeds. Nature represents life and the symbolism here shows how Willy was giving his seeds a chance, a chance to grow and prosper into fruitful lives where they could live out their fantasies and dreams. To conclude, Arthur Miller proves he is a social critic in Death of a Salesman through Willy's relationship with his family, his lack of success, and his inner turmoil and emotional breakdown. Willy's slow deteriorating mind is a direct result of the desperation of his family and his lack of success on the job. Due to flaws in the relationship he has with his family, Willy lacks outside comfort and endeavors to make his family proud of him but he fails. Failure is something Willy is familiar with as well as tired of. Willy fails at providing an easy life for his wife and children. Willy also fails at being a successful salesman and achieving his goals and dreams. His failure brings about inner turmoil and personal collapse. Willy must make a difficult decision on how to achieve his goals in any way possible. Willy decides that although he can not achieve his dreams, he would sacrifice himself so his family could achieve theirs. His suicide gives his family the money they need to achieve their goals and maximize their potential. Willy Loman was never successful (in the end) at providing for his family. The irony behind Willy is the life he was creating just before the life he was taking. Willy spilled his blood to water the seeds and although he would never watch his flowers blossom, he knew they would be nurtured and well cared for.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Major Literary Characters: Willy Loman. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Cohn, Ruby. "The Articulate Victims of Arthur Miller". Contemporary Literary Criticism CLC.2 . Detroit: Indiana University press. 1971. 68-96.

Bibliography
Bloom, Harold. Major Literary Characters: Willy Loman. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations: Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Cohn, Ruby. "The Articulate Victims of Arthur Miller". Contemporary Literary Criticism CLC.2 . Detroit: Indiana University press. 1971. 68-96. Driver, Tom F. Saturday Review. Contemporary Literary Criticism. CLC.2.

Detroit: James Brown Associates. 1970.
Magill, N Frank. "Arthur Miller." Vol.4 of Magills Survey of American Literature.
New York: Salem Press. Inc, 1991.
Murray, Edward. "Arthur Miller." Contemporary Literary Criticism." Vol.6.
Detroit: Gak Research, 1987.
Perkins, George, Barbara Perkins and Phillip Leiniger. "Arthur Miller." Readers
Encyclopedia of American Literature. 1991.
Simon, John. "Arthur Miller." Contemporary Literacy Criticism. Vol.2. Detroit
NYM Corp. 1972.

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