Death of a Salesman is one of the greatest dramas of the 21st century. Written by famous American playwright, Arthur Miller, it represents a rendering of memories that make up the last twenty-four hours of the life of a salesperson Willy Loman. The play focuses on the man unable to accept changes in himself, his family, and the world around him. Miller uses this character to shatter the myth that material wealth can truly bring happiness. In his pursuit of the American Dream, the main character is depicted as both the culprit and the victim of his fate, which adds to understanding the personal responsibilities for one’s own future.
The main character, Willy Loman, has been working as a salesperson during all his life. He is at the sunset of his working life and experiences inability to complete his dreams. Loman’s aim is to secure and provide appropriate financial support for his family. He is depicted as a person who has been trying to make his American Dream come true at any price and by all accessible means. Willy’s desire to live a wealthy life is not considered a crime. It is a good dream which is worth a fight. In the story, his son Happy says, “He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have - to come out number one man”. However, in his struggle he loses himself, his moral values, and, eventually, loses control over his life. Loman ends up in debts, drowning in his lies and is partially guilty of such an ending.
In a certain sense, the protagonist is a simple victim of his own desires, external influence, and circumstances. During all his life, Willy has been looking for an opportunity of self-assertion. His search for the awareness of self-worth is full of constant disappointment, which he refuses to accept. He is seeking himself outside and wants to gain recognition through the eyes of the others. However, as Willy does not want to listen to the outside world, he is forced to create his own sources of guidance. This guidance comes in the form of his relatives, namely father and brother, and the figure of Dave Singleman. This may serve as an argument in favor of the suggestion that Loman is a victim of the delusive impact of other people.
Accomplishments of his brother inspire Willy. He treats Ben as a god-like figure. He gained a lot in his life and should definitely know the secret of success. Willy perceives Ben’s words as the formula for success: “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle when I was twenty- one I walked out”. Willy takes this as a sign that the greatest things can happen and makes this as a point to his sons. Nevertheless, this still stands as a vague insight for Willy, thus, the means of gaining success are still a mystery to him.
Willy’s relationships with father also prompt his desire for wealth. Everything he knows about his parent is the information provided by his brother Ben. Loman’s father is a very good inventor of flutes as well as a salesperson. He is also a great spender; in fact, this fact might have had a strong influence on Willy’s selection of profession. The play points to the fact that the protagonist is enormously influenced by the lack of a father’s upbringing. In a conversation with his brother, Willy claims that the fact that their father abandoned him made him become inadequate. Further Willy confesses that it also caused him to feel a lack of identity: “Dad left when I was such a baby, and I never had the chance to talk to him and I still feel-- kind of temporary about myself”. This evidence points to the fact that Loman’s vain efforts to make a fortune which eventually have led to his misfortune have roots in the past. Even though the protagonist has the enthusiasm and a great example of his father and brother before him, he does not have a clear plan of how to satisfy his ambitions. That is why he eventually becomes a victim of desire to catch up with his relatives and wastes his life chasing a vague dream.
Dave Singleman, who never appears as a separate active character, has a great influence on Willy. This figure personifies Willy’s idea about the true and ideal salesperson. The protagonist dreams to achieve similar success in life. However, in reality, all the best qualities of Dave Singleman are shallow and could not help the main character on his way to achieving his dreams. Willy makes an imaginary idol from this character. This fact has a detrimental effect on his mind and eventually forces him to shut off from the outer world.
Human factor contributes to Willy’s decay in the sense that people surrounding him do not even try to help him. The attitude of Willy’s wife is the most obvious example of people’s inability to intrude into the protagonist’s fate. Linda never confronts her husband about his lies and troubles he gets into. For example, she does not quarrel when she finds out that Willy is out of financial means and has been borrowing money from his uncle Charley. Such negligence contributed greatly to Loman’s further failures. Linda is aware of her husband’s problems and does nothing to stop him. She herself often reminds Willy of the significant figure of Dave Singleman and it is her attitude that partially prevents him from facing reality. Instead of throwing a buoy, she allows the head of Loman’s family to sink deeper and deeper.
Willy’s desire for success extends to a further degree than just the need for wealth, security, goods, and status. He also wants to achieve prominence – he aims at recognition and wants to reassure his self-worth. Willy worries that he does not manage to leave a noticeable footprint in the history of the world or at least his kin and fails to complete the duties of both a father and a husband. “Some people accomplish something” – Willy tells his wife. On the other hand, the readers have to feel sorry for him because Loman’s fate embodies the tragedy of a small man in a big world and excites compassion. His inability to achieve his dream forces him to search for the idea of success in the characters of his sons Happy and Biff.
Willy himself is responsible not just for his future, but for the fate of his children. Parents are supposed to encourage their kids, but Biff and Happy do not have this courtesy. They cannot settle for working like regular people because their father deluded them with vain promises. He always told them they were special and eventually succeeded in this. Willy truly believes in what he is telling and, in the end, his pride makes him unwilling to ask for help when he needs it most. In addition to being too proud, he is also very needy. This trait of character leads to an extramarital affair which shatters Biff’s perception of his father when he witnesses it. “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!”.
The great desire for a better life and financial prosperity made the protagonist do numerous disgraceful deeds. Eventually, this lust for the American Dream drags him into the swamp of cheating and stealing that is detrimental to his family. He does all these bad things while being aware of their nature. Thus, it may be said that Loman is responsible for the outcomes of these enterprises. He himself is guilty of the crash of his marriage. Willy’s wife Linda is a loving and carrying person. She deeply loves her husband despite all his eccentric ambitions: “He is the dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue”. She is the one who attempts to cheer him up and is deeply worried because of his depressive mood. Despite the fact that such pure and noble feelings surround him, Willy cheats on his wife and allows the first crack in his family to appear.
Loman is responsible for deluding his sons and promoting wrong priorities. Due to Willy Loman, his sons believe that lying, cheating, and stealing are acceptable. He forgets that a parent is a model for children to follow as they grow. The readers may encounter the acts of lying in the scenes where Biff is telling about practicing football with a “new” ball, which he has stolen. Such a deed remains unpunished as Loman himself is inclined to such small mischiefs and does not see anything wrong in it. Willy’s actions continue to influence the boys on the subject of philandering. Willy cheats on Linda, his timid wife, and this gives Biff and Happy the impression that disrespect for women is common. When Biff and Happy are alone in their old bedroom recalling past memories from their glory days, Happy chuckles, “About five hundred women would like to know what was said in this room”. This shows that they are following their father’s example. Near the end of the book, Biff comes to realize that Willy’s influence has majorly affected his character, and this affronts him. He screams angrily, “You know why I had no address for three months? I stole a suit in Kansas City and I was in jail….I stole myself out of every good job in high school….And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! That’s whose fault it is!”. At this point in the play, Biff is fed up with the actions of his father and is resentful of how they rubbed off on him.
Quite doubtful is the issue of rejecting reality and sinking into his own illusions. On the one hand, this stage of the character’s development contributes to his status as a victim. His dismissal after more than 30 years of devoted work makes Loman experience frustration, as he understands that this marks the end of his hopes. Willy is suffering from the realization of his own failures. In order to escape depressive feelings, his mind produces another alternative reality with a more romanticized version of its holder. His reveries depict him as a respected salesperson and father. Moreover, Loman’s illusions produce the scenario of his heroic death that is followed by a massive funeral and idolization of his figure. On the other hand, his oblivion in his own fantasies was one of the causes of his final decay. Instead of facing the troubles, Willy builds a wall in his mind and is not capable of making sound judgments and efficient decisions.
The virtuous idea of success can easily misguide a person’s perception of identity if propelled by the need for prominence and recognition. One of the biggest obstacles to being successful is recognizing who you are before seeking the acknowledgment outside of yourself. Furthermore, there is no general approach or definition of becoming successful, as it manifests into various meanings for many different people. Whether it is financial, spiritual, or social, success has to be a function of character and without genuine confidence in one’s own identity, achieving endeavors or goals in life can produce disappointing outcomes, as it did for Willy Loman and his sons.
Death of a Salesman tells a story of a person that is both a volunteer and a victim of his fate. However, after the deep analysis of his character and careful consideration of his deeds, it could be concluded that he himself is responsible for everything that has happened. Willy is too obsessed with his American Dream and believes that a person achieves happiness only by acquiring materialistic things. Loman does not try to fight with reality; he creates his own illusion instead and at the end is sunk by his own failures. His tragedy consists in the inability to realize the delusion of his dreams and finding happiness in simple things.