Death of a Salesman by
Arthur Miller is a predica...
The Role of Willy Loman in the Play; Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman by
Arthur Miller is a predicament about the disparity between the dreams of the
Loman family and the reality of their lives. Miller used the play to criticize
the American Dream and the competitive yet materialistic American Society of
the 1940s. The play is widely considered as one of the greatest to be ever
written by an American playwright and is often ranked high with other legendary
classics. Just like these classics, the major themes in Death of a salesman can
still be applied in modern-day America. The harsh criticism of American
capitalism could still be useful in a similar manner it was used when the play
first premiered. The play is a sequence of dreams, arguments, memories, and
confrontations that comprise of the last 24 hours of Willy Loman’s life. The
plot features Willy as an average fellow who attempts to conceal his failures
and averageness behind delusional hallucinations as he struggles to become a
“success.” Willy is trying to chase an American Dream, which is not his dream.
This paper takes a deeper look into Willy Loman, the main character in the
play, his motivations and the conflicts that come his way. Miller uses Willy
and his traits to pass a clear message to the American audience. We’ll be able
to get deeper insights of the play’s significance in the society by
understanding Willy and what he goes through.
Willy Loman is a
sixty-year-old salesman that lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is depicted as a
mercurial and gregarious man with a great desire to succeed. However, he feels
defeated by his difficult family life and lack of success after thirty-five
years as a traveling salesman in New England. He has an admirable wife, but his
relationship with Biff, his eldest son, is tainted by his unending failures.
His dematerializing career, guilt over cheating on his spouse, and estranged
relationship with Biff cause him to have anxiety and depression. Nonetheless,
Willy concentrates on personal details rather than actual measures of success
and believes that it is personality and not high returns that define success in
the business world. As a salesman, he’s subject to the impulses of the
marketplace and can only perform in the world of business. On several
occasions, Willy loses the ability to differentiate between his (past) memories
and the present. Willy can’t even afford to secure a loan for his son Biff, and
that makes him desperate. He ponders about the love his kids have for him and
the insurance money Biff would get if he were to die. He then decides to take
his life, having realized how little he had accomplished in life (Zheng).
Miller uses Willy’s
character in the Death of a salesman to address the loss of people’s identity
and their inability to accept change within themselves and the society. He does
this by mainly using the theme of the American Dream. In the play, nothing
supersedes Willy’s quest for the American Dream. He firmly believes in the idea
that people who work hardest get rewarded hardest. He tells Linda (his wife) in
act I that “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young
man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker.
There’s one thing about Biff— he’s not lazy…… I’ll get him a job selling. He
could be big in no time.” (Miller, p. 8). He also lives in the fantasy of
having an all American “perfect” life as a businessman with a son in a football
team, and a wife as well as a mistress. Willy admires the wealth of his brother
and strives to have a perfect life, but he continuously fails to achieve his
dreams despite his great potential. Willy has been used as a significant case
of self-deception conjoined with misguided life goals (Tracy& Robins, p.
57). As a salesman his whole career, he considers the goal of life as gaining
material success and being well liked. Despite his failure to achieve his
poorly chosen life goals, he holds on tight to the American Dream and the
belief that anyone charismatic can make it big. Willy is an insecure person who
tries to make himself feel better by lying to himself and his family. He has
lied to himself his whole life yet tries to live vicariously through his
unwilling son, Biff. However, Biff exposes his dad’s lies when he discovers he
had an extramarital affair. Willy, tormented by his failures avoids facing
reality and opts to alienate his son. He spirals downward in the worst way
The author also uses Willy
to criticize individuals in the society who live a fictitious life. Willy’s own
make-belief notion of magnificence was actually his real. He lived a lie.
During his time, a salesman was one of the least educated members of the
society. Despite this fact, Willy perceived himself as a big businessman, in a
similar fashion as the self-made millionaires of today see themselves. The
reality of Willy’s life was a torn marriage, dysfunctional family, poor
parenting skills, and an unprosperous career.
Miller also indicates how
Willy deals with his predicament in the wrong way. Willy, whether willingly or
not fights against himself and even the society. He fights against the society
even though a typical salesman has no other way than to depend on circumstances
including the market, the trend, the business, and the clients. Willy spends
his entire life and career to build support he could rely on to no success. He
could not be able to rectify the past, better the present or build the future.
Regarding fighting oneself, Willy denies his talents and freezes his own son’s
talent despite Biff proving to be no better than his father. He did all this
because he wanted to portray an image that was not up to his standards. At the
end of it all, Willy commits suicide in what Miller wants the audience to
believe that he had finally accepted that he had accomplished so little in
comparison to his big dreams.
Miller, Arthur. Death
of A Salesman. 1st ed. New York: Viking Press, 1949. Print.
Tracy, J., & Robins, R. (2003).
"Death of a (Narcissistic) Salesman:" An Integrative Model of Fragile
Self-Esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 14(1), 57-62. Retrieved from
"Who is to Blame for Willy Loman’s Death? — On Arthur Miller’s Death of A
Salesman." Dx.doi.org. N.p., 2007. Web. 16 Apr. 2018.