Essay, Research Paper: Death Of Salesman And Willy Loman

Literature: Arthur Miller

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Death of a Salesman, written in 1949 by American playwright Arthur Miller,
illustrates the destructive compulsion of a man to attain a success far beyond
his reach. This is accomplished through the portrayal of Willy Loman, the play's
central character. Willy Loman is a pathetic character because he does not hold
any possibility of victory. Unrealistic dreams which are the product of a
refusal to honestly acknowledge his abilities deter any triumph that Willy may
have the ability to achieve. Throughout the play Willy Loman surrounds himself
with an obvious air of insecurity and confusion. His lack of confidence and
uncertainty in what he wants are qualities which prevent him from achieving his
dream. Willy shows this weakness while observing himself in a mirror. He focuses
completely on what he deems as negative qualities in his personality and
physical appearance. In talking with his brother he reveals his insecurity by
mentioning that he "feels kind of temporary" (pg. 51). Although Willy
has chosen to pursue success as a salesman he demonstrates confusion by
continually contradicting that choice. Willy resents the advancements, such as
the loss of fresh air and fertile land, increased population and, most
significantly, the competition which have been created by the very business
community he has opted to be a member of. It is impractical to assume that Willy
Loman can be victorious in a career that he does not seem comfortable in or
completely dedicated to. His attempts make him pathetic because they are at the
expense of confidence that he may receive from another field of work. Willy
Loman's false pride is another factor that contributes to his pursuit of a
prosperity which is unobtainable to him as a salesman. This attribute is
apparent in him when his mind journeys back to the day he turned down his
brother's offer to battle for riches in the Alaskan timberlands. Willy's most
enthusiastic moments in the play come in directing the rebuilding of the front
stoop, teaching his sons to polish the car and in talking with Charley of the
ceiling he put up in the living-room. These instances make it obvious that his
true talents and joys lie in working with his hands. He is unable to go with his
brother and put his skills to use because he has given his family the impression
that he is greatly excelling in his career. He is unable to leave behind such
great success as a salesman for uncertainty in the woods without admitting his
true position and suffering the humiliation of his lies. Willy is ready to avoid
that embarrassment at the cost of happiness so that his family's praise for him
may continue to remain active. Willy's false sense of pride also compels him to
repeatedly refuse accepting the job offered to him by Charley, his best friend
and neighbor. Although he needs the money, Willy finds himself incapable of
working for someone who is the success he himself only pretends to be. It is
also that same false pride which brings him to degrade himself by borrowing
money from Charley so that he can keep his stature intact with his family. What
Willy Loman views as pride is, in reality, his self-deprivation. By ignoring
what he is best fitted to do Willy does not allow himself happiness or the
opportunity for triumph. This makes him a pathetic character.V Willy Loman
cannot be victorious in achieving success because he does not have the aptitude
to be a salesman or the capacity to be a good father. His jokes and much too
talkative nature demonstrate his inability to do his job productively. His
exaggerated claims of past profit and deals made with Howard's father are not
able to get him a position in New York because he has long been insignificant to
the Wagner Company. He was placed on commission like an inexperienced newcomer
to the industry on account of interference in his job productivity: "You
didn't crack up again, did you?" (pg. 79). Willy is unable to keep his
business obligations. He displays this irresponsibility when he fails to make a
sales trip to Boston and, as a result, he is fired. Since his own father was not
present throughout his life to act as an example, Willy Loman seeks guidance
from his brother, who pays little interest to him or his wife and children, on
how he should parent. Willy, in choosing one son over the other, makes his
greatest mistake as a father. He ignores Happy, his younger son, in favor of the
athletic Biff. The consequence of this type of parenting is the inheritance, by
Happy, of the same desperate need for recognition that Willy possesses. Willy
has failed Happy because his son is now obsessed with losing weight, is a
proficient liar, and lacks respect for others. Most importantly, as showcased in
the restaurant scene, Willy's parenting has left Happy easily able reject him as
his father when it is convenient for him: "No, that's not my father. He's
just a guy" (pg. 115). Willy shows that he is emotionally immature by
allowing a football game to become much more important than his son's studies.
This leads Biff to ignore his education and trivialize his future. Willy places
great expectations upon Biff by way of always insisting that his eldest son will
succeed. He does not allow his son to be anything other than what he wishes
because he is attempting to live success through him. He shows disregard for
Biff and reveals a selfish nature in not supporting the career paths that his
son has chosen in the past. At the discovery of his infidelity, Willy does not
try to show his son affection and help his son come to terms with the
extramarital affair, instead, he never speaks of it again and leaves his son
with the painful secret. Throughout the play Willy Loman does not obtain the
skills required to be a successful salesman or father. Pathetically, he does not
realize the limits of his capabilities and is, therefore, unable to assess
realistic possibilities of victory. Victory for Willy Loman is overshadowed by
his distorted view of how to attain success. Willy and you'll believes that you
must "start big end big" (pg. 64). He does not seem to understand
that, before a person is able to climb their way to the top, they must first
create the rungs on the ladder which reaches to success and that this must be
done through gaining working experience from the bottom. Willy proceeds through
the play trying to sell himself and his image much more than the products he is
peddling because of the ideology that they are his key to success. "Be
liked and you will never want," Willy advises his sons; and his famous
distinction between being "liked" and being "well liked"
seems to rest on whether or not the liking can be exploited for practical ends.
“Be liked and you’ll never want”, however, Willy’s funeral is very
lonely. Suicide is Willy's final attempt at gaining success. He clings to the
idea that if his son is successful then he, in return, is also a success. The
money from his $20,000 life insurance plan would allow Biff the ability to
finally be as great as Willy has expected him to be. He holds the belief that
his son will "worship (him) for it" (pg. 135) because the possibility
of true success will come into existence. Willy, shows irresponsibility in
bypassing all thought of the trauma and hurt his family may experience as a
result of his suicide. Willy's illogical definition of success causes him to
wander through life trying to achieve the impossible. This makes him a pathetic
character because there is never any chance for him to rise above and become
victorious. In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller gives his readers the
opportunity to delve into the mind of Willy Loman and come away with an
evaluation of their own definitions of success and victory or the destruction
that they may cause. For Willy, it is the refusal to honestly evaluate his
abilities and limitations that makes him a pathetic character by stripping away
any possibility of success. Perhaps others can use Willy's example to avoid the
unhappiness that he experienced throughout his life.
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