Essay, Research Paper: Death Of Salesman And Willy Loman

Literature: Arthur Miller

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Compared with other Characters Literary Journalists have spent lots of time
researching different characters in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and
have focused primarily on Willy Loman, since he is the most complex character in
the play. There have been many different theories about the relationship between
him and the other characters of the play. Certain Journalists have gone beyond
that point and have compared him with other characters. These comparisons allow
the reader to see Willy from a different perspective, which also allows the
reader to understand the position of Willy Loman. D. L. Hoeveler has explained
Willy's standpoint to the other characters in Death of a Salesman as
Psychomachia. From Milkman to Salesman: Glimpses of the Galut by Dan Vogel
compares Willy to Tevye, another fictional character, while John S. Shockley has
proved that Willy "shares a number of important traits with the most
successful American politician of the late twentieth century, Ronald
Reagan" (quote). All of these authors have tried to show and explain Willy
Loman in a different perspective by comparing him to other characters. If one
wants to understand a character in any sort of literature it is necessary to
look at the other people who he/she has contact with. Hoeveler has analyzed
Willy by looking at the other characters and has shown how they are affected by
him during the play. According to Hoeveler, Willy "has forced his family to
play the parts that he has designed for them. They are all characters in a
dream, Willy's dream of reality" (634). All the characters in the play
represent a certain trait, just as in the play Everyman, written in the late
15th century. The reader is shown that the individual characters "represent
aspects of" Willy's "splintered mind" (632). Linda is a voice
that guides and acts as a security for Willy. His son Biff represents the
failure of Willy to achieve the American dream. Willy's other son, Happy, is a
personification of "Willy's belief in success at any price" (635).
Ben, Willy's brother, represents the dreams of financial success. Willy is
easier to understand if one knows what he is. He is a man that has enforced his
ideas unto his family and therefor has caused his personality to be divided
among the other characters to an extent. The Requiem at the end of the play
shows how all the characters are seemingly freed of Willy, "but each of the
characters continues to embody the values that Willy demanded of them"
(635). They are actually not free at all because they have become Willy. He is
best explained when the deeds he has done to others is analyzed. This was what
has been done first in order to get a better insight on how Willy thinks and
acts towards the characters around him. One of the famous characters that
Miller's Willy Loman has been compared to is Sholom Aleichem's creation, Tevye
the milkman. This is a very rational comparison, which is discussed in Dan
Vogel's article From Milkman to Salesman: Glimpses of the Galut, because it is
easier to understand a character if another person is in almost the same
situation. Willy Loman and Tevye are both heroes that have to deal with
"life's debilitating existentialist ironies and insults" (174). The
way they deal with their problems is not by brute force on a battle field. The
difference is that Tevye is defeated with dignity whereas Willy chooses
destruction. There is an obvious difference between the strength of characters.
Both are salesman that have to deal with the bursting of their dreams. Tevye's
daughters all end up doing something he does not approve. One commits suicide
because of love, the eldest marries a tailor that dies young and the third one
falls in love with an exiled Marxist. Tevye invests money in the stocks and ends
up losing all his money. Willy, who is used to a wonderful life is confronted
with apartment buildings all over the place, a car that can be thrown away, a
son that has run away and a loss of his job. The real important differences and
similarities between these two characters are noticeable when the reader looks
at the way they both deal with these problems. Both have a major problem with
self esteem. They are constantly in search of themselves. Tevye and Willy boast
about themselves and then realize that they are no better then anyone else. This
bothers them a lot. "Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a
person" (56) as Willy because "he's a human being, and a terrible
thing is happening to him" (56). This attitude is the same one that Sholom
Aleichem has towards Tevye. Also, both have raised a child that becomes a
renegade. Biff runs off to become a worker on farms and Chava converts to
Christianity. Tevye and Willy are very sad and still long for their children
even though they have been betrayed. When the renegades return home they are
embraced with the family again. The fathers act very similar towards their
children. The prime difference is that Tevye would never go as far as committing
suicide because of his problems. Willy has a weaker character and therefor is
more prone to commit suicide, which he does. This weakness can also come from
the difference in both beliefs. Tevye believes in God and is not forced to face
the destruction of this belief. Willy, on the other hand witnesses the complete
destruction of his belief, the American dream, through Biff. Hence, he is much
less stable than Tevye. "For Willy, acculturated to the American Galut,
there is no Messiah to hope for, only to be liked if not well liked by the sons
of men; and no God, only the bitch goddess Success" (177). The reader has
come another step closer to fully understand Willy and his behavior by seeing
how his acts have been compared to the characters in the play and another
fictional character existing in another place and time. Hence, the last step is
to compare Willy to a historical character that most people are familiar with.
In the article Death of a Salesman and American Leadership: Life Imitates Art
John S. Shockley has compared Willy to "the most successful American
politician of the late twentieth century, Ronald Reagan" (quote). The first
similarity is that "both were selling themselves and the American
dream" (quote). They dreamed this dream and believed that the fulfillment
of a man should not be hindered. To believe the American dream and live by it
both men had to deny certain facts. Willy tried very hard to still believe that
his sons were not failures and that he was also not failing as a salesman. He
just had to deny these facts. Linda constantly gets to hear lies from Willy
about how popular he is and how much money he is making. Ronald Reagan who grew
up with an alcoholic father who had failed to achieve success. "As Willy
loved telling jokes to highlight his personality, Reagan loved entertaining
others" (quote). The denial of unpleasant facts continued throughout
Reagan's whole life. These denials had a bigger effect on Willy because he was
not as successful as Reagan. The search for close friends was very hard for both
characters, and they never were able to achieve this goal. In the end, the only
people that stood by them were their wives. Willy and Reagan had the same
problem with children. Reagan had great problems with his adopted son and
daughter. This is partly due to the fact that both had no father figure to help
them out. The differences of the two compared characters are also very important
in determining what Willy is not. Ronald Reagan had a better chance in becoming
a success because he inspired people and made them feel good about themselves.
Another disadvantage of Willy is that he does not know what is happening to him,
whereas Reagan has a very good idea about himself and the position he is in.
Reagan also faced career problems but was rescued by friends and supporters.
Since he "was quite willing to accept help and funds from anyone"
(quote) he was able to keep his self-confidence. Nobody tried helping Willy
which caused his self-worth to collapse. "Ronald Reagan, in sum, was what
Willy Loman wanted to be: well-liked, at least in a superficial way;
entertaining without being a bore; successful; handsome; and not fat"
(quote). Hence, "Willy Loman committed suicide. Ronald Reagan became
President of the United States" (quote). Looking and analyzing a character
is always important to understand the character in any type of literature. The
reader must compare the character to other people and find out what is
essential. Many Literary Journalists have done this to see Willy Loman from many
different perspectives. The reader then draws a conclusion that he/she is
satisfied with. These three authors have exhibited how a character is to be
seen, which should make all the readers very happy.

Brucher, Richard T. "Willy Loman and The Soul of a New Machine:
Technology and the Common Man." American Studies 17 (1983): 325-336.
Ferguson, Alfred R. "The Tragedy of the American Dream in Death of a
Salesman." Thought 53 (1978): 83-98. Hoeveler, D.L. "Death of a
Salesman as Psychomachia." Journal of American Culture 1 (1978): 632-637.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin, 1976. Rosinger,
Lawrence. "Miller's Death of a Salesman." Explicator 45.2 (1987):
55-56. Shockley, John S. "Death of a Salesman and American Leadership: Life
Imitates Art." Journal of American Culture 17.2 (1994): 49-56. Vogel, Dan.
"From Milkman to Salesman: Glimpses of the Galut." Studies in American
Jewish Literature 10 (1991): 172-178.
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