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Literature: Arthur Miller

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"Willy as a hero or a villain?" A large controversy that revolves
around the play "Death of a Salesman" is whether or not Willy Loman
was actually a hero or a villain in the story. It certainly cannot be said that
he is really one or the other because of the evidence that is given throughout.
At some times he seems the pitiful victim of other people's actions but at
others he seems to have only himself to blame. Most don't know whether to feel
sorry for him or to hate him. Although there seems to be evidence to support
both ideas, there seems to be more pointing in the direction of the latter.
Willy's first fault concentrates around the affair that he had. Maybe when it
first started he had only intended it to be a business relationship, but it
didn't end up that way. Somewhere along the line he let it go further and then
didn't break it off. Many things came of that one affair, that only he caused.
First, is the fact that his son, Biff, caught him doing it, and was basically
scarred for life from it. It was Willy's fault that Biff didn't attend summer
school and, as a result, didn't graduate from high school. Second, is the fact
that he was cheating on his wife, therefore being dishonest with her. Along with
that, was how he treated her all the time at home, almost like she was
incredibly inferior to him. Part of it had to do with the fact that he was
having an affair, which made him ashamed, the other part was sheer ignorance. He
felt that he couldn't face her because of what he was doing behind her back. The
affair that he created was a large part of why Willy could not possibly be
thought of as a hero. The second reason why Willy Loman cannot be considered a
hero was that he basically encouraged lying. He set the example by doing it
himself and also by coming right out and telling his boys that sometimes it was
okay to. Willy lied to his wife about the affair, never actually saying that he
wasn't having one, but never telling her that he was. He also lied to his whole
family about his business. He bragged constantly about all of the people he knew
and the contacts that he had made throughout the years, as a salesman. When
actually, he wasn't a great salesman and had no contacts anywhere. Willy's
habitual lying to his family was another one of his major faults. Any man who
lies to his family and cheats on his wife can certainly not be considered a
hero. Villain may be a strong word but, it fits Willy Loman much better that
hero. He seemed like he want to do right by his family but he never seemed to do
it, always falling short somehow, mostly through no one's fault but his own.
Essay #3 "flashbacks explain Willy's motivation" Arthur Miller seems
to emphasize the use of frequent flashbacks in "Death of a Salesman"
to explain what motivates Willy during his lifetime. Most of Willy's history was
revealed through the flashbacks that he had throughout the story. Without them,
Miller would have had to find another way to tell the readers about Willy's
history. Many of them tell the reader why his sons were the way they were and
why he treated them the way he did. They also showed the reasons why Willy was
as pathetic as he was. One of the main reasons Miller includes so many
flashbacks in the story is to help the reader understand Willy's feelings
towards his sons. The very first flashback is of Willy talking to Biff and Happy
during Biff's senior year. Biff is telling him about the touchdown that he's
going to score for his father and how proud he's going to be of him. The reader
also sees Happy trying to tell his father about how he's losing some weight, but
Willy doesn't pay any attention to him, showing the beginning of Happy's slight
resentment because of Willy's favoritism towards Biff. During that same
flashback, the reader also sees Willy telling his sons about the people he knows
and how they should try to make a lot of contacts also. This is the first time
it is evident to the reader that he says these things, but it probably wasn't
the first time he actually said it. Just in that first flashback, Miller gives a
lot of background information for the reader to go on. Another flashback that
had great meaning in why Willy treated Biff the way he did, was when the reader
found Willy in the hotel with "The Woman". The first thing evident is
that Willy is absolutely having an affair. There was question in the mind of the
reader when Willy imagined her in the kitchen with Linda a few scenes earlier,
but that scene made it real. The reader comes into the picture when a person is
banging on the door, Willy doesn't want to open it but the woman insists. Willy
then goes to the door and finds Biff standing on the other side. He comes in and
all is fine until the woman comes out laughing and saying, "Where's my
stockings? You promised me stockings, Willy!" Biff hears it all and then
knows that his father is having an affair. They then have a confrontation and
Biff says that he's not going to summer school so that he can graduate. That may
not seem that important but Willy blamed himself for Biff's not graduating and
seemed to be trying to make it up to him for the rest of his life. That scene
gave Willy most of his motivation or lack-thereof for the rest of the story. He
always tried to make it up to Biff and tried to hide it from Linda and Happy,
all the while feeling ashamed of himself. Lastly, there are many flashbacks that
have to do with his brother, Ben. It seems that Ben was the only one that ever
took Willy seriously. That much the reader could see by the way Ben always
referred to him as "William" and not "Willy" as everyone
else did. Through these particular flashbacks it is learned that Willy passed up
the opportunity to travel with Ben to Alaska and then to Africa, where he made a
lot of money. It seems that Willy regretted not going with him and was always
trying to do things to live up to Ben's standards. That constant trying
motivated Willy to do well throughout his life. The purpose of the periodic
flashbacks in the play is to give the reader a small look into the background of
Willy Loman and to try to explain why he was who he was. They effectively told
the reader some of Willy's personal motivation and maybe explained some of the
feelings he had towards his sons. Essay #5 "unable to practice what he
preaches" One of the main concepts that Arthur Miller wanted to get across
to the readers of "Death of a Salesman" was the fact that the main
character, Willy Loman, seemed unable to "practice what he preached".
Willy only wanted the best for his two sons, Biff and Happy, always telling them
to do good, but never setting the example himself. He always told them both to
do everything they could to be the best they could and that it always helped to
know and be in good contact with a lot of people, letting on that that was the
way he did things. But he really didn't. Willy Loman always told his sons,
"It's all in who you know, boys" even though he really didn't know
anyone. Towards the beginning of the play Willy was talking to Biff and Happy in
a flashback, telling them about the people he knew in the towns all around New
England. He says, "America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding
people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. And when I
bring you fellas up, there'll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing,
boys: I have friends." In just that small conversation Willy clearly points
out all of the people he knows and emphasizes the fact that that will help them
out if they wanted to go there. Even though he says he has these so-called
friends, the reader gets the impression that he doesn't really have any at all.
He also asks Biff, in the flashback, how all of the people at school were
treating him, if they were acting any different now that he was captain of the
team. He didn't come out and say it that time, but it was implied that it was
important that people knew that Biff was of great importance to the team.
Meanwhile the reader knows Willy is not of great importance to his company. If
it wasn't clear at that time it became crystal clear when Willy went to see
Howard, his boss, about not having to go on the road anymore. He told him that
he was tired of traveling and asked him if he had thought of a position at the
company for him. That's when Howard said that he couldn't think of a single spot
for him. He also said, "I don't want you to represent us. I've been meaning
to tell you that for a long time now." Showing, obviously, that he hadn't
been doing a good jog selling in New England and hadn't been for quite some
time. Many of these things prove that Willy didn't have the friends and contacts
that he claimed and emphasized his boys to have. Willy Loman also told his sons
that nothing was more important than being successful and making a lot of money,
preferably in something he approved of. As the story of the small family
progresses the reader comes to understand that Willy does not approve of Biff's
work on a ranch. He felt that at Biff's age of 34, he should have found himself
and should have been settled into a good paying job. In a conversation with
Linda he says, "How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A
farmhand? But it's been more than ten years now and he has yet to make
thirty-five dollars a week!" Biff says earlier that he was happy where he
was but that small, seemingly unimportant fact makes no difference to Willy. All
he knows is that Biff isn't making very much money and that upsets him. While
Willy himself isn't making enough to cover the monthly bills, certainly showing
that he's not very successful. Although Biff wasn't making money, it seemed that
Happy was doing very well, but Willy never seemed to notice or if he did, he
never said anything to Happy to let him know that he had noticed. Willy got down
on Biff and didn't even recognize Happy's success while all the while not being
a successful man himself. Willy Loman preached and preached to his sons about
being successful and making a lot of money, while doing neither himself. Also
telling them to get to know many important and well off people so that they
could help them sometime. Which he never did, either. But he led them to believe
that he did, so they didn't think less of him. Maybe in his mind he thought that
he did do all of those things, but in fact he didn't and it was extremely
evident throughout the whole story. Essay #8 "purpose of the Requiem"
At the end of "Death of A Salesman" the reader is left with a lot of
loose ends about each character and what they will do in the future. If Arthur
Miller hadn't added the "Requiem" they would have stayed slightly
confused and still wondering. But it was, and the reader found out about Biff
and Happy, Linda and even Willy, himself. It was a question throughout the whole
story if Biff was going to stay at home and work with his brother or if he was
going to go back to the ranch. If it happened that he did go back, would Happy
go with him or stay and continue what he was doing? These questions were not
directly answered in the Requiem but from things that the characters said the
reader could come to a pretty safe conclusion. Once Biff says to Happy,
"Why don't you come with me, Happy?" clearly showing that he was
planning on going back to the ranch. Also pointing out that he has only the best
intentions for his brother, thinking of his happiness. But in response to his
question Happy replies, "I'm not licked that easily. I'm staying right in
this city, and I'm gonna beat this racket." Happy feels that Biff wants him
to run away from any problems that he has at home, when all Biff really wants
him to do is get away for awhile. The two brothers seem to represent Willy and
his brother, Ben, many years back. Ben was traveling to Alaska and wanted Willy
to join him, but he refused and seemed to regret it for the rest of his life.
The reader can't help but wonder if Happy will regret not going with Biff and
will just continue to follow in his father's fatal footsteps. Without the
addition of the Requiem the reader would not have know what Biff and Happy were
going to do and would not have any insight as to what would happen to them in
the future. Next, it is revealed how Linda was coping with the loss of her
husband. She seemed confused and distraught right after the burial. Confused,
mainly because of the lack of people at the burial service. She asked why no one
had come and said, "But where were all the people he knew?" She had
not yet realized the Willy hadn't known that many people, important or
otherwise. She seemed also to have no emotion when it came to his death, she
even said, many times, "Forgive me dear, I can't cry." She just kept
going over the fact that she couldn't understand why he did it and that she had
just paid off the last payment on the house. The last payment represents that he
wouldn't have had to worry about scraping together enough money to pay that
along with all the other things. His life, in other words, would have been a
little easier. Eventually, she finally broke down, sobbing about finally being
free. Lastly, we find out about the not-so-great salesman, Willy Loman. His
whole life he told his wife and children about all the people he knew and how
that was the only way to be successful, when he really didn't know anyone. It
was always implied that Willy thought if he died it would show his family how
many people he knew, because they would all come to the funeral. It was like his
final push to let his sons know that it was important to know a lot of people.
But that last "wish" was not fulfilled, because no one showed up. It
actually turned out to be a final humiliation for Willy Loman. The reader knew
that Willy didn't really know anyone, but the Requiem proved it by telling what
happened at the funeral. The formal definition of "requiem" is a
mournful chant. The Requiem of this story seemed to fit that definition
perfectly. Leaving Willy in final humiliation, leaving Linda an unhappy widow
and leaving Biff and Happy doomed to the life of their predecessors.
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