Essay, Research Paper: Death Of Salesman


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Do we have the ability to control our destiny? The truth is this, one can set
their goals and try to attain them and one can dreams their dreams and try to
live them but the difference must be known. The character Willy Loman, in the
play Death of A Salesman, seems to be a person who is not aware of the
difference in reality and dreams. Willy’s choices throughout his life
undeniably lead to his own demise. Willy Loman is a tragic hero. His fear is
that he wants to be viewed as a good, decent human being. He wants to believe
that he’s a well-liked, decent person who doesn’t make mistakes. The truth
is that he makes mistakes, many that haunt him, and that he is human. Willy does
not consider this normal and severely regrets such failures such as raising his
children poorly, as he sees it, not doing well in business, though he wishes he
were, and cheating on his wife Linda, showing her to be a commodity of which he
takes advantage. Linda has a true, pure love for her husband. Linda stands
behind him through it all, through his dreams and broken promises, she still
believes in him. "The quality in such plays that does shake us... derives
from the underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn
away from our chosen image of what and who we are in the world" (Miller,
"Tragedy…"). Willy’s "underlying fear of being
displaced" is the real tragedy. He wants to do things right, but the fact
is he has many incidences that haunt him. Consistently throughout the play,
Willy drifts in and out of a dream. He is constantly haunted by memories of his
dead brother Ben who struck it rich the jungle. He also has flashbacks of
incidents that haunt him in other areas. For example, the sequence in which Biff
catches Willy with a woman other than Linda. This haunts Willy because he sees
it as part of why Biff does not love him. "Tragedy then is the consequence
of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly" (Miller,
"Tragedy…"). This is Willy’s flaw. The circumstances in his life
and the identity he has created for himself are being affronting by his inner
reality to "evaluate himself justly." This flaw is "...his
inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be
a challenge to his dignity, his image or his rightful status" (Miller,
"Tragedy…"). Indeed this is the case with Willy. He decides to take
action rather than complacently become outdated. Willy continually argues with
those around him in order to try to keep his personal dignity. These include his
argument with Howard that he can still sell, his arguments with Charley over the
card game and the job, and his argument with Biff about not being "a dime a
dozen." "I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff
Loman" (Miller, Death… 132)! Willy, in addition to meeting Miller’s
definition of a tragic hero, in a way connects with the traditional
requirements. Willy, after he receives an assurance that Biff loves him, offers
the only thing he knows to somehow make recompense; he takes his own life. He
does this so Biff will attain the insurance money. Here we can see that Willy's
sincere desire is directed at something greater than himself, his image, or his
success. He is motivated by his love for his son. Therefore, since his primary
focus is beyond himself, it consequently elevates him. "He taps into and is
accordingly clothed with the grandeur tragedy" (Dwyer). Willy, like
traditional tragic heroes, has a tragic flaw. "The possibility of victory
must be there in tragedy" (Miller, "Tragedy…"). Setting aside
Willy’s "tragic flaw," there is a certain amount of hope that Willy
will change. If there is something to bring the element of hope into the play,
there also comes the conceivable possibility of change. "Change is the
compelling force, without which, there would be no hope" (Dwyer). And with
change, comes the conceivable possibility of victory. The entire play, Willy
lives by the credo "be well liked." "Someday I'll have my own
business, and I'll never have to leave home any more… bigger that Uncle
Charley! Because Charley is not liked. He's liked, but he's not well liked"
(Miller, Death… 30)! He finds this untrue as he increasingly makes less and
less money on business trips. "Howard, and now I can't even pay my
insurance! You can't eat the orange and throw away the peel! A man is not a
piece of fruit" (Miller, Death… 82)! He, however, refuses to change his
view of the world and continues his struggle upstream. What makes this tragic,
though, is that he does not change. It is his "tragic flaw" that
brings this failure about him. His unwillingness to submit passively to the
established order and values takes him down. He has a set idea in his mind about
how he wants to be and the way he wants his children to be. He is a salesman and
refuses to be anything else. Willy, even at an early age, had a chance to change
and become like his brother Ben, but chose not to. He saw the life of a salesman
and refused to do anything else. He had decided what he wanted to be. In the
end, because of his unwillingness to change and submit passively to the
established world, Willy dies at the hands of his tragic flaws. The common man,
indeed, can relate to Willy Loman. His stubborn refusal of character change
along with his fear of being denied his identity by the world and his attempts
to believe that existence can be justly evaluated brings upon him the death of a
tragic hero. This death locks him into place both as a hero by Miller's
standards and by traditional standards. So the question is raised again, does
one have the ability to control their destiny? Dream you dreams or live them;
the choice is yours. “ I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never
made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest
character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing has
happened to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall
into this grave like an old dog. Attention must be paid to such a person.”
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