“Death of a Salesman” is a figurative play that uses death not only symbolically represent physical/mortal death but also to allude to the death of personal dreams, wishes and persona aspirations. It is a satirical play that highlights the life of Willy Loman, the main character, a travelling salesman who has worked for Wagner Company for thirty-four years and ends up a failure because it is not his trade to be a salesman. Willy is a gifted carpenter. This play is a case of reality versus illusion. Willy is a delusional character whose search for higher ideals, far higher than he can attain leads to his disillusionment.
Willy spends his entire life trying to be a successful salesman, like his mentor Mr. Dave Singleman who was a successful and popular business man. Thus Willy forms the opinion that to be successful one has to be physically attractive and liked by many.
He tries to impose these ideals to his sons to no avail. The result is that he ends up a failure and decides to kill himself hoping the insurance premium will benefit his family. This play is to some extent a reflection of Arthur Miller’s life. Biff reflects Miller the real character: Miller was not much an academician and surprised his teachers when he wrote this play.
The author was attracted to sports and physical activities rather than books. It was therefore a surprise that he would end up an author an playwright. Three characters in this play highlight Willy’s unique relationships with people. Biff, Willy’s eldest son, and the two enjoy a love hate. During his childhood, biff adores his father but later comes to loathe him upon discovering that his father had lead him to live a lie. It is through Biff that the reader sees Willy’s disillusionment.
Willy’s mistress is a secretary of one of his clients and represents Willy’s craving for love and affection rather that for pleasure. She makes Willy feel loved. Lastly, Willy’s brother, Ben, a successful businessman is an illustration of Willy’s unwillingness to come embrace reality; Ben only appears to Willy in daydreams.
Despite the fact that these three characters as well as the other characters in the play highlight Willy’s delusional self, it is Biff, the eldest son who illuminates Willy’s disconnect with reality. This papers endeavors to explain the relationship between Willy and Biff and how each is affected by this relationship. Despite the fact that Biff Loman is Willy’s eldest son and the personification of Willy’s wildest dreams and desires, father and son enjoy an emotional love hate relationship through out their lives. Biff represents every thing Willy wanted I life: success. Biff is the illumination of Willy’s notions of popularity and physical attractiveness rather than hard work honesty and integrity as the way to success.
However, being popular does not help Biff to succeed. Willy had created a false impression (in biff, as well as other family members) about his popularity and how it brought him much success (Miller 100). Biffs’ search for success through popularity ends up in failure and he later notes that “(he has) always made a point of not wasting (his) life, and every time (he) comes back (he knew) that all (he will have) done is to waste (his) life” (11).
Thus Willy‘s delusional theory on happiness and success ends up having a very negative impact on the very son that he loved and wished to nurture to success. Initially there is so much love between father and son. Willy’s loves his son so much that during one of the football games that Biff is playing Willy tells Lindah that Biff is “(a) star… magnificent, (and) can never really fade away!” (51). This love is informed by the unrealistic need to make him attractive and thus liked by many, which is to eventually lead Biff to succeed in life and also as a salesman. Willy encourages Biff to a positive image of himself through dress and not to talk too much less Biff makes a false impression, as the right personality would win him success (21, 48).
Willy goes to great length to prove that popularity is the key to success and encourages Biff to fight with his uncle Ben, something that infuriates Lindah so much. However biff falls to his uncle Ben who advices Biff “Never (to) fight fair with a stranger, boy.(or) You’ll never get out of the jungle that way” ( 34).
Biff believed in his father so much that he did not put any diligent hard work in whatever he did. His adoration for his father stated to take a toll, on his life because as Willy commented that “his (Biff’s) life ended after that Ebbets Field game because from the age of seventeen nothing good ever happened to him” (71). Biffs belief in the essence of popularity take s him to seek his father in Boston as he thought that Willy’s popularity would make Biff’s math’s teacher change his grade and allow Biff to graduate.
However, their relationship takes a sudden change for the worst when Biff realizes that his father has been unfaithful to his mother, by keeping a mistress in his hotel room in Boston. The changed nature of their prelateship is reflected through their dialogues and conversations, which expresses anguish, pain and betrayal. Biff no longer trusts his father and realizes that Willy had led them all in living a lie and a pretentious life (104). Willy retaliates by telling Biff that he has been nothing but a failure (103). As such, Bill comments that: “(he had been) trying to become what (he didn’t) want to be… (And asks Himself) What (he was) doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of (himself), when all (he) wanted (was) out there, waiting for the minute (he) say (that he) knew who (he) wanted to be! (105). This is an emotional realization of the betrayal that Willy had lead him to believe was the truth.
Their relationship was never the same again. Willy’s greatest need was emotional and psychological. Willy needed to feel liked and loved not only by his family but also by his clients and friends. From his mentor Dave Singleman, Willy thought that success was brought by popularity, and attractiveness and these two ideals subordinated virtuous ideals such as honesty integrity and hard work.
This is delusional and far from reality. Willy strived to make his son Biff like him so much and instead of rewarded his mistakes instead of reprimanding. This ended up destroying not only Biff but also the relationship the two had. The play is also a reflection of how self-denial can lead to failure. Arthur miller encourages people to discover who they really are and not to be influenced by the successes of others as this is just an illusion.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.