Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
The play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, takes issue with those in America who place too much stress upon material gain, at the expense of other, more admirable human values. Miller uses flashbacks to provide exposition, to foreshadow the upcoming tragedy, and most importantly to reveal character traits. An analysis of the main character, Willy Loman, illustrates the underlying theme that the concern over material success breaks down the bonds between men that form the basis of a smooth-functioning society.
In a sense there are two Willy Lomans in this play. There is the present broken, exhausted man in his sixties, soon to end his life, and there is the more confident, vigorous Willy of some fifteen years before, whom appears in the flashbacks. To some extent of course, the personality remains constant. The younger Willy, although given to lying to make himself look good, does admit misgivings to Linda, his wife, and loneliness to Biff, his oldest son. The old man, in turn, occasionally reverts to his former manner of jaunty optimism. Yet the changes are significant. The earlier Willy could never have been the idol of his teen-aged sons had he behaved in the perverse, distracted fashion of his older self.
Willy’s description of his total lack of control over his car in the opening scene symbolizes that he is losing control over his job and his life. His agitation during his last days stems from a twofold sense of failure. He has not been able to launch successfully in the world his beloved son, Biff, and he no longer can meet the demands of his own selling job. Although not altogether ignoring Linda and his younger son, Happy, he is primarily concerned about the once magnificent football star, Biff, who cannot presently secure a job. Willy cannot “walk away” from Biff’s problems as Bernard, the neighbor’s son, suggests, nor can he accept Linda’s view that “life is a casting off.” His worry over Biff has created a bitter conflict between the two of them.
The father-son conflict between Willy and Biff is complex. First of all, there is a strong personal attachment. He wants Biff to love him. He remembers the fondness shown for him by Biff as a boy, and he still craves this. At this point, however, relations are strained. Although Willy shies away from remembering so painful an episode, he knows in his heart that his affair with the Boston woman left the boy bitterly disillusioned. Feeling some sense of guilt, Willy fears that all of Biff’s later difficulties may have been really attempts to get revenge. In other words, Biff failed to spite Willy. Although outwardly resenting such alleged vindictiveness, Willy still wants to get back the old comradeship, even if he has to buy it dearly. For instance consider when he asked Ben, “Why can’t I give him something and not have him hate me?” and his final moment of joy and triumph occurs when he exclaims, “Isn’t that...