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DEATH OF A SALESMAN
A play by Arthur Miller
is the eldest son of Willy and Linda Loman and the older brother to Happy Loman. In high school, he was the star of his school’s football team and was generally well liked by both the men and women surrounding him. However, because he flunked math as a senior, he was unable to follow a football scholarship to college. Biff chose not to attend any supplementary summer courses, so he began working on ranches in the West. These jobs did not last long because he kept stealing from his bosses. Yet, he had dreams and although they were hard to achieve, he always looked to the future.
Biff is described as a 34 year old man, who is well-build and attractive, yet unsure with what he is trying to accomplish in life and whether or not he can make it. Willy compares him to a Greek god in one instance and he is sure that Biff can make it in the world be it that he isn’t lazy. Many of Willy’s flashbacks include Biff, not only because he is his son, but because Biff is a part of many memories. Biff, distraught about his position in life, confronts his father at one point and blames Willy for his actions as an employee because he was not raised correctly to respect authority. Biff eventually lost all respect for his father when he found out about his affair with a mystery woman. Biff clearly cares for the wellbeing of his mother illustrated by his anger about Willy's affair, and supports his brother for the most part. The two brothers even decided to embark on a future business deal together.
Biff is well aware of himself in the world and he works to change that. He realizes that as a teen, he had messed up his future. He searches for the truth and does not take what is given to him. He prefers action, shown when he decided not to sit back when he learned about his father's suicide attempts. However, Biff is flawed. He is not a perfect character and he could be stubborn when he fails. He was constantly pushed by his father to become the perfect epitome of the American Dream and that was something that deeply affected him. He struggled to break free and follow his own dreams.
I chose Ian Somerhalder because Biff is described as handsome and well-built like Ian is. Also, Ian is 35 years old, which is close to Biff's age in the play.
“I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like the rest of them! I’m one-dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it. A buck an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I’m not bringing home any prizes anymore and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home!" (132)
is the 34 year old son of Charley. He has two sons of his own. Being neighbors, Bernard and Biff grew up to have a strong friendship. Flashbacks of their high school careers reveal that Biff and Bernard were foils. Biff was sociable and outgoing. Bernard was noted, by Biff, to be liked, but “not well liked”. As a smart guy, Bernard possibly received the best grades in school. Biff, on the other hand, did not perform well in his studies; he instead relied on Bernard to give him the answers to tests. It is clear that Biff was taking advantage of Bernard. However, Bernard admits that he did not care if he was being used. He loved Biff. When Biff learned of his father’s affair, Bernard was there for Biff. Although Biff never mentioned the affair to Bernard, Bernard did not urge Biff to purge his thoughts. Instead, Bernard fought with Biff, allowing Biff to blow off anger and even shed some tears. Bernard was the one person to acknowledge that Biff would never be the same person again. Loyalty, intelligence, and admiration are Bernard’s strengths; although he has desirable characteristics, he doesn’t think much of himself. He has been around Biff so much that Biff almost overshadows him. Bernard’s weakness is his own lack of self-admiration. He grew up to be a successful lawyer- so successful that he will present a case in front of the Supreme Court. When he spoke to Willy before going on his trip, Bernard did not mention the court case; Charley did, to which Bernard responded in a manner that suggested that Charley was exaggerating the case’s significance. Bernard belittles himself, but he deserves the attention. The news is indeed a big deal, and it shocks Willy Loman, for Willy believed that Bernard will not achieve success. In fact, Willy at one time used Bernard as a model of a person doomed to attain future fortunes. Although Bernard was expected to prosper little in the business world, he proves himself to be worthy of all the success that has come to him.
Jay Baruchel matches Bernard because he is easily overlooked as an actor. He stars in
This is the End
with his celebrity friends and he naturally seems like a good friend. Many of his roles require him to appear socially awkward, thus he isn’t always seen as an outgoing guy.
“… Because I’d thought so well of Biff, even though he’d always taken advantage of me. I loved him, Willy, y’know? ... And he took [his sneakers] down in the cellar, and burned them up in the furnace. We had a fist fight. It lasted at least half an hour. Just the two of us, punching each other down the cellar, and crying right through it. I’ve often thought of how strange it was that I knew he’d given up his life. What happened in Boston, Willy?” (94)
Happy is currently the 32-year-old son of Willy and Linda Loman. He is the younger brother of Biff Loman. Happy can be described as “tall and powerfully made.” (Miller 19). Despite being in his brother’s shadow for most of his life and yearning for approval, Happy seems to be more successful and supportive of his family. Working as the assistant to an assistant buyer in a department store, he often exaggerates himself and his career to provide a sense of self-importance and respectability. The truth of the matter is that he resorts to corruption and bad business ethics as a means of attaining success. Happy can be viewed as lost since he never allowed himself to accept defeat. As a result, he is more confused and stubborn, but seemingly more content with his lifestyle. The most notable feature of Happy is his reputation with women. He is a “compulsive womanizer,” hungering for love from women in order to satiate his sexual urges.
Happy is one of the most important characters in the play itself. Happy serves as the embodiment of all of his father’s worst qualities as well as a gilded representation of the American dream tarnished
Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris
by corruption and deceit. Looking past his imperfections, he is the “peacemaker” of the family. In many of the heated arguments, he tries to mediate and relieve tensions within the family. He essentially maintains a positive image among the family members. At the conclusion of the play, Happy devotes himself to the legacy of his father, Willy. He instills in the audience a sense of redemption and rebirth of his father’s values of business and moral code. Happy promises to follow in Willy’s footsteps and ensure that his father did not die in vain.
Happy’s main strength derives itself from his ability to mediate and relieve turmoil within the family. He is very content and supportive of the family as a whole, often consoling and assuring his brother of good fortune. Also, his blind ambition can be considered as one of his strengths that motivates him to work towards wealth. Happy is able to find direction in his life after his father’s passing, showing us that he is indeed a dynamic character in the play.
Happy’s main weakness is extremely obvious: his attraction to women. His love for women stems from the deprivation of love from his own parents. As a result, he finds comfort and acceptance through women. Another weakness of Happy is that he depicts himself as important and influential, especially when he speaks about his job as the assistant to an assistant buyer in a department store. He craves approval from those around him. Without these strengths and weaknesses, Happy cannot truly be understood as one of the most adored and essential characters in the play.
“Isn’t that a shame now? A beautiful girl like that? That’s why I can’t get married. There’s not a good woman in a thousand. New York is loaded with them, kid!” (Miller 103).
When I first read about Happy Loman in the play, I immediately compared him to the infamous Barney Stinson of the show, “How I Met Your Mother.” Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is similar to Happy in many ways. Stinson is well-known for his long history with women and his insatiable sex drive in the effervescent city of New York. Furthermore, he does not have a clear direction in life due to his childhood troubles. Thus, he finds comfort in women and through his unknown, meaningless corporate job. On several occasions, he strives to help his close friends in times of dire need. Overall, I consider Barney Stinson the modern-day reincarnation of Happy Loman.
Willy (Barack Obama):
The whole play is based upon what Willy does and thinks about during the span of a day before his death. His personality is controlled by his starvation to succeed the motive of being rich and attaining a status similar to that of his older brother, Ben. This aspect of his life fails to make him realize his real “status” throughout the novel. Even though Willy doesn’t accept the love offered to him by his family and the support offered by his wife, Linda, he leaves enough for his son, Biff, to live successfully.
While Ben achieved the status of a rich man at a young age, Willy struggles and starts working for the son of his older boss, whose name is Howard. He recalls memories of the past and basically re-lives scenes that happened in the past. However, Willy makes so many transitions to the past that he becomes more and more unreasonable about the present time. All of his memories consist of successful or happy moments, which defines his true character as one who faces the present by making himself feel better about stuff he accomplished in the past. Biff’s current attitude towards his father is explained (on page 58) by the following line, “Because he knows he’s a fake and he doesn’t like anybody around who knows!” Willy recalled Biff’s football game because Biff actually respected and adorned him in the past. This further shows that Willy cannot face the present.
Another characteristic of Willy includes his contradictory nature. He praises Biff at times and says that Biff is going to turn out to be a successful man. At other times, Willy criticizes Biff and feels ashamed that he turned out to be a failure according to his own son. His poor salesman status under Howard makes Willy look at himself as a total failure. He failed to be like the great salesman, Dave Singleman and is growing older day by day as regrets build upon him. He becomes tired of his life towards the end and cannot cover up his present through past memories. This burden is only laid off when Willy resorts to suicide at the end of the play.
Why Barack Obama depicts Willy:
Although all aspects of Barack Obama do not depict Willy, the ones that do are pretty accurate. Barack Obama quoted himself as the fourth best president in American history. Meanwhile, Willy shows arrogance by rejecting to get help from anyone else to achieve success in life. They both display a level of arrogance; Obama has accomplishments to back up his arrogance, while Willy recalls past events to build upon his arrogance.
Linda is a character who is inspired by fear and desperation. Although she suspects her husband of having an affair, she still tries to protect him by doing whatever it takes. Linda is a very caring and protective wife towards her husband. She knows that he tends to have suicidal thoughts and is difficult to deal with. However, she goes along with whatever he believes to protect him from being criticized by others. She is very encouraging, as she is sure that he pays his bills and keeps in touch with Biff. Linda is also very calm and is able to keep her cool, especially when Billy becomes hostile towards her. She is aware that her husband had tried to commit suicide on numerous occasions and is secretly borrowing money from Charley to pay for the bills. Despite all of this, Linda does absolutely nothing, in order not to aggravate her husband. In many ways, Billy is similar to a small child, and Linda is like the mother who is trying to constantly protect him from the outside world. Michelle Obama clearly matches Linda because she is a very caring and supporting wife to Barack Obama. She needs to be there for him through all of the stress that he endures as president of the United States. WIthout Michelle Obama, Barack would not be able to efficiently complete his job as president. Linda states to Billy, “You are only a little boat looking for a harbor.” Linda evidently loves Billy immensely and is willing to accept all of his shortcomings. She would rather play along with his childish fantasies, rather than rejecting and possibly losing him.
The American Dream
This is what fueled Willy in life. He thought that the only way to be successful was to be attractive and well-liked along with good work ethics, all qualities that he believed he possessed. Willy noticed these specific traits in his sons and he rapidly tried to sell them on going after the American Dream and following in his footsteps. Willy truly wanted them to be salesmen, but as long as they were successful in business, he would have approved.
However, Willy focused too much on these two specific qualities and when age caught up to him, the attractiveness and well-liked qualities he had began to decline. This gradual change led him to become obsessed with the maintaining of the American Dream in the family. Because his sons were getting older, he pushed them to become successful in a small amount of time. This stress and fear of losing touch with the American Dream plunged Willy into a general depression that began to affect his relationships and work ethics.
"You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh?” - Willy (31)
Unfortunately for Willy, many of his relationships are plagued by betrayal. He betrayed his wife by having an affair. He even gave his wife’s stockings to his mistress. His wife, Linda, is loyal to him and she has great respect for him. How a man could ever cheat on a woman who greatly admires him is truly a mystery. Although Willy committed an tremendous act of betrayal, he also feels betrayed by his son, Biff. Willy expected Biff to work in the business world, but Biff chose to work on the ranch. Willy put a lot of money into courses that would ensure Biff a business profession. If Biff didn’t put these resources to use, Willy would feel that Biff is wasting his potential. However, Biff does not want to go into business because he feels betrayed by his father’s betrayal. The whole drama is simply a cycle of betrayal, all because Willy was not the man whom he made himself out to be.
“...How can I insult him that way? I don’t know what to do. I live from day to day boys. I tell you, I know every thought in his mind. It sounds so old-fashioned and silly, but I tell you he’s put his whole life into you and you’ve turned your backs on him. [She is bent over the chair, weeping, her head in her hands].” - Linda (60)
Ignorance of the Present
Willy makes numerous amounts of references to the past throughout the play. However, the main reason for all of these references and memories is not because Willy has nothing else to think about; Willy is clearly trying to ignore the present and proceeds to let his soul live the past again in order to be happy. This distraction makes him successful at making his own perception of "reality". For instance, in the following quote, Willy just got fired, and his usual instinct at a time of hardships in the present is to touch up on old, happy memories. He recreates the past in order to give himself self confidence about the present. Willy's memories become an addiction that help him forget about the fact that he had just lost a job. This ignorance can be looked upon as a sort of illness, or just a way to cope with life's downs.
WILLY-"I was fired, and I'm looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited an the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven't got a story left in my head, Biff. So don't give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested. Now what've you got to say to me?"--Page 107
Throughout the course of the play, WIllies behaviors have been varied. From the starting of the play, his inconsistent behavior becomes very evident. WIlly characterizes Biff as a “lazy bum” but then contradicts himself later when he mentions that he is a very diligent worker. However, throughout the story we are able to identify that Biff is not lazy at all. Willy’s contradictions are confusing at the beginning of the play. However, these “inconsistencies” soon make up his character as a whole. Will’s continuously varying behavior results in his inability to accept reality and his tendency to manipulate the past in order to escape the present.
“WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through.”
As the play continues, Willy abandons himself more from the present as his problems become unbearable for him to deal with.
The shining moment of the play occurs at the very end of the play itself. At the grave of Willy, Happy assures Biff and his mother that his father will not die in vain. From this point on, Happy seems to take full responsibility in carrying out Willy's dreams of having his sons become businessmen and claiming a piece of the American Dream. Thus, this event can be considered as an act of redemption for the whole family. By taking on Willy's expectations and legacy, Happy strives to atone for his father's death and blind ambition.
The act of redemption, while valiant, is uncharacteristic of Happy himself since he had seemingly committed himself to a life of women and corrupt business ethics. The death of his father was truly his epiphany as it revived a sense of maturity and responsibility within Happy. Happy, the only character whose ego and immaturity outweighed his overall sense of morality, discovers a new direction in his life through the redemption of his father. His promise to fulfill his father's expectations convinces the audience that Willy's legacy is kept in good hands and preserved for the future generations.
“All right, boy. I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have - to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him.” -Happy (Miller 138).
jovial (p.12) – cheerful
mercurial (p.12) -quick and changeable in temperament
trepidation (p.12) - a state of alarm or dread
crestfallen (p.15) - disheartened; dejected
idealist (p.23) - a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.
simonize (p.19) – to polish/wax (a motor vehicle)
enthralled (p.24)- held spellbound; captivated
indignantly (p.25) - feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.
insinuates (p.27) – to introduce or bring into position subtly, artfully
incipient (p.30) - beginning to emerge
primp - to dress or adorn with care (38)
keel - capsize (41)
incarnate - make real and concrete (41)
laconic - brief and to the point (41)
trepidation - tremulous fear, alarm, or agitation (41)
withering - to shrivel (43)
dispel - force to go away (46)
audacity - boldness (52)
evasively - to escape from by trickery (54)
surlily - bad tempered (56)
philandering - to carry on flirtations (57)
feasible - capable of being done, effected or accomplished (63)
comradeship - a person who shares in one’s activities, occupation, etc. (64)
“let’s buck him up” - to make the other person feel better about a situation (65)
“broke the mold” - to describe a unique creation (66)
caliber - degree of capacity or competence (67)
saccharine - containing or yielding sugar (75)
dictation - the act or manner of transcribing words uttered by another (77)
band saw - a saw consisting of an endless toothed steel band passing over two wheels (78)
commission - a sum of money paid to an employee upon completion of a task, usually selling a certain amount of goods or services (82)
timberland - land covered with timber-producing forests (85)
frenzy - wild excitement or derangement (90)
self-assured - confident of one’s own worth (90)
carte blanche - complete discretion or authority (92)
candidly - frank; outspoken; open and sincere (92)
salvation - a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm or risk (96)
ignoramus - an extremely ignorant person (97)
Turkish bath - a sauna or steam bath for cleansing and relaxation, distinguished by a focus on water (97)
raucous - harsh; unpleasant (98)
sotto voce - intentionally lowering the volume of one's voice for emphasis (100)
spite - to annoy or thwart; humiliate; frustrate (113)
befuddled - bewildered; confused (114)
1) skid (p.59)- A slide, typically sideways or obliquely, on slippery ground or as a result of stopping or turning too quickly.
2) incredulously (p.88)- Indicating or showing unbelief.
3) grub (p.24)- Search for something in a clumsy and unmethodical manner; rummage.
4) scrim (p.37)- Strong, coarse fabric, chiefly used for heavy-duty lining or upholstery.
5) lumber (p.50)- Move in a slow, heavy, awkward way.
6) gallantly (p.47)- Done in a brave, spirited, noble-minded, or chivalrous manner.
7) raucous (p.98)- Making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise.
8) clinch(es) (p.112)- Conform or settle a contract or bargain.
9) philandering (p.57)-Readily or frequently entering into casual sexual relationships with women.
10) monotonous (p.69)- Dull, tedious, and repetitious; lacking in variety and interest.
Act I, Pages 76-84 (Howard and Willy)
Willy approaches his boss, Howard Wagner to discuss the future of his job. Howard seems more interested in his wire-recording machine and listening to his kid’s voices than having this talk with Willy. Willy decides to ask Howard for a job that doesn’t require traveling, because he is getting old and tired. Howard denies his request saying that he does not have a spot for Willy in that department. Willy then resorts to begging, even offering lower pay to ensure that job. Willy decides to mention Dave Singleman, a salesman that he admired. Because Dave Singleman was highly successful through his own means, Willy says that the salesman business nowadays is modernized to the extent that it’s “cut and dried.” Howard seems very adamant on his word, and Willy begins to lose it. He talks about how much commission he earned and went on about how valuable he would be to the business, but Howard eventually hears enough and chooses to fire Willy because of his unresponsiveness to Howard’s demands. In a last resort, Willy begs to be able to go to Boston for his own salary, but Howard swiftly exits the room.
This scene illustrated how desperate Willy is to keep his American Dream alive. It got more difficult for him to travel for both him and Linda. That was his only source of income and so, he tried to stay close to home while still making ends meet. This is where Willy goes into hysterics. Willy, who was previously very confident in himself, was reduced to begging to keep his job. This is something that a respected salesman in his mind would resort to. In this way, it affected his ego and deflated his hopes for the better future, so he began to push his sons even more to succeed from then on.
Act I, pages 44-49
While playing cards with Charley, Willy imagines having a conversation with his older brother, Ben. Ben died a few weeks before. Charley realizes that Willy is talking to a dead person, and acknowledges the extent of his delusion. When Charley leaves, the imaginary conversation becomes a memory. Ben planned to go to Alaska to look for their father. He ended up going to Africa. There, he found diamond mines and struck it rich. Biff and Happy enter the scene. Willy asks Ben to speak about how much of a good man their father was. Then, Biff and Ben wrestle. Ben wins and explains that one cannot play fair with a stranger.
Ben represents the success that Willy cannot have. Willy regrets not traveling with his brother. Willy would emphasize Ben’s fortunes to Biff because Willy believed that Biff could strike it rich, just as how Ben did. Ben give Biff a tip on how to be successful: play dirty. Ben’s helpful advice for Biff suggests that Ben’s fortunes may not have been attained morally. Although Ben and Willy have similar tactics to become prosperous, the concept only pulls through for Ben. The failed successes of Willy’s life contribute to his delusions, something everyone around him perceives; even Charley- the neighbor. Everyone has tried to help Willy regain his stability, but it seems that Willy is too caught up in his past. His position cannot better itself unless he recognizes that his memories are haunting him.
Act II, Pages 103-114
At Frank's Chop House, Biff meets up with Happy only to tell him that his old friend, Oliver, did not remember who he was. Frustrated in the moment, Biff steals Oliver's fountain pen and runs away. Happy tries to console Biff as much as he can by offering to Biff the idea to make up an excuse for Willy in order to prevent further emotional conflict. Afterwards, Willy arrives to the restaurant in search of good news since he had been fired by his boss, Howard. Biff confesses to Willy that Oliver dismissed him [Biff] and stole his fountain pen. Meanwhile, Willy is suffering from his dementia and experiences the events after the news of Biff's failure in his math class (including Biff's trip to Boston). After hearing Biff's confession, Willy becomes agitated and leaves to go to the restroom.
The restaurant scene may be one of the most important scenes in the play. At this moment, the audience realizes that misfortune strikes the Loman family as Willy is fired and Biff is rejected by Oliver. Trying to save his father from further distress, Biff resorts to lying about another meeting with Oliver, but quickly rejects it. The scene conveys the idea that the Loman family was never destined for greatness. Biff and Willy are constantly burdened with tragedy and have no way to relieve their stress. Furthermore, the scene provides the audience with the collapse of Willy's mental faculties. His dementia intensifies with each scene and foreshadows his eventual downfall. Without a stable mind, Willy will never be able to recover, placing himself in an inevitable downward spiral.
Act II, Last Scene (pages 135-136) Willy's Big Decision
Willy is told by Happy and Linda that Biff always loved him; it’s as if he accomplished a life goal by leaving Biff money for his future. Everyone except Linda leaves the scene to go to sleep and Willy finds himself alone with Linda. Linda asks Willy when he would join her to go to sleep; Willy responds with a rather fearful approach and quiets her down. Without saying anything more to Linda, Willy rushes around the house and leaves as Biff and Happy sit up to find out what’s going on. Anxiety encompasses Linda since she has no clue as to what action Willy is about to take. At the end, Biff and Linda stand amused as they hear Willy speed off with a car.
This scene is the most action driven scene from the whole play, and it shows how fed up Willy became of living his usual, "failure" type of life. As random as this type of an action may seem to be, Willy most probably planned out his death and thought about everything carefully. His family does not need him anymore since he cannot provide them with any help due to the fact that he got fired from his only job. He also left money for his son, Biff, who Willy always wanted to see as a successful young man. Every motive that Willy had in life seemed to be finished and his existence did not mean much at all. Therefore, Willy was free to do anything he pleased; he chose the road to his own destiny.
Act 2 Scene 8 - “The Restaurant”
In this scene, Biff is recounting the ways of his life as he truly portrays it. Throughout the course of the story Biff has directed his anger towards Billy because he thinks that he is fake. Ultimately, scene eight is a turning point got Biff, because he never deals with the facts, as strange and disturbing as they may be. Scene eight is extremely crucial for willy because he is also truthful in his situation. However, WIlly contradicts himself to accept reality as he continues to force Biff into a lie. WIll cannot allow Biff to fail because that will only intensify his own breakdown. Happy contributes to this scene because he contradicts Biff each time he tries to be honest. So, as Biff attempts to make an effort to finally make everything at ease, Willy and Happy attempt to create order by concealing the truth. The confrontation between Willy's life as a salesman and as a father provides motivation for his spiteful, self destructive behavior.
“I’m fat. I’m very foolish to look at, Linda. I didn’t tell you, but Christmas time I happened to be calling on F.H. Stewarts, and a salesman I know, as I was going in to see the buyer I heard him say something about-walrus. And I-I cracked him right across the face. I won’t take that. I simply will not take that. But they do laugh at me. I know that.” -Willy Loman (37)
Willy and Linda discuss Willy’s job. Willy tells his wife that some individuals do not like him, to which Linda objects. Willy acknowledges his inevitable downfall. He always believed that good looks and spirits were a vital part of business. To keep his mood up, Linda assures him that he is a handsome man idolized by his sons. However, now that he has heard what others think about him, he realizes his time as a salesman is no more. His wife tries to place in him a sense of hope, but Willy cannot be moved by his wife’s pleas. In fact, her admiration evokes in Willy a memory of a past affair.
"Wait a minute, I got an idea… You and I, Biff - we have a line, the Loman Line. We train a couple of weeks and put on a couple of exhibitions, see?... We form two basketball teams, see? Two water-polo teams. We play each other. It’s a million dollars’ worth of publicity. Two brothers, see? The Loman Brothers. Displays in the Royal Palms -- all the hotels… Baby, we could sell sporting goods!” - Happy (63)
This is the point of the play when Happy and Biff both find something to aspire for. Both brothers struggled with finding a stable job and this idea was the one to bring them together. The two Loman brothers going into business was one of their father’s dreams and it made Willy happy to see this cooperation. The Florida Idea became a symbol of the reoccurring theme - the American Dream. This dream was something that seemed reachable for them and it inspired the Loman family.
"Miss Forsythe, you've just seen a prince walk by. A fine, troubled prince. A hard-working, unappreciated prince. A pal, you understand? A good companion. Always for his boys." -Biff (Miller 114).
Willy shows another side of himself as he complimented his own deranged father. He displays affection for his own father and appreciates his hard-work and determination. Despite being absent for a long time from the actual household, Willy reveals to the audience that he truly understands his father's intentions for both him and Happy. This disproves the idea that Biff dislikes his father and instead, demonstrates that their relationship can actually become a close bond. However, it is Willy's dementia and experiences with failure that hinders this strong relationship from existing. The quote itself may be the only words of passion spoken by Biff in the entire play. Thus, the audience must heed Biff's words to clearly understand his transformation as a dynamic character.
“Oh, Ben, how do we get back to all the great times? Used to be so full of light, and comradeship, the sleigh-riding in winter, and the ruddiness on his cheeks. And always some kind of good news coming up, always something nice coming up ahead. And never even let me carry the valises in the house, and simonizing, simonizing that little red car! Why, why can’t I give him something and not have him hate me?”—Willy (Page 127)
Once again, Willy looks upon the past at a time of hardships that are to be faced in the present. His relationship with Biff is one of passion, but Willy’s contradictory character makes it hard to tell what side he falls on exactly. Willy wants to give Biff something before it’s too late, and he does so at the end of the play. His dependence on the past, however, holds him back from numerous tasks that he could have accomplished if he lived only in the present. After all, life is never easy, and memories should be used at the right time (not all the time) to make one feel better.
“I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be … when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”
Biff tries to explain his true identity to his father during their confrontation in Act 2. He refers to himself as, “a dime a dozen”, as he tries to escape from his father’s delusions and follow his own instincts. WIlly, on the other hand is not able to comprehend what Biff is trying to say in his individual identity outside of the restrictions of the material success. Biff eventually realizes that he can be happy only outside of these confines. He tries his utmost to free himself from WIlly’s expectations for himself. He is able to clearly see the mediocrity of stealing the pen, and is contempt of enjoying the simple necessities of life.
Issue of Social Concern
Portrayal of Women - Independent women are nonexistent characters in this drama. Due to the setting, Linda cannot express any sort of freedom. She is confined to being a good housewife. She gives her husband constant affection and care. When Willy was disparaged by others’ opinions of his appearance, Linda had to assure him that he was the “handsomest man in the world” (37). Her relationship to Willy requires her to give him emotional support but he can’t do the same for her; he cheats on her. In a way, he objectifies her. Linda treats him like a human being that needs stability in his life, but Willy views her as something that can be replaced as soon as he needs excitement in his life. His sons grow to follow in this practice; they have sexual relations with many women and talk crudely of the girls, calling one girl “a pig” (21). Women were not considered to have any other significance at this point in time. That would eventually change, but for Death of a Salesman’s vision of America, women were only necessary to satisfy the men’s needs.
Greed - The need for success, money and status are all exemplified in
Death of A Salesman
. Willy searches for better opportunities to earn money and attempts to bestow his work ethics to his sons. This intense want of success for his family drives Willy mad and affects his overall mental state. His perceptions clash with his realities and he finds it difficult to adapt to what actually occurs around him. Since the Loman family struggles to make ends meet, the monetary greed is relevant throughout the play. The sons are pushed to earn money and Willy struggles to earn the same amount of pay on a day-to-day basis. Willy tries to keep the same amount of commission, but he finds it more difficult to do so. Willy especially wants status, as he wants to be known throughout the coast as a salesman. He wants to be able to do business essentially from home and he does all he can to try to make this dream a reality. This ideal is apparent because greed is still prevalent in American society, both then and now. America has always had its hard workers. Everyone strives to be the best and earn as much money as possible to furnish a comfortable life.
Freedom: Amongst many social needs among Americans, an important one would be freedom. This social need is displayed throughout the conclusion of the play as Willy dies. Before Willy died, Biff had many expectations from him to accomplish and couldn’t live a free life. However, when Willy dies, Biff is free from these expectations. He even has enough money to build upon a new future with his freedom. The American Dream is to have a set career and to own the most top quality material. However, this play shows that the “real” dream is to have and live upon freedom. Linda, for instance, doesn’t support her family because she has to; she has the freedom to do whatever she wants, and she wants to take care of her family. Without freedom, the American society would not be how it is today; we have the freedom to make our own decisions, and nobody can come in our way. Similarly, Willy cannot come in Biff’s way anymore since he’s dead, so Biff is a free pigeon, like every other ideal American.
The importance to fit in- Throughout the novel, the idea that being accepted is more prevalent that being intellectual is significant. In the novel, WIll becomes captain of the football team. He immediately tells Biff about this accomplishment because he feels as though he is well liked and is accepted now. He feels as though he is extremely popular now that he is captain. He thinks this place of distinction as the captain of the football team will grant him high regard. However, this was not the case in the story. He feels as though he needs an education, however for all fo the wrong reasons. It is not necessarily significant to be able to fit in. However, WIlly feels as though it is extremely significant that he is able to become the captain because he thinks it will attain him high regard, but he is unfortunately mistaken.
Ageism: The play concerns itself with one of the most heavily debated acts of discrimination in America: ageism. Throughout the novel, Willy serves as a victim of ageism in a society based on youth and intellect. For instance, Willy is treated unfairly by the son of his former boss, Howard, despite having a part in naming him. Howard, an inconsiderate and ungrateful superior influenced in an era of younger generations, constantly forces him to travel to cities farther than he [Willy] actually needs to be. When Willy encounters Howard to plead for better working conditions due to old age, Howard unjustly fires him (lighter in the play by asking Willy to take a "good long rest"). This is an act of ageism at its finest. In the world today, society often favors those of the younger generations rather than the older ones. Death of A Salesman reveals this fatal flaw of society as the younger generations overshadow the older ones. The play also conveys the idea that as the influence of the younger generations grows, the generation gap widens even further to the point where ageism will completely dominate the world. There is no end to ageism as there is no end to war. All we can do is hope for a better future where the legacy of the older generations will pass on to the younger ones.
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