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Death of a Salesman Block 4
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
Willy Loman - a man who is a little older than sixty- is the protagonist of this play. He is married to Linda Loman and they have two children; Biff and Happy Loman. Willy contradicts himself a lot throughout the play, for example, on page 16 he says Biff is a lazy bum, but then says “he’s not lazy.” The “Death of a Salesman” is generally made of Willy’s memories which are transformed into illusions during the play. Arthur Miller allows the reader or viewer of this play to realize that Willy is delusional. Miller shows this by proving how Willy is not as successful or “well-liked” as he made himself seem. When Willy visits Howard to ask for a favor, Howard is surprised that Willy wasn’t on the road working and asks him, “You didn’t crack up again, did you” (79)? At this moment, Miller allows the reader/viewer to understand that Willy is not the successful salesman he portrayed himself to be; he is a total mess. In my point of view, Willy’s strengths are his capability to deceive people and his philosophy of being “well-liked.” Willy tricks many people into believing that he has a prosperous job, when in reality he doesn’t. He follows his philosophy of the more “well-liked” you are, the more likely you are to succeed throughout the play. Willy shares this idea with others and bases all of his lies on it. Willy’s weaknesses have to be his strengths because the more he deceived others, the more he fell into his lies and contradicted himself. “Willy: I’ve got a job… I don’t know what to do. I was just fired” (97).
The character Willy Loman reminds me of Steve Martin because of Willy’s age description, “He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly” (12). Another factor that I took into consideration was how Willy and Steve are both fathers.
Linda Loman is the wife of Willy Loman, and the mother of Biff and Happy Loman. She is a naive person; one that is not aware of the innumerable lies that Willy tells her. This clueless and loyal nature that she displays is the reason why she constantly defends Willy’s behavior, even at times when he has treated her wrong. She does not lose her temper but instead calms Willy when he becomes irritated. She discovers several things about Willy, such as him borrowing money from Charley, or him trying to kill himself, yet, she does not do anything about it because she is afraid of Willy’s mental condition. Linda contends to Willy’s hallucinations and erratic behavior alone, as if he was a child and she was his mother. She is significant to the text primarily for confronting her sons and constantly telling them not to treat their father poorly. She is the one that keeps the family knit together; if it wasnt for her Biff and Happy would have never returned home and Willy would have been dead a long time ago. Quotes that demonstrate Linda Loman’s behavior are the ones she says to Willy as false motivations such as “You’re doing well enough, Willy” (61) or “”Oh, thats the spirit, Willy!”(92) She even lies to him by stating, “
You’re well liked and the boys love you” (62).
As the wife of the main character, she posses a lot of strengths such as patience, calmness, and affection for her family. However, her weaknesses overweigh her strengths. The weaknesses include being too naive, easygoing, and oblivious allowing others to take advantage of her. The picture above is close to an image of Linda Loman that I had imagined as I read the text.
Biff Loman is the thirty four year old son of Willy Loman. He seems to be unable to find himself in a steady job after losing a college football scholarship, and wanders around the west of the country doing odd jobs. He has an unusual relationship with his father which results in a lot of tension when the two are together. Biff never really met the expectations his father set for him making it hard for the pair to get along without Biff feeling like a failure. Over the course of almost a decade, Biff went from the favorite son to the problem child, something that he cannot seem to grow out of because he can’t find who he really is. Biff’s purpose in the play is to serve as a protagonist. He can be seen as what happens to a man when they fail to achieve the “American Dream”, because he doesn’t end up with wealth and happiness even though he constantly tries hard to change his life. A significant quote that Biff says is in the beginning of the play when he is talking to his brother, Happy: “Ive always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done is waste my life.” This shows Biff’s internal struggle in life and the never ending cycle he inhibits throughout the plot. Biff has a problem with stealing that has existed since he was young, but his physical strength has not left him. He is also a charmer, which can be either a positive or negative trait for him because he never learned to ear what he gets. In my head, I see Biff as Andrew Garfield.
Happy is the 32-year-old son of Willy and Linda Loman and the younger brother of Biff Loman. As physical characteristics go, he was described as “tall and powerfully made”(pg.19) and is a “compulsive womanizer”, finding joy in playing with the hearts of the women he encounters. He has come up short to his brother time and time again, but has turned out to be more successful than Biff. However, this success is tainted as he achieves it through corruption and poor business ethics.
Charley, the neighbor to the Lomans, is a very successful and thriving individual. He has a son, who is successful as well, as a lawyer. In the story, Charley seems to be a kind, caring, nonchalant man. Charley also does not care about anyone’s opinion of him, besides his own. In the anecdote, Charley sets the standard for success. Of course this causes somewhat of an internal conflict within Willy. Deep down, Willy is very jealous of Charley for many reasons. He is jealous of Charley’s success, the success of his son, etc. Charley is very significant because he shows us a side of Willy we wouldn’t be able to see. Being that Willy eventually has financial issues and several other troubles, Charley tried to somewhat help Willy out, but Willy declines this offer, showing what kind of pride he has inside of him. Charley has many strengths, strengths that range from commerce to raising children. Although Charley doesn’t have any weaknesses that stand out, a minor weakness of his would be the fact that he’s so relaxed and calm, he doesn’t care too much about what is going on around him. “A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory.” This quote represents the motivation and inspiration that lives within a man by the name of Charley. It seems Charley lives off specific maxims that he’s come up with, and he wants Willy to succeed, but Willy, being the disdainful mortal he is. This character, Charley, although more of a “behind the scenes” character, plays a big role in us, as readers, getting to know our protagonist, Willy Loman.
“Linda: You’re a pair of animals! Not one, not another living soul would have had the cruelty to walk out on that man in a restaurant!” (124).
Theme: The Desire to Fit In
A significant theme of the novel was the desire for every individual to fit in and attain a desirable reputation. The characters each want to be well liked in society, and thus they take different approaches in order to display themselves as very capable human beings. For example, Happy lies about his high position in his job because he wants to be seens as a man with a good reputation. However, Biff finds out about the lie that his brother has been saying and tells him,
“You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant aren’t you?” (131). This shows how two brothers even lied to each other because they both struggle to be accepted in society. Willy, the main character, believes that to
have a good reputation one merely needs to be attractive and well liked in order to succeed. The following conversation Willy has with Happy sums up this theme
WILLY: Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more.
HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh?
WILLY: Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not—liked. He’s liked, but he’s not–-well liked. (Act 1)
Everything that a character does is driven on the desire to fit in.
The theme of abandonment runs through the course of the play as Willy struggles with the idea of being left alone. Starting when he was young, he was abandoned by his father when he was a baby, and then his older brother, Ben. Willy says in one of his flashbacks, “I remember you walking down some open road.” (pg. 48). He says this some time after Linda mentions the fact that Willy always wondered where his brother went. These experiences leave him with a fear of being forgotten, which is the reason why he tries so hard to be successful and well-liked. Willy’s ultimate goal is to make sure that he will be remembered for his trials so that he never has to be abandoned.
Charley: Why must everybody like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked. Now listen, Willy, I know you don’t like me, and nobody can say I’m in love with you, but I’ll give you a job because -- just for the hell of it, put it that way. Now what do you say?
I--I just can’t work for you, Charley.
Theme: The American Dream
“Willy: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the
world a young man with such—personal attractiveness,
gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about
Biff—he’s not lazy.”(pg.6)
-(noun): a hidden feeling or tendency that is usually different from the one that is easy to see or understand.
-(adjective): changing moods quickly and often.(pg.12)
-(verb): to polish with or as if with wax.(pg.19)
-(noun): a soft pliant leather prepared from the skin of the chamois or from sheepskin used especially for cleaning windows and cars.
-(adjective): disheartened; dejected.(p.15)
-(verb): to introduce or bring into position subtly, artfully.(p.27)
-(adjective): having or exhibiting self-importance.(pg.24)
-(adjective): feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.(p.25)
- (noun): one guided by ideals; especially one that places ideals before practical considerations.(pg.23)
-(noun): a state of alarm or dread. (p.12)
incipient (adjective)- beginning to exist or to appear (page 30)
prancing(verb)- to spring from the hind legs(page 31)
anemic(adjective)- lacking power, vigor, or colorfulness(page 33)
scrim(noun)- a piece of fabric used as a drop or border(page 37)
laconic(adjective)- expressing much in a few words(page 41)
trepidation(noun)- tremulous fear , alarm or agitation(page 41)
valise(noun)- a small piece of luggage that can be carried by hand(page 43)
dispel(verb)- to disperse(page 46)
gallantly(adjective)- exceptionally chivalrous(page 47)
evasively(adjective)- avoiding or seeking to avoid trouble(page 54)
surlily: (adjective) rude or bad tempered (page 56)
feeling, characterized by or expressing strong displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, or insulting. (page 56)
philandering: (verb) to continuously flirt with women or to enter into casual sexual relationships with them (page 57)
possible to do easily or conveniently (page 63)
buck: (verb) to cheer (page 65)
dull and tedious (page 69)
solidified: (verb) make or become hard or solid (page 72)
withholding amounts of sugar (page 75)
limbering: (verb) to warm up (page 87)
skeptical; indicating or showing unbelief (page 88)
Standish (noun) (pg. 109)- a stand for writing materials; inkstand
Salvation (noun) (pg. 96)- the act of saving someone from sin or evil
Merely (adverb) (pg. 96)- just; only
Strapped (adjective) (pg. 97)- short of money
Raucous (adjective) (pg. 98)- behaving in a very rough and noisy way
Lavishly (adverb) (pg. 100)- using or giving in great amounts; prodigal
Archly (adverb) (pg. 101)- in a deceitful manner
Bewildered (verb) (pg. 103)- cause someone to be perplexed and confused
Unnerved (verb) (pg. 103)- make someone lose courage or confidence
Frantically (adverb) (pg. 109)- insanely; madly
Slugger: (noun) a person who strikes hard
Chippies: (noun) promiscuous women
Fine: (adjective) characterized by or affecting refinement or elegance
Louse: (noun) slang for a contemptuous person, especially an unethical one
Gilt-edged: (adjective) secure
Simonize: (verb) to shine or polish to a high sheen, especially with wax
Yellow: (adjective) cowardly
Take the rap: (verb) to take the blame and punishment for a crime committed by another
Lick: (verb) to overcome or defeat
Dast: (verb) dare
A significant scene in the play is when Willy has a flashback on pages 30-60. He remembers when Bernard, the son of Charley, enters the Loman’s home and advises Biff to study for his Regents exam in order to be able to graduate. This scene is when Willy and Biff both create their interpretations on what is necessary to have a good reputation. They both believe that it is one’s personality and attractiveness that determines his/her success. Thus, they establish that despite the fact that Charley and his sons are intelligent at that time, they do not posses the qualities of a successful individual with a good reputation. However, when Willy was asked about his success, the only thing he could say was that he has met the mayor of Providence. He believes that the only reason he does not make enough money is because he is not as adored and respected in society as Charley. Thus, this scene shows how both the father and the son feel that it is merely a good reputation that leads to a successful individual rather than hard work which leads to many events in the play.
The image above has been chosen to represent the scene in which Willy goes to his boss Howard to discuss his reassignment to a different position in the company. This scene take place in Act I on pages 76-84
One of Willy’s last flashbacks is when Biff comes to his Boston hotel room to talk to him about failing math. Willy had been cheating on his wife with a character referred to as The Woman. Biff sees her in his father’s room and his whole perception of Willy changes. This is the reason why Biff and Willy don’t get along- Biff discovered his secret and could never forgive him. This is also the reason why Biff gives up on his life. He realizes that he can no longer trust his father and doubts if the dreams Willy implanted in him could ever be true. “Don’t touch me, you- liar!” (pg. 121) is what Biff says before he leaves the room.
The image above depicts the scene that occurred on pages 126 and 127.
The scene I chose explains the imaginary conversation Willy had with Ben, where Willy contemplates whether or not he should commit suicide, “You gotta consider, now. Don’t answer so quick. Remember, it’s a guaranteed twenty-thousand-dollar proposition. Now look, Ben,I want you to go through the ins and outs of this thing with me. I’ve got nobody to talk to, Ben, and the woman has suffered, you hear me” (126). This is important to the play because it foreshadows Willy’s reason to suicide. He speaks to the imaginary Ben about this idea because he is overwhelmed with all his lies. Willy believes the insurance money would give him and his family some satisfaction after cheating on his wife, and treating his children like garbage. The scene is significant because it shows Willy’s desperation to be successful, and since he could not fulfill his ideology of being “well-liked,” he takes a shortcut for his family’s success.
“You don’t want to be anything, is that what’s behind it?” - Willy (pg. 112)
Willy finally comes to the sudden realization that his sons will not succeed to the degree he thinks they will. This is when Willy realizes that Bill Oliver didn’t provide Biff with a loan, and Willy realizes things will only go more downhill from here. Willy realizes that the images in his mind of Bernard (Charley’s son) and Biff (his own son) are very much different. Biff is nowhere near Bernard, and will never be. He is not as intelligent as his father thinks, and won’t amount to anything special, and in this scene, in the restaurant, is where Willy finally realizes that his son, Biff, has no future to really look forward to. At this point is also where Biff is no longer restrained due to his father’s expectations. The image above shows Willy Loman sorrowing. It shows Loman in misery that his only potentially successful son, will not be successful. The image above represents the exact scene where Loman is really reevaluating every aspect of his life, and thinking deeply about the future, hence the staring at the cup (Willy is focused with his thinking.) The setting is also a restaurant setting (bar of restaurant) because that was where Willy received the bad news.
He's liked, but not well-liked”(20).
This quote was said by Willy in regard to Charley. Willy believes that Charley is liked in the business world, but is quite unpopular because he does not have a vast amount of friends. According to Willy, the formula for to be liked if to be attractive and be liked, as well. Thus, he believes that Charley is not very successful.
“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be?”- Biff Loman page 132
This is a quote from the part of the play when Biff is finally telling Willy how he feels. This is the point when Biff realizes that he is different from his family because he doesn’t have a clear path to success, and doesn't really want one. Willy is so set upon instilling the ideals of the American Dream into his children and he believes the only way to succeed is to have an office job. Biff knows that he is not fit for that kind of position, and finally discovers who he is and what he needs to do to be happy, even if his family does not agree. This fits in with the need to find themselves all of the characters have, whether they find it through money or freedom
Apologize to Bernard for me when you see him. I didn’t mean to argue with him. He’s a fine boy. They’re all fine boys, they’ll end up big -- all of them. Someday they’ll play tennis together. Wish me luck, Charley. He saw Bill Oliver today.
Willy, in this statement, is apologizing about what he’d earlier said to Bernard. Of course, this dispute was because of jealousy that has built up in Willy, and that has accumulated over time. Willy is deeply saddened that his children have not reached success like Charley’s son Bernard, and actually may never reach it. He is afraid that his sons won’t reach this success and so he’s putting his children at the same level just for the sake of imagining them at the same level, when in reality, Bernard is far more successful, wealthy, and prosperous than Willy’s children combined. This quote summarizes not only the guilt of Willy’s children not reaching success, but the jealousy Willy has toward Charley and his son.
“Biff: You-you gave her Mama’s stockings! His tears break through and he rises to go… You fake! You phony little fake! You fake! Overcome, he turns quickly and weeping fully gous out with his suitcase. Willy is left on the floor on his knees” (121).
This quote demonstrates the tension between Willy and Biff, as Willy remembers the time Biff figured out he was cheating. The “stockings” within this quote play a huge symbolic role; it represents betrayal. Willy’s flashback to the time he cheated on Linda was triggered by the thought of stockings. In my point of view, this situation has to be the climax of the play because this is where Willy’s whole family is torn apart. Willy’s decision to cheat, and his incompetent error of being caught, was the downfall of Biff’s success. Biff was so brutally scarred that he didn’t want Willy to speak to his teacher and he didn’t want to go to summer school either.
“BIFF: Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future.”(pg.16)
While talking to his brother Happy, Biff begins to discuss how life has treated him. He talks about how one must put off whatever their dream is in order to first make sure that he/she survives. He talks about the struggle that is going to a dead-end job everyday and only able to enjoy your life two weeks out of the year. He struggles with the growing competition and realizes how long it can take one to taste even a morsel of success.
The desire for money is an issue of social concern depicted in America and in The Death of the Salesmen. People are constantly running after money thinking that it is the only way to achieve happiness, but they fail to realize that one does not need money in order to be happy. However, it is not only money that people are after, but rather materialistic that can be bought with money. They do not realize the value of things that cannot be bought with money, such as someone’s trust. Willy, constantly betrays Linda’s trust by having affair with another woman to fulfill his inner greed. In America, people are greedy for ipads, and iphones or the latest advances in technology that can be bought with money. They cheat in relationships simply because they did not spend money into it. Thus, the world revolves around the notion of “how much something is worth” and goes as far as putting money values in front of priceless things such as trust and honesty.
The Dynamic Between Success and Failure
Throughout history, the American Dream has been something that many people have lived up to and believed in. This ideal’s repercussion is the same as its benefit: it does gives a false sense of hope to many people. For people like Willy, failure isn’t even a thought because they are so caught up in the need to succeed. Failure can become crippling to unadjusted people, making it harder to deal with. Ultimately, people can become wrapped up in a fantasy, similar to Willy. Believing that everyone will be successful has made others view America as a hopeful country that is always trying to give all of its inhabitants equal opportunity.
Topic of Social Concern: Living Up the Expectation of Parents
In this day and age, parents already have a future set up for their kids from birth. As soon as their child is born, they know all that they want their child to do, which is usually something they haven’t done in their own life. They use their children as a medium to do things they haven’t done. This happens in “Death of a Salesman.” It is shown several times in the story that Willy, a failed entrepreneur, sees potential in his son Biff, and would like to live through his son. When all goes wrong, Willy thinks his son, Biff, can revive the family of it’s unfortunate circumstances, but of course this is not at all true. Biff is no man that can make miracles happen, he is just one human, and one human can only do so much. This topic, in itself, is relevant to the American Identity. Many first-generation college students are being pushed to go to school and to study by their parents, because their parents didn’t do that and regret it, so they try to relive those moments through their children. This causes those children to eventually reach success (most of the time), and being that success is reached, parents can feel accomplished. Many immigrants try to live the American Dream, and if they can’t they attempt to do it through their children, and this is exactly what Willy tried to do, but he was not successful at it.
“WILLY:There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening!”(pg.12)
As illustrated by Willy’s quote, America during this time had begun to see an influx of immigrants migrate to this country. As one would expect, this would make the race for jobs a tight one and would cause the level of competition to be extremely high. The jobs that had once been so readily available to American citizens were now scarce and were hard to get. This led to racial tension and that would spark even more problems.
Believing that success brings happiness
Throughout the play, the concept of being successful was believed to be the key to happiness. In our daily lives, we perceive happiness to derive from success as well. Although this is what everyone believes, the issue here is happiness does not only originate from success. Willy believed that committing suicide for his family’s success was the key to his wife’s or family’s happiness, but that is not the case, “… twenty thousand-that is something one can feel with the hand, it is there” (126). In this situation, Willy could have put an end to all his lies and came clean about his mistakes. Willy’s family already cared dearly about him, but he didn’t keep that into consideration when he was deciding to commit suicide. Willy’s arrogance led him to his own demise; he could have solved a lot if he was honest with his family because happiness does not need to come from money. “Money doesn’t always bring happiness.”-Hobart Brown
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