The play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is a tragedy. It is about an American family who live their lives masking their reality, which is filled with tension and instability, with the American dream lifestyle. The father of the household, William Loman, is the driving force behind fantasizing these illusions. Hence, in the play, we are faced with many incidences where false perceptions occur and fall apart in the face of reality. We see evidence of this unmasked false perception in the situation where many, despite his ongoing boasting of being ‘well liked’, laughed at William. Although he made it seem as if he was of major importance in his workplace, the reality was that he was indispensable. Willy was found to be an adulterer dissolving any fantasy of a stable family. Bill Oliver, Willy’s son Biffs’, past employer could not even recognize Biff, after creating the figment that he was well favoured by him. Finally, preceding his death, Willy prided himself on all the people who would show up to his funeral, however, no one but his immediate family and friends attended.
At the start of the play, William comes home exhausted from his job. He confides in his wife, Linda that he no longer feels to take long trips as he usually drives from New York to Boston. To enhance his quality of life and to resolve the problem of his exhaustion, he decides that he would request jobs that require him to stay in New York. He believes that this option can be easily made available to him as he thinks he is a valuable asset to the business and that it owes a great deal to him.” I’ll come home with an advance and a New York job.” He tells Linda this with assurance, right before he goes to see his boss. On the other hand however, a different picture is painted when he goes to his boss, Howard, to make the request. He is denied his wishes. Willy even tries to negotiate lower wages with Howard in attempts to persuade him to conform to his desires but he turns his back on this plea as well. Howard goes on to further humiliate Willy as he fires him from the job entirely. Howard tells Willy: ‘I don’t want you to represent us I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a long time.’
The wall of false adoration shatters as Howard uncovers how useless Willy really is to the running of the business. In the play, William emphasizes, in many instances, that he is ‘well-liked’ and that he is one of a kind even though this is not the case. He goes to his grave telling the tale that people from all around love and admire him. He drills this notion so far that he believes it himself. ‘I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman.’ He even nurtures these thoughts into the minds of his children. ‘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.’ However, Willy’s son Biff reveals to us that in reality, people in the business world hold no respect for him and look onto him as a joke and laugh at him. ‘ They’ve laughed at dad for years and you know why? Because we don’t belong in this nuthouse of a city.’ In this situation we see where the false perception of Willy being well liked falls apart in the realistic world his son tries to live in where he can share the truth; that he is laughed at.
At the core of the American dream is the ideal, stable family unit; Willy has failed in his attempts to achieve this. He has a supportive wife and thinks he has the perfect sons as he covers up their faults and does not correct their wrongs, but instead makes excuses for them. However, we see that the family is in fact unstable as he is adulterous to his wife. Despite his attempts to conceal his relations with this mistress to portray a loving father and husband, Biff finds his father in a hotel in Boston with her, when he goes to look for Willy after finding out that he has flunked Mathematics. This in turn deteriorates the once close-knit relationship that Biff and Willy had. Biff tells Linda, “he threw me out of this house remember?” Linda says, “Why did he do that I never knew why?” And Biff replies, “because I know he’s a fake and he doesn’t like anybody around who knows.” The false perception of an ideal family falls apart when Biff discovers the truth about his father.
In an attempt to turn a new leaf and make something of himself, Biff decides on a plan of action. He would go to his past employer, Bill Oliver, and ask for a loan to serve as start up capital for a partnership he would start with his brother Happy, in a sports clothing company. His motive for believing he would be funded is that he recalls Bill Oliver showing favour to him and promising him anything he needed. ‘When I quit he said to me, he put his arm on my shoulder and he said, >> Biff, if you ever need anything, come to me him anything he needed. Biff found out that Willy was an adulterous husband eliminating any possibility of having a stable family like they would have thought in the past. Finally, only Willy’s immediate family and friends attended Willy’s funeral although he spoke of many people attending and of him being so well liked by many.