This passage allows us to make several assumptions about the main character, Willy, in a psychiatric way. Obviously irony is a major component of how Arthur Miller hints to these mental characteristics, but he also alludes to other concepts in the details of the stage directions and the seemingly unimportant lines of supporting characters.
Upon examining the passage on pages 38 and 39 in the book, (25 and 26 in the pdf) it has become clear that most of WIlly’s problems can be traced back not to how he raised his own children, but back to his own childhood.
The three key points of Willy’s youth are subtly given to us in this passage and highlighted with Miller’s use of irony. This may just be an opinion, but Willy is pretty weak, and not just physically. In this passage he is seemingly dependant on people’s praise and of seeming important. The irony is that he is thriving off the praise of both his wife and mistress, although the two women could not be be more different in their temperament.
His wife Linda assures Willy of his handsomeness and his excellent parenting, in her eyes, and The Woman, although her compliments are far less sincere, assures Willy of how she picked him of all the possible salesmen This is key because one of the main points of the entire play is Willy’s struggle with the fact that he is indeed not important anymore.
This is ironic because it leads us to believe Willy to be this successful salesman, and we soon find that not to be true in the present day of the play. Willy’s need for reassurance of his importance is foreshadowing his lack of necessity in his future, and his lack of deserving praise in his future. The Woman, being more manipulative, sees Willy’s weakness for compliments and used them to keep him addicted in a way to their affair.
In the start of the passage Willy complains of being alone on the road, so what better way to subdue that loneliness than to acquire someone to fawn over him and make him feel good about himself. This leads us to assume Willy has some self esteem issues. This concept also supports Willy’s affair because cheating often springs from people with poor self images because of the craving for the assurance of the cheating people’s greatness. This self hate can come from many places but most often comes from something deep rooted like, well, the person’s roots.
Mother’s are important, something about the presence or absence of a mother can make or break those of weaker spirits. Willy being one of those weak ones was emotionally stunted by his lack of mother. Or even lack of any family to establish healthy social skills. But commonly in psych cases, a lack of a mother or mother figure results in a perpetual longing for physical connections.
In the stage directions Miller illustrates throughout this passage how purely physical Willy and The Woman’s relationship is. The passage begins with Willy discussing his longing for physical contact when he is on the road. Like Willy’s addiction to praise, he needs the physical contact because he just isn’t capable of making deeper relationship connections from his early social handicap.
The beginning confession for physical relations is ironic because he describes how he wants it to be with Linda, but it ends up happening with a mistress. This lack of ability to connect is part of the reason for Willy’s struggle with Biff. Willy cannot figure out how to communicate with Biff simply because he is socially inept. This in turn comes to stunt Biff as well as Willy makes the same mistakes with Biff that Willy’s own father did with Willy. Willy is haunted by his childhood, his decisions and his family.
Miller never specifically writes how important this is, but he hints at it in one intense way in the stage directions. Willy hearing the flute music of his father. This flute music narrates the entire play in it’s own way. Like most people, Willy is terrified of ending up like his father. Everyone is told they end up like their parents and everyone vows that they will be different. But the thick irony is that Willy ends up just like his father, making the same vital mistakes.
Just as Willy’s father abandoned Willy as a child and added another psychiatric problem to Willy’s list of mental issues, Willy abandons his own family in what he thinks is a seemingly innocent act. A clear example of this is when The Woman thanks Willy for the stockings, and then it cuts to Linda repairing her stockings (which she is constantly doing throughout the play).
This irony is that instead of taking care of his actual family by doing things like spending money on his wife to replace her old, ripped stockings, he turns his back on them to buy a gift for his mistress. Just like his father he put off the needs of his family for his own needs. This may seem harmless but in doing this Willy demonstrates who he is putting first n his priorities.
These issues all lead to some serious mental issues that result in an endless cycle. Willy is unhappy with himself and longs to make connections and receive praise, but his only way to make connections is physically, which leads to poor choices, which leads to making his longed for connections worse which makes him even more unhappy with himself.
Some people just don’t know how to stop the cycle and just work on their communication skills. Miller lays the irony on so thickly throughout this book to show how despite all Willy’s struggles he continues to do the exact things he is trying to prevent. Truly a tragedy.