Willy Loman, in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, is the typical hard-working American chasing a dream. He was a man who was “way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine” (1947) Yet he was a man who ‘didn’t know who he was'(1947). His lack of self-knowledge and inability to accept who he is results in his insanity and ultimate demise.
Throughout the play, Willy tries chasing “all the wrong dreams” (1947). Willy aspires to a man named David Singleman, a salesman who “died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers” (1894). Willy knows that David has become successful by being popular and this is what Willy does, except that the times have changed and ‘business is business’ (1915). This misguided ideology leads Willy to be a poor salesman who hardly makes enough money to support his family. Willy can’t see the reality of this as he is too stubborn to accept that his whole life has amounted to very little. His success has always eluded him because he doesn’t realize who he is. Willy isn’t a good salesman, but more of a man who’s “wonderful with his hands” (1947) Willy should’ve worked with his hands because natural building skills.
He completed many complex building jobs around the house such as “[finishing] the cellar, … the new porch, … the extra bathroom, and [putting] up the garage” (1947) He is described as being the happiest outdoors with “a batch of cement” or seeds for their small garden. Willy couldn’t realize what made him happy and what he was best at, and opted instead to follow a hollow dream of becoming a great salesman. When his fake dreams of wealth and fame started to crumble, Willy started losing control of his life and his mind. This forced Willy to raise wealth for his family by tragically ending his life.
Death was also an escape for Willy from his place in the world as a typical working class man. He owns very little, and he makes very little, so he has no sense of accomplishment. Robbed of this, he develops the theory that if a person is well liked and has a great deal of personal charm, then all doors will automatically be opened for him. Willy built his life around these dreams. However, for Willy to live by his ideals in the modern capitalistic world necessitates accepting mediocrity or even failure. Unable to accept his place in the world as a ‘low man’, Willy deceives himself into a false reality. He lies about his exceptional importance to the company and his fame by saying “I’m vital in New England” (1879) In reality, Willy isn’t needed by the company because of his poor salesmanship, and is forced to lose his job. At times Willy even believes his own lies and becomes enthusiastic when he tells his family that he made more money than he actually did.
The grandeur of Willy’s aspirations for himself and his sons disillusioned him into not accepting his commonness. Biff realizes this truth and tries to make his father realize that “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!’ (1944) Unable to believe this, Willy retorts “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman” (1944) The name Loman implies nothing in the modern business world in which Willy lives in and he is unable to realize that he is just a typical hard working man. This blindness to the truth doesn’t allow Willy to see that his dreams are unreachable. The pursuit of the unattainable leaves Willy constantly unsatisfied with his life and drives him to madness. “With his self-identity weakened and undermined, Willy lost his grasp of things in general.” Unable accept reality, Willy kills himself.
Willy Loman is, for Miller, the antithesis of the classic tragic hero. As his name implies, he is a `low man’, an everyday man, whose dreams and expectations have been shattered by the capitalistic values of the society that he failed to see. Unlike the heroes of classical tragedy, he is not a man of stature or noble purpose but he commands our respect and pity because he pursues his dream with a passionate intensity that makes him unique and gives him a heroic quality. While Willy is flawed in many ways, his tragic flaw, or hamartia, is not knowing himself. His inability to see and accept who he is leads to his final act. His suicide, an act in defiance of the system which until now had defeated him, is a tragic attempt to salvage in death the dream he couldn’t attain while living.