Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” Essay
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”
Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman tended to victimize virtually everyone he came in contact with. He hurt others perpetually throughout this play for a variety of different reasons. One of his key targets was his wife Linda. From verbal to finical, Willy Loman abused his wife Linda. His son Biff was also a prime target of his abuse. His abuse towards his son was subtle at times, and not so subtle others. Biff wasn’t the only son to encounter abuse his brother Happy was also a target. Happy was abused not by any action, but by lack of. To further expand on the aforementioned, Happy was ignored by his father causing much detriment. A common occurrence among abusers is that their victimization seems be focused internally (family) or externally (everyone else) but rarely both. Willy Loman was an anomaly as far the previously philosophy was concerned; Willy victimized everyone he came in contact with.
From his finically supportive friend, Charley, to the last person you’d expect, a child. Though, that isn’t to say that Willy was in turn unharmed; he was also a victim. Those who are victimized often feel that they are justified in their diatribe against all others, no matter how untrue. His boss Howard would victimize Willy Loman, stating his lack of importance to business. Which could be perceived as a severe act against one’s ego, but this wasn’t the most prevalent culprit of harassment. The quintessential worst enemy of Willy was his mental illness; but more specifically his frequent delusional tangents. Throughout Arthur Miller’s Masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman was both a victim and a victimizer as I’ll soon make evident in the text below.
The most evident victim of Willy Loman was his dearest wife Linda. There were many angles in which she was abused but none more apparent than verbally. Willy Loman didn’t abuse his wife in the conventional use of the word; he didn’t go on verbal tirade, it was much more passive. For example a scrip analysis from Death of a Salesman featuring an emotional moment between Willy Biff and Linda; from pages one hundred and twenty-seven to one hundred and thirty, Willy had twenty-eight lines, Biff had twenty-five lines and Linda a mere four. This clearly demonstrates that whenever Linda was part of the conversation that wasn’t one-on-one she was severely neglected. When Willy and Linda would talk one-on-one she couldn’t say a thing without being contradicted or having her opinion belittled; “LINDA: Willy, dear. Talk to them again. There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York. WILLY: They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.” (Death of a Salesman, page 14)
This shows utter denigration just for the sake of flexing his superiority, and ironically enough, he later attempts exactly what his wife suggests. What this shows is that Linda was absolutely right and Willy chose to victimize her over admitting that his wife was right. In this scene Willy defames his wife by establishing her inability to do simple processes correct, “WILLY: Why do you get American when I like Swiss? LINDA: I just thought you’d like a change- WILLY: I don’t want a change! I want Swiss. Why am I always being contradicted?” (Page 17) Maybe this seems harmless but imagine how you would feel; you’re looking out for some ones best interests and made to feel incompetent in the process. There is no doubt in my mind that this was detrimental to Linda’s ego.
Another way Willy victimized Linda was a way only Biff and he were privy to; events in Boston that may have cost him a place in heaven. Willy chose to break sanctity of marriage by cheating on his wife with a woman from Boston, but this begs the question; is someone a victim if they don’t know they were victimized? The second definition on Dictionary.com states that a victim as “a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency.” Ostensibly, what makes a victim isn’t the harm; it is the deceitfulness behind the action. To apply logic; if Linda were to find out she would in turn be hurt. With the application of this definition all speculation ends, and Linda clearly can be labeled a victim.
The last dynamic to Linda-Willy victimization is the more subtle finical difficulty caused by Willy’s incompetence. Willy had a commission based job and as a result had very unstable salary. In the later years of Willy’s life he seemed to have lost his knack for selling and as a result his income. This clearly created an uncomfortable living environment for the Linda. For one, not having working appliances would make her life incredibly more difficult and in turn would cause her stress. Secondly, not knowing if they would be able to afford their insurance premiums was also a problem. Not knowing if your world could come to a crashing end at any moment would create an enormous amount of insecurity in Linda. I am perfectly aware that this wasn’t Willy’s intend by any means; it was a topic of Willy’s concern as much as it was Linda’s. As of such, I’m sure you’re curious how this could be interpreted as victimization; how could being unable to provide a healthy living environment for your family be victimization? It lies in Willy’s passivity and ego. Willy had an opportunity to receive a job from his friend and finical confidante Charles, and by refusing it he effectively threw Linda into a poor finical situation.
Another character Willy victimized was his own son Biff. Much like Linda, there was a few facets to Willy’s abuse as I’ll soon demonstrate. The first on the docket was the verbal abuse. To keep this from convolution I present the following, “Biff is a lazy bum!” (Page 16) This demonstrates verbal abuse towards Biff that caused a great amount of distress in his son; as Biff perceives in rebuttal to like-comments, “Why does Dad mock me all the time?” (Page 21) This just brings a pinch of tangibility and support the true power of Willy’s abusive comments. There was also a less visible approach to Willy’s abusive nature, and that was in how he spoke to Biff. I’m sure you’re probably encountered similar situations, maybe when meeting the judgmental mother-in-law.
To get straight to the point, they state seemingly standard question or comments laced in condescension and attitude. Willy had a perpetual filter of attitude when he would confront Biff; and I use the word “confronting” because the seemed less like conversations and more like an interview. It would be extremely difficult to demonstrate this, so instead I present a quote from his wife Linda who also recognizes his confrontational attitude. “LINDA: …You mustn’t lose your temper with him. WILLY: When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if we making any money…” (Page 15) As you can see, Linda has recognized what I did, Willy’s subtle criticism of his son Biff via seemingly harmless questions.
Though Willy’s verbal assaults were extremely hurtful they didn’t even scratch the surface relative his other mode of victimization; the belief of his son’s greatness. Most would consider thinking your son is great to a fantastic attribute for both son and father, but there is a level of moderation that was completely disregarded. Hoping the best for your son and being utterly divorced from reality are two completely different things; and unfortunately Willy was the latter. By constantly putting Biff on a pedestal he put him in a very uncomfortable situation. He made Biff feel that if he didn’t achieve the level of his expectations he was a failure. This ultimately led to his breakdown and the elimination any doubts of the pain Willy induced.
Besides the previously mentioned moments of abuse, Willy was a less than satisfactory parent. In order for people to become competent adults they require a strong upbringing. The reason Biff didn’t have a strong upbringing was because of Willy’s ego. Willy thought he was had fantastic genes and his son would be fantastic by default. For starters, his father ignored all warning sides that Biff was failing math, even after literal warning from his son’s friend Bernard; “BERNARD: I heard Mr. Birnbaum say that if you don’t start studyin’ math he’s gonna flunk you… WILLY: Don’t be a pest, Bernard!” (Page 32) Willy’s belief in Biff’s infallibility led him to completely disregard the warning signs of his failure. Some might think this is Biff’s responsibility, but I beg to differ. Willy is his father, and his son was at a crucial age in life, one where the easiest choice isn’t the best. This was a very important time for Willy to take hold and push him to succeed and unfortunately he didn’t. By not giving him a proper foundation he put his son in a predicament he could never escape, one that presented years of disappointment frustration and anger.
Willy’s abuse of his son Happy wasn’t of an unconventional nature. He didn’t insult Happy, nor did he criticize him. What he did could be interpreted as even worse, he didn’t acknowledge his existence. The only time he entered into mind was while Biff was the focal point. It was evident that this constant ignorance deeply bothered Happy. As a child Happy was constantly pretentious; trying to grasp any ounce of attention he could get his hands on. This is a sheer sign of someone who was attention deprived. He wouldn’t have had to constantly draw attention to himself if he was getting it anyways, in a manner a good father would provide. In his later life, Happy suffers from numerous characteristic of a person who was an attention deprived child. For one he perpetually lies to making him seem like something worth admiring; as demonstrated at the Chop House, “Excuse me, miss, do you mind? I sell champagne and I’d like you to try my brand. Bring her a champagne, Stanley.” (Page 101)
In this scene Happy boldly lies to woe a women he has just met; he was not a champagne sales person, he in fact worked an unsatisfying job as the assistant to the assistant buyer. Another sign of his victimization as child was evident in the way he treated his father. I speculate as the years past, Happy started to resent his fathers. This is evident by the apathy he demonstrated towards his father at the Chop House; “LETTA: Don’t you want to tell your father- HAPPY: No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on…” (Page 115) There is an expression, “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree”. I think this moment brings this expression to life as Willy’s choice to ignore his son comes full circle as Happy does the same, leaving him high and dry.
Willy didn’t direct his victimization to the Loman family members alone, he chose to victimize people outside his family as well. He was relentless when it came to his neighbor and good friend Charley. Charley was a great friend of his who would help him finically at every turn of the way. Even when Willy lost his job and was indebt Charley put his best foot forward to correct this unfortunate circumstance by offering the obviously useless Willy a job. Willy seemed to overlook this steadfast friendship to criticize Charley for relatively irrelevant reasons; “WIILY: Where are the rest of your pants? CHARLEY: My wife bought them. WILLY: Now all you need is a golf club…” (Page 51)
This is just one of the numerous examples of Willy ruthlessly criticizing his loyal friend. Insulting someone when they are around could be construed as friendly banter if Willy didn’t insult Charley only in person. This is demonstrated when Willy s uses his loyal friend as a model of someone who isn’t “well-liked.” “HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh? WILLY: Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not-liked. He’s liked, but he’s not-well liked.” (Page 30) The most troublesome portion of this moment in Death of a Salesman is the level of candor. Willy throws his friend to the dogs as if he’s was a piece of meat.
The victimization didn’t pertain to Charley alone; it also carried over to his son Bernard. Willy view Charley’s son Bernard as weak because of his lack of athletic prowess. For this reasons Willy felt it necessary to victimize Bernard as exemplified in the following, “You want him to be a worm like Bernard?” (Page 40) In this quote Willy refers to his son’s friend Bernard as a worm during a conversation with his wife Linda. The most unfortunately part of this is that Bernard, much like his father has a caring nature, and constantly tries to help the Loman’s. Once again, Willy just brushes off any attempted assistances and chooses to do the exact opposite and victimize.
Victimization as far as Willy Loman was concerned wasn’t a one way street; the sword of victimization was double-edged. Howard, Mr.Loman’s boss was probably his biggest adversary. He was a very business oriented individual who didn’t see faces but instead dollar signs. This is best exhibited when an emotionally tattered Willy request a desk job in the New York office. “I appreciate that, Willy, but there just is no spot here for you. If I had a spot I’d slam you right in, but I just don’t have a single solitary spot.” (Page 80) Upon first glance this might seem as if Howard is a caring individual whose hands are tied, but that is just a business persona exhibited and taught universally.
If that seems like to far of a stretch you only need to inspect Howard’s actions that later came; “HOWARD: Willy, you can’t go to Boston for us. WILLY: Why can’t I go? HOWARD: I don’t want you to represent us…” (Page 83) Willy’s purpose upon visiting Howard was to request an advance to protect his family arrives only to get the proverbial boot. Howard did mention business is business and we are all aware that the business world is cut throat and if you aren’t effectively doing you’re job you don’t deserve to have one; but this doesn’t excuse the tactfulness of Howard’s actions. Willy’s loyalty was completely disregarded, he wasn’t given any chance or warning and for that reason this by whom Willy was most victimized.
Besides Howard, only one character could touch the level of victimization he achieved, and his name was Willy Loman; bar-none, his own worst enemy. One of the crucial problems with Willy was his need to be better than everyone else. He constantly compared his achievement to his brother Ben as well as his good friend Charley. He viewed anything less than their success as simply not good enough. This in turn caused Willy an enormous amount of anxiety. Comparing yourself with your peers isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s only bad when your point of comparison is insurmountable and you won’t settle for anything less; his brother Ben had a mammoth size fortune, and good friend Charley was a wealthy business owner with an, even wealthier Lawyer son. If that wasn’t enough, like most parents, Willy began to live his life through his son Biff. Biff being a total failure; this resulted in even more suffering for Willy. Willy’s hope began to decay and decay until it was unrecognizable, leaving him with only one option left.
Willy’s only option left was suicide. A series of culminating events in Willy’s eyes, denied him any other option. He was starting to subconsciously recognize his failure as a father and more importantly a man. I couldn’t imagine a more cold cut victimization of one self. Many people when in a depressed state commit heinous acts, but there is no more heinous than committing suicide. Suicide is the grand puma as far as self-deprecation goes and Willy was a culprit of it. The mode of his suicide was even more appalling; a forced car accident. There are many sure ways to kill yourself; hanging, or shooting, jumping off something really high, but it takes a significant amount of self victimization to commit suicide via motor vehicle. This is because the chances of sustaining permanent injury are extremely high versus the chances of death. For this reason, I can concur that all victimization of Willy’s were only overcome by the victimization of himself.
This play was riff in the victimization and concurrent victims. Linda was victimized in enumerable fashions by her husband Willy. Willy’s victimization also carried over to his two son’s Biff and Happy who where both victimized but in two different fashions; one by neglect the other by high expectations. The victimization by Willy Loman didn’t cease at the doors of the Loman household, it even was carried over to his loyal friend and neighbor Charley and son Bernard. Willy was in turn victimized by his boss Howard who made him feel inferior to the company, striking a serious blow to his ego, as well as putting him in a horrible finical situation.
This diatribe aside Willy was in fact the biggest abuser of himself. One unanswered question seems to resound through this play, and that is why did Willy feel the need to criticize those around him? Was it his upbringing? I am under the impression it was due to mental illness. Willy seems to have many of the characteristics of one who is depressed; persistently sad, anxious, feelings of helplessness, difficulty making decisions, irrational thoughts and at the top of that list, suicide. Willy was without a doubt the biggest victimizer in Death of a Salesman but his victimization of others was only superseded by the victimization of himself.