In Death of Salesman, the conflicts that the characters face through out in the play, can be interpreted as reflections of the problems in America’s society today. The majority, if not all of these problems can be traced back to Willy Loman as the source. Willy Loman’s longing to be successful (either actually through himself or through his sons) was the origin of all the other problems, and was the reason he could not control himself and he ruined his life and his family.
The most obvious societal problem face in the play is greed. Willy’s obsession with having money is a perfect symbol of the larges part of society, the part whose lives revolve around acquiring money, and having “the best”. The people have unrealistic expectations just like Willy. In Act 1, Willy is hallucinating about his brother Ben and he says, “The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich!” (41).
Willy and countless people in today’s society, have unrealistic expectations, and are never honestly satisfied. They are willing to do anything to get to the top, even if it means hurting others, and most of the time they are left with nothing. Just like Willy in the garden, muttering, “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground”; because they have done nothing substantial with their lives and have not “planted” anything (122). They used all their time concerned with money and neglected to invest in anything concrete, like real love, and having a family.
They have no real lives outside of materialistic things, just like Willy.
Willy’s constant disregard for others and their lives is another example of a problem America’s society faces being represented in the play. In today’s society, it is seen as expectable to push others down, and put your self first. In Death of a Salesman, Willy does this constantly when it comes time to be honest and care for his family. Willy’s actions greatly affected his family, and were the reason for many of Biff, Happy and Linda’s problems. When he was fired, Willy said, “I was fired and I am looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and suffered”(107).
Willy, like many people with any sort of conscience today, feels bad and wants to tell Linda that he was fired (something that will drastically effect his entire family, especially considering their already pending financial problems), but this want is smothered by his need to have “good news”. This want is essentially just a ploy to make him feel better about himself, so once again Willy puts Linda second to his own needs, which is really the reason for all the waiting and suffering she had to do. This disregard, is also obvious in today’s society, one person’s actions can affect the whole community. Like in the case of all the terrible decisions George Bush. George Bush made decisions for the country, that were not for the common good, but his good, and now America is left picking up the pieces now that he’s gone.
Many people argue that a major problem with the order of today’s society is that people no longer respect their elders. Arthur Miller, obviously saw this occurring even in the 1950 when he wrote the book. Willy raised Biff and Happy, putting all in hopes, dreams and inhabitations into them. But when they were old enough no to have to depend on them anymore, they walked away from him. Linda even acknowledges it and says, “It sounds old fashioned and silly but I tell you he put his whole life into you and you’ve turned your backs on him”(60). Biff and Happy used their father to become who they were, but when he needed them to live, they walked away from him. This is even more obvious of the problems faced today when looked at as if Willy represents all the older people in our society. The elderly are looked down upon, are thought to be crazy, and have their jobs, license and overall most real concessions, taken away for no reason other than age. We discriminate against people who should be our equals and treated with respect.
Peer pressure, is not just something that effects school aged children on the playground. Adults are pressured every day by, family, friends, co-workers into doing things that do not necessarily want to do. This is a tremendous problem in society because most of the time when people are doing something they do not want to do they are going to be upset. This feeling of being upset, usually leads to emotions that are more drastic such as being stressed and just completely lost and unhappy. Willy’s pressure on the Biff and Happy is the perfect example of this pressure to do things you normally would not do. Willy constantly says through out the play, “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want”, this pressure to be well liked is what pushed Biff to neglect his school work and Happy to only care about pleasing woman and his father (30).
Willy always pushed the boys to have and to be the greatest at everything they did. But in the end Willy’s pressure pushed the boys to make reckless decisions and made them feel like they could never do enough to please their father. Biff took to stealing and even admits that his father’s pressure got to him in Act 2 when he says, “I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!” (131). Pressure can sometimes be positive, like when it pressure pushes you to give your best effort, and sometimes negative, like when it causes you to conform excessively. As in the case of Happy, who by the end of the play, even after his father kills himself is determined to follow in Willy’s foot steps and even says, “It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (139).
The biggest complaint that is heard from adults about today’s youth is the constant feeling of entitlement. Even when unjustified. Willy’s outlook on his life is a perfect example on teen’s unjustified feelings of entitlement in today’s culture. In the scene where he goes to talk to Howard about his job, Willy says, “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away-a man is not a piece of fruit.” (82). Willy feels that Howard (the son of the father who had formerly promised Willy that he would be rewarded for his service to the company) has gone back on the word of his father by forgetting the salesman in his golden years, throwing away the peel after eating the orange, so to speak.
But what Willy does not realize is that Howard owes him nothing, and neither did his father. Anything people do out of kindness is simply that, kindness. Students sometimes think that just because they received a good mark in a class that it will automatically be the same the next quarter, and aren’t always willing to do the work needed to earn the grade. But what Willy and countless others don’t realize is that no one is owed anything. During and argument Willy has with his son, Biff makes the comment, “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!” This infuriates Willy who counterattacks, “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!” (132). Seen through Willy and people thought the world, entitlement is an illusion that blinds our work/life ethic and us.
Death of a Salesman shows both family and societiatal conflicts; however, these conflicts are definitely more powerful when looked at as societal problems .It forces you to evaluate the ethics and principles of the culture we live in. and how they eventually reflect the things we truly hold important. However the reflection is not just the problems, but also all the damage that results from making those the most valued things. Death of a Salesman is a disheartening play but it is an honest reflection of our society.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: 1949. Print.