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In this paper lim going to focus on the themes, and also do an analysis of the main characters in the book. IIm going to focus on the theme of the concept of illusion and reality and the nature of the characters and their impact and contribution to the play. The main theme in Death of a Salesman is illusion versus reality. Willy has lived his entire life in a world of illusions. These illusions include Willy’s belief that being well-liked is the key to success, as well as the literal illusions that Willy has of his past.
Originally, Biff shared Willy’s illusions of success and greatness, but by the end of the play he has become completely disillusioned. Once Biff comes to fully understand his place in life, he says to Willy, “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you.” Willy, however, has lived too long in his dreams and cannot understand what Biff is trying to say.
If Willy had to face reality, he would then be forced to examine the affair he had in Boston, his philosophy, and all of his illusions. Instead, he prefers to live in the past. And now Biff, who is trying to confront the truth about himself, finds that he is completely unable to commuicate with his father.
Another theme of Death of a Salesman is the old order of agrarian pride and nobility versus the new order of industrialization. In the beginning of the play, Willy foreshadows this theme by criticizing the changes brought about by industrialization.
“The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood.” It is this conflict between the old and new orders that brings about Willy’s downfall. Willy’s father, a pioneer inventor, represents the traditional values and way of life that Willy was brought up on. So does Dave Singleman, the eigthy-four year old salesman that inspired Willy to go into the sales industry. Howard, the young boss of Willy’s company, represents the impersonal and ruthless nature of capitalistic enterprise. When Willy goes in to ask Howard if he can be transferred to a job in New York, Howard refuses to help him even though Willy has been working for the company for several decades and was good friends with his father. When Willy asks why he cannot be reassigned, Howard replies, “Dit’s a business, kid, and everybody’s gotta pull his own weight,” thus demonstrating Howard’s cold indifference to Willy’s situation.
The main conflict in Death of a Salesman deals with the confusion and frustration of Willy Lowman. These feelings are caused by his inability to face the realities of modern society. Willy’s most prominent delusion is that success is dependant upon being well-liked and having personal attractiveness. Willy builds his entire life around this idea and teaches it to his children. When Willy was young, he had met a man named Dave Singleman who was so well-liked that he was able to make a living simply by staying in his hotel room and telephoning buyers. When Dave Singleman died, buyers and salesmen from all over the country came to his funeral. This is what Willy has been trying to emulate his entire life.
Willy’s need to feel well-liked is so strong that he often makes up lies about his popularity and success. At times, Willy even believes these lies himself. At one point in the play, Willy tells his family of how well-liked he is in all of his towns and how vital he is to New England. Later, however, he tells Linda that no one remembers him and that the people laugh at him behind his back. As this demonstrates, Willy’s need to feel well-liked also causes him to become intensely paranoid. When his son, Biff, for example, is trying to explain why he cannot become successful, Willy believes that Biff is just trying to spite him. Unfortunately, Willy never realizes that his values are flawed. As Biff points out at the end of the play, “he had the wrong dreams.”
In many ways Biff is similar to his father. In the beginning of the play we see that Biff shares many of the same ideas as Willy. He values being well-liked above everything else and sees little value in being smart or honest. One of Biff’s main flaws is his tendency to steal. Early in the play we learn that he has stolen a football from the school locker. When Willy finds out about this, instead of disciplining Biff, he says that the coach will probably congratulate him on his initiative. We also learn that Biff once stole a box of basketballs from Bill Oliver. This foreshadows the scene in which Biff steals Bill Oliver’s fountain pen after trying to get a loan for his sporting goods business. The climactic scene in Biff’s life comes when he finds a woman in Willy’s hotel room. This causes Biff to realize that Willy is a fake. Biff’s tragedy is that he has accepted Willy’s values all his life, and now that he finds out they are false, he has no values of his own to rely upon. Thus, Biff becomes lost and must set out to find his own values.
Once Biff begins to develop his own beliefs, his opinions about his father change. Instead of viewing his father as a fake, Biff comes to realize that his father had some good qualities, but was simply misguided by inadequate values. Happy is the younger of the two Lowman brothers and thus is often overshadowed by Biff. Because of this, Happy is constantly trying to get attention from Willy. In one of the flashbacks Happy continually says, “I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?” This is an attempt by Happy to get recognition from Willy. When in the present, Happy tries to get recognition by announcing that he is getting married. In both instances, however, Happy’s remarks are dismissed as unimportant. Thus it is no surprise when Happy leaves Willy alone in the restaurant. It is merely in retaliation for his own rejection.
Another characteristic of Happy is his refusal to recognize reality. When Biff, Happy, and Willy are in the restaurant, Happy tries to prevent Willy from learning that Biff did not get the loan. While Biff is trying to explain that he never actually worked as a salesman for Oliver, Happy is continually reassuring Willy that the interview went well. Another example occurs at the end of the play when Happy insists that Willy “did not die in vain. He had a good dream.”
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