‘The Death of a Salesman’ is one of Arthur Miller’s earlier plays and was written in 1949. The play is based in Yonkers, New York in 1940. Miller’s Father was in a substantial financial crisis as there was a recession which led the family business to be put in jeopardy. Due to the recession and the Miller financial crisis, Arthur had to pay for his own tuition to study journalism and play writing in the University of Michigan. All of Arthur’s plays were based on his life and all of the experiences he had encountered. Miller wrote his plays this way as he would have a first hand account of the events. ‘The Death of a Salesman’ is a disguise of Arthur Miller’s past time of his family business’s bankruptcy and financial crisis.
In ‘The Death of a Salesman’, Willy Loman is in a crisis. He’s about to lose his job, he can’t pay his bills, and his sons Biff and Happy don’t respect him and can’t seem to live up to their potential. He wonders what went wrong and how he can make things up to his family.
Willy Loman is a small, old man who believes he is of no significance. He just hopes for his children to do the best and be happy with what they achieve in life. Willy elaborates with images from the past and convinces himself that all is ok. It isn’t. His role idolises a great salesman of his time, now to be just of an old age that sells his personality and doesn’t publicly display his withering mind and aggression.
Linda Loman is Willy’s loyal wife and a loving heart to his hopes and ideas. She suffers as his mind deteriorates because she knows his mind is beyond help. She has always had faith in Willy and in all his respects. All she wants is to be happy with what she has but the family feuds are preventing her from doing so.
Biff Loman is a 34 year old son of Willy who has been searching for himself while working on farms in the west to the dismay of his father.
Happy Loman is the younger brother of Biff who tries in all he can to please his father and attempts to continue his father’s dream after the climax in the book.
In the duration of this investigation, I am trying to find out ‘To what extent does Miller uses relationships in ‘Death of a Salesman’ to expose Willy’s weakening grasp on reality in act one?
Linda and Willy have a very insecure relationship. They never discuss their thoughts and opinions in a one to one conversation and bottle up all of their emotions. Linda try’s to help Willy as she knows he is under a lot of emotional troubles. The relationship is very one sided because Linda never finds the courage to stand up to him and lets him boss her around, loosing all senses of free will. Linda is a reserved individual and doesn’t like to share her thoughts and opinions because she is intimidated by Willy as he will find bad ways of dealing with the anger and stress this may cause upon his relationship with Linda. Willy and Linda’s relationship shows Willy’s weakening grasp on reality as he isn’t able to admit defeat on anything and is unable to tell Linda of his incapabilities and weaknesses.
As he is losing the plot and his mental capability, he thinks it is time to go. He decides for the extreme option of suicide, he isn’t aware that he is leaving obvious clues and evidence of this mind turning attitude. Linda says during a conversation with her husband “Willy dear you’re the handsomest man in the world.” This quote tells me that Linda is an admirer of Willy and doesn’t want to put him down. She is trying many psychological techniques to stop him from losing himself, one of which is reassurance which would make him feel loved and cared for, to make him feel his purpose. Linda’s reassurance seems to fail to please Willy as she just finds more evidence of attempts of suicide.
All of Miller’s language corresponds with the characters predicted attitude as this is a generalisation speech of a person of this kind of attitude, for example; Willy being a socially insecure individual, the comments of the people around him reassure his thoughts and have made him become arrogant. Miller continuously puts a negative concept on the American Dream bring references to the negative factors.
Another relationship which shows Willy’s weakening grasp on reality is the one shared by Ben and Willy, they both participate in an awkward relationship as Willy is jealous of Ben. Ben is a very self absorbed individual but despite he is idolised over, he is successful but an idiotic character. “The man knew what he wanted then he went out and got it!” This phrase tells us the he is an arrogant character who has achieved his own concept of the ‘American Dream’ but is the gluttonous approach. Willy believes that Ben is some kind of hero but to everybody else, he is a bit short of a ‘hero’. As Willy is jealous of Ben, he feels he needs to live up to his brothers influences and he then lies to Linda about his achievements. Eventually, Linda discovers what Willy is doing and he then contradicts himself. These factors show that he is losing his grasp on reality because he isn’t able to admit defeat and failure.
This relationship is unstable because they are constantly trying to out-do each other and be better that the other. However this usually ends in family feuds or leading the ‘lower’ person to become depressed. This causes tension between the two as well, making several situations awkward. Ben thinks that he is better that Willy and he thinks that Willy is of a lower social class to him. Willy knows Ben’s opinions and thoughts of these situations se he tries to do the opposite to Ben’s thoughts. Willy says to Ben, “Oh sure… there’s snakes and rabbits out here and – that’s why I moved out here, why, Biff can fool any of these trees in no time!” Willy says this to Ben because Ben doesn’t understand why Willy moved to the City. Willy furthermore tries to make out that he likes living in the city and isn’t just there for a job.
Willy wants to try and make Ben see the real Willy Loman and not all the pain and disappointment beyond his smug grin. This contributes to Willy’s loosing grip on reality, as he always feels like he has to be better and sometimes he feels as though he has failed as a businessman. The reader can see this as Willy says to Linda, “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.” He is talking about Ben, and Willy is implying that all his life he has worked as a businessman and never achieved; whereas Ben had achieved greatly and at such a young age also. He feels as though he isn’t good enough and that he has to lie to Linda as he doesn’t want her to think that he is useless, incompetent and that Ben in much better than him.
The final relationship which Miller uses to show Willy’s weakening grip on reality is with Willy’s eldest son, Biff. When Biff and Happy were boys, they respected Willy as if he was a man of high importance. Linda told the boys, “Few men are idolised by their boys the way you are.” This quotation shows that Willy and the boys were close at one point but now Biff and Willy are constantly arguing with each other and Willy does this because biff isn’t being the best he can be and fulfilling his true potential. Biff isn’t successful in Willy’s eyes and I know this because Willy quoted “Biff is a lazy bum.” This quote shows that Willy thinks that Biff is worthless but then, when Willy contradicts himself by saying, “If there’s one thing about Biff, he is not lazy,” this show a loss of grip on reality because he is constantly changing his mind.
Arthur Miller uses several forms of dramatic techniques in the duration on the play, many of which reveal Willy Loman’s weakening grasp on reality in unexpected forms. In the set, the walls are all just frames; therefore you can walk through them as if they weren’t actually there. This effect gives the viewer the feeling that Willy has lost his mind and isn’t able to see the obvious and therefore dismays people’s perspectives on him, that he is a fool, idiotic and worthless.
The laugh in the background is the laugh of a woman from Willy’s past, a woman Willy had an affair with. The woman is laughing at the deceitful lies Willy is telling Linda about his day’s earnings because he is keeping money aside for her and is leaving less money to support the family. Willy is under a financial crisis as he is putting his money towards the welfare of two women.
The laugh symbolises society laughing at his because he is a fool and everybody knows it. Society mock Willy because he has to borrow money from his son in able to make his wife believe that he has more earnings than he does after he splits them two ways, also that his tricks are obvious and manipulative upon Linda.. All of the dramatic devices are effective because they show society’s opinion of Willy Loman, just a depressed elderly man in marriage and financial troubles.
To conclude, the relationships in this family are all messed up and have come undone. The relationships are a straight jacket on the family’s communication and chains are weighing Willy and Linda down, to the point, suicide is an option. The boys, Biff and Happy are being unsociable towards Willy and he isn’t able to cope with all of the dilemmas that he is putting up with at that point.
(I don’t know what else to write in the conclusion, I have followed the guidelines but I don’t know how to conclude about the relationships.)