Willy is a very contradictorary character; he finds it very hard to come to terms with reality. He lives in his dreams and takes all his pleasures from the past, which he distorts in order to feel happy and continue living a self-delusion. His role models are the great salesmen of an old age when their personalities came first and their goods second. These people don’t however have a place in the modern business world where only ruthless aggression gets any results.
He realises this when he says, “After all the highways, and the trains, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” However, he doesn’t do anything to change his methods of business.
Pride is extremely important to Willy, whether it be pride in being (or pretending to be) a successful salesman, pride in his sons (especially Biff) or pride in being independent – he refuses Charley ‘s help at the very time when he needs it most.
Despite never being able to reach his goals and his life being a huge self-deception in which he still keeps hope. Even as he is contemplating death he still maintains hope in the fact that his insurance monies will be, enough to give Biff the much-needed start he needs.
Linda is Willy ‘s wife and exceedingly loyal to his hopes and ideas. She is constantly trying to find a way between her sons and Willy in order to try and ease the tension. She becomes obviously depressed as Willy contemplates suicide or as she puts it ‘ringing up a zero’ whilst knowing that, there is nothing she can do to help him.
She want him and herself to be happy despite all of the problems in their lives and is angry at Biff and Happy for expecting a perfect family life. Linda is the one who knows about Willy’s wish to end his own life but she never intervenes, as she doesn’t want to be the one who causes any trouble.
Biff is the son of Willy and Linda, he has never really been able to reach his full potential and even now when he is reaching his the middle of his life, he remains unsure of himself. Willy has successfully managed to build up a structure of self-deceit, which has obviously stopped his son from realising his strengths and weaknesses. He has not made his way in the world and seems very lost and unsure of in which direction he wants to go. He admires Willy but he has been disillusioned by his affair with the woman and now lacks motivation in finding his place in the world.
He is the only other one who realises that the family has been built up around a web of deception and finds it hard to continue to pretend to be what he is not. He refuses to live in a lie and enter unwillingly into the world of business. What he really desires is a country life far away from the life of falsity and corruption. A complete contrast to the life that he is leading however, he is too undisciplined to direct his energies in a good career direction.
Happy is like Willy and Linda’s other son and like Willy is a failure but he finds it hard to admit it. He wants success and respect like his father, but his weakness is most notably for women.
He sees Biff as his road to success and so it is inevitable that his dreams will stay dreams. In addition, like Willy he has pretended to be what he is not. Biff describes this when he says “You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant, aren’t you?”
He never learns anything about himself, unlike Biff when he says “We never told the truth in the house for ten minutes.” Happy fails to realise the effects of Willy ‘s death on his own ambitions. Happy continues with the self-deception, which runs in the Loman family and can’t understand that he too must face reality if he ever wants to be anything.
The theme of truth vs. deception runs throughout the entire play. Willy has to got himself tangled in a web of deception and lies, which he can’t get out of. In order to convince himself that all is well he has to tell more lies and deceive more, therefore creating an even thicker web from which it will be even harder to get out of. Biff seems to be the only one who really realises this and understands that the only way their lives can become happy is to tell the truth and get out of the web. Willy finds this very hard to do, as he seems to have almost forgotten what the truth is.
Happy also finds it equally difficult to tell the truth however, maybe because he has never really known what it is. Linda seems to be the reason for a lot of these deceptions, as Willy tells lies so that he may deceive her and seem to be successful. In addition, Willy’s affair creates a lot of deception when he is caught and then has to hide it from Happy and Linda. This ultimately destroys his relationship with Biff and creates further tension within the family.
Willy seems to believe in working only in business. What he doesn’t realise is that in order to get into the business world and be a good salesman you need to put in a lot of hard work. This is reflected in his sons. When Biff and Happy are studying at high school Willy doesn’t seem to be bothered about how hard they study, just that they are “well liked”, and subsequently they are failures as business men. However Bernard who Biff, Willy and Happy describe as a swot does work hard throughout his school years ends up becoming a very successful lawyer working in the high court whilst Biff and Happy are still trying to live the lives of boys, not men.
Willy works hard all of his life but he has had the wrong priorities and has believed in personality which has now left him old-fashioned and therefore unwanted within the business world. He constantly looks up to the salesmen of a bygone age like Dave Singleman who when describing Willy says “He died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers…” These salesmen could get by with only personality but the harsh truth is that he is living now, where ruthless aggression gets results. He also brings his sons up with the same beliefs as him, meaning that they can’t even make a break in the business world to start with.
The Loman family relationship isn’t a particularly good one. This is because of all the lies that are created in order to distort the truth. They can’t tell the truth because they all feel that they have to be something that they are not. They all feel that they have to be something, which they are not because they are failures and yet they can’t be seen to be because they have always been told that they are successful. They don’t tell the truth as to they have never been told that there is a lie, they truly are living in a lie which Willy has created.
The relationship between Willy and Linda must be very poor and he cant have been happy with Linda because he commits adultery, maybe this is because he is lonely on his long trips but surely if it is a very happy and close marriage then he would have been able to withstand temptation. Maybe he resents Linda for not giving him what he wants and being there for him.
When Linda finds the gas piping with which Willy is trying to commit suicide she doesn’t confront him or even do anything about it because she doesn’t want to create a disturbance or maybe she was worried that it would embarrass him and therefore her. If they are very close then she could have been able to talk to him about it and try and sort things out.
Willy, despite the great love he has for his family ultimately cant of be very happy with his family life otherwise he wouldn’t have killed himself.
Arthur Miller: Biography
1915: Arthur Aster Miller was born on October 17th in New York City.
1948: Built himself the small Connecticut studio in which he wrote Death of a Salesman. Trip to Europe with Vinny Longhi where he visited Italy and met some Jewish death camp survivors held captive in a post-war tangle of bureaucracy.
1949: Death of a Salesman premiers and receives the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the Antoinette Perry Award, the Donaldson Award, and the Theatre Club Award, among others. Attends the pro-Soviet Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to chair an arts panel with Odets and Dimitri Shostakovich.
1950: Sound recording of Death of a Salesman.
1951: Yiddish production of Death of a Salesman, translated by Joseph Buloff. First, film production of Death of a Salesman, with Frederic March, for Columbia pictures.
1951-52: Us tour of Death of a Salesman.
1954: First radio production of Death of a Salesman, on NBC.
1957: First television production of death of a Salesman, on ITA, England.
1964: Covered the Nazi trials in Frankfurt, Germany for the New York Herald Tribune.
1968: Attends the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as the delegate from Roxbury.
1972: Attends the Democratic National Convention in Miami as a delegate.
1983: Directs Death of a Salesman at the People’s Art Theatre in Beijing, the People’s Republic of China.
1985: Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman airs to an audience of 25 million on CBS.
1999: Death of a Salesman revived on Broadway for the play’s 50th anniversary, and wins Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.
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