“Death of a Salesman” Essay
Choose a play which underlines how one person’s flaw(s) can have a significant impact on other people as well as himself or herself. Explain briefly the nature of the flaw(s) and then, in detail, assess how much the character and others are affected.
“Death of a salesman”, by Arthur Miller, is a play which follows Willy Loman’s struggle to find success in life. In his desperate attempts to die the “Death of a salesman” he installs the wrong morals into his sons and hasand has what might be seen as the wrong dreams. Willy’s flaws include his volatile nature, his inability to tell the truth and the guilt he suffers from due to his affair. Also, he lives in the past and continually uses this as an escape mechanism. His flaws lead to the downfall of both himself and his sons.
A major flaw of Willy’s character is his mercurial nature which is displayed throughout the play. In the first scene Linda, Willy’s wife, is clearly worried over her husband’s declining mental state. However, all Willy can do is snap at his wife over somewhat petty things. When Linda buys American cheese instead of Swiss Willy proclaims; “I don’t want a change! I want Swiss cheese.” This is a clear sign of Willy’s temperamental nerve which can snap at any sudden moment. His volatility causes him to get confused easily. Willy describes his son Biff as “a lazy bum!” and seconds later admits “he’s not lazy”. Willy has therefore contradicted himself without being aware of this in the slightest. His temper even leads to him losing his job – something his entire family depend on to survive.
Willy has two sons, Biff (the eldest) and Happy. Willy continually praises Biff and it is obvious that he favours him. Although it is normally important to praise a child, his flawed outlook on life and success mean that this is not such a positive thing. He also swears by the importance of personal attractiveness and popularity - he even values this over studying. “Be liked and you’ll never want” – This is his motto for life and he always enforces this upon his sons causing them to spend more time on sports than on schoolwork. When Bernard, a friend of the family, warns Biff that: “if you don’t start studyin’ math he’s gonna flunk you” Willy simply shrugs off this advice to his son to study as he feels that Biff’s popularity and sport success will alone lead to his son becoming a huge success. Ironically, Biff does flunk math, and is unable to go to university, because his father has instilled such morals into his sons. Even when Biff steals a football from his school Willy does not scorn him, but instead congratulates him on his “initiative”. The damage of Willy’s actions here can be seen later in the play when we learn that Biff has since been in jail for stealing.
Willy has many dreams which are highly unattainable and only set himself and his family up for disappointment. Willy dreams of getting a job in New York and makes his family feel optimistic that this will happen because of the loyalty he has shown his company. However, his boss Howard is dismissive towards him and instead fires him causing great financial problems for both himself and his family. Willy is clearly oblivious to how ruthless and callous the business world is: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit.” But in reality Howard can do this, as “business is business”.
Another flaw in Willy’s character is his desperation to leave something tangible behind. He is desperate to plant seeds in his yard but they will not grow because of lack of light. Willy’s comment: “a man has got to add up to something” shows his dire need to prove he is a success, but this is an impossible dream. His flaw of having arguably the wrong dreams means that he never feels content in life and that he has achieved nothing. This even rubs off on his sons who begin to have impossible dreams too: “The Loman brothers-eh?”
Willy cannot help but escape to the past whenever things go wrong. An ingenious flashback device is used throughout the play to allow readers a closer look into Willy’s deteriorating mental state. When Willy stumbles over the tape recorder in Howard’s office it is accidentally turned on and Willy is unable to turn it off. This symbolises Willy’s inability to switch off the past. Whenever something goes wrong in Willy’s life he escapes to a happier time when Biff and Happy loved and respected him. This flaw of using the past as an escape mechanism confuses Willy and the people closest to him. When Willy and his friend Charley are playing cards Willy imagines his deceased brother is there which confuses both of them and causes Willy to cheat in the card game. Willy ends up calling Charley an “Ignoramus!” and Charley storms out of the house. This shows how Willy’s mentality can push away the few friends he has.
Willy soon becomes trapped in a web of lies and cannot stop lying. However, this backfires on him when his boss Howard suggests: “go to your sons and you tell them that you’re tired.” Howard has been convinced that Willy’s sons are a huge success and will be able to help him out, but there is no way they can.
A major flaw in Willy’s character is his infidelity. When his son Biff discovered his father was cheating on his loyal wife he lost all respect for him proclaiming: “You fake! You phoney little fake!” He also suffers badly from guilt caused by this affair. This is seen through the symbolism of stockings. Willy gave his secret lover stockings that were originally meant for Linda. Now, whenever he sees Linda mending stockings – there is a serious lack of finance – he becomes irritated because of this guilt: “I won’t have you mending stockings in this house!” This hurts her and she is confused as she is oblivious as to why he is this way with her.
When Willy wrongly claims that he sold “five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston” his inability to admit that he is not the big success he strives to be can be seen. His idol Dave Singleman died what Willy describes as “The Death of a Salesman” as he died with people from all over the country at his funeral. Willy longs to die this way to prove that he is “well-liked” This is an unattainable dream as Willy is not popular and is unknown in the business world. Willy’s wife Linda is affected by this as at Willy’s funeral she asks: “Why didn’t anybody come?” showing that she has been fooled by Willy’s lies and is now left confused by how such a ‘successful’ man can die with such a pitiful turn-out at his funeral.
In conclusion Willy Loman was an extremely flawed individual who had a huge impact on many people’s lives. He ruined his son Biff’s life as Biff has lived in a dream world and realises only by the end of the play that he is “a dime a dozen”. We have witnessed this process and the past which created it, and realise by the end of the play that Willy's failure to face reality has led to the tragedy of a family destroyed.