Alex KinslerProfessor DodsonEnglish Composition II3 December 2017 Deathof a Salesman Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” written in 1948, performed in 1949, has been called arguably thebest American play of the twentieth century (Treanor).
After reading it and watchingit, I’d have to agree. Many who’ve watched or read it can either relate, or knowsomeone that relates to the struggles portrayed in this story. This play isabout Willy Loman, a traveling salesman who wants nothing more than the “AmericanDream”. He longs to be well-liked by everyone, to have the ideal family, and tobe financially successful.
I chose to do a character study for this essay becauseeach character has a different, unique past life and there’s so many situationsthat lead up to how they are in the present in the play.Thefirst character I chose is, of course, Willy Loman. We see in Act I that Willyhas some sort of mental and/or emotional problems. He has conversations withhimself and reiterates conversations with his late brother, Ben. He would askBen, “How’d ya do it?” referring to his success of his diamond mining in the jungle.He wasn’t jealous of his brother and his success, but admired his success and wouldwonder each day how he came about his riches.
He would also stir up conversationswith an imaginary Biff, his son. Willy’s recollections and recreations of thesememories represents his character. He has a hard time accepting the “now” ofthings and how he’s simply failing at his job and chooses to focus on the past,imagining when things were better and easier for him.
Willy also tends toembellish on his life to make him seem more interesting and less depressing.Eventhough Willy cannot accept the fact he’s not a successful business man like hisbrother, leaving him insecure, the real reason he started to have thesenostalgic flashbacks is because of his son, Biff. He was once so admired byBiff until he took a trip to Boston and learned his father was having an affairfifteen years prior to the present day in the play. Biff and Willy are both devastated,and this is when the start of Willy’s inconsistent behavior begins.
They wereboth so fond of each other before Biff found out about the affair. In result,Willy chooses to have these flashbacks of Hallmark moments with his son to rememberthe good times. For instance, one of the flashbacks shows Biff promising a touchdowndedicated to his father on one of his football games.
All Willy can do now iscriticize his son and his actions. Atthe end of Act II is when Willy starts to perceive himself as a no-goodsalesman. He ends up getting fired from his job he’s worked for over thirtyyears for.
His affair leaves him with remorse and Biff’s misperception of hisfather leaves Willy hopeless. He can no longer deal with his mediocrity of a salesman.This takes a toll on Willy, in result of him killing himself due to crashinghis own car. He finds that his life insurance policy will be the solution to hisfamily having the success he’s always desired.Thenext character is Biff, Willy’s thirty-four-year-old son.
Biff was well-likedin high-school, being an all-star football player hoping to receive an athleticscholarship. This was the time Willy admired his son the most, even if he wouldcause some mischief. Willy would actually encourage him rather than punish him,for example, stealing a football from the school. Although he was a good athlete,he couldn’t seem to balance his academics, leading him to fail his math class.He fled to Boston to tell inform father and that’s when he discovered theaffair. He was able to retake the class in order to graduate, but to spite hisfather, he didn’t.
Sincethen, Biff has never looked at his father the same and Willy’s actions createsthe motivation of Biff’s present character. His father never motivated him inschool and he thought it was okay and praised him when he did the wrong thing.Biff’s life began to spiral. The stealing continued, and wasn’t able to hold a jobbecause of it, eventually landing him in jail. He even tells his father hislife is his fault during an argument. UnlikeWilly, Biff wants an easy, nothing to extravagant, life. He was back and forthto Texas working on a ranch before he had to come back home because of course,getting fired because of stealing.
He’d rather be seen for who he is and comfortablefinancially, rather than having whole shebang of the “American Dream”. Eventhough Biff may seem to be lost in life, his character had tremendous growthand self-realization. Despite the stealing, Biff has become a better person as awhole. I’d say he’s learned from Willy’s mistakes and aspires to be nothinglike his father and his lies he sees right through.Happyis Willy’s other son, also in his thirties. It seems that Biff was his only sonbut, that’s how much Happy seemed to be left out during the play. Since Happy waspretty much second-place to Biff, he yearned for his attention even more. Forexample, Happy would try to get his father’s attention by insinuating that he’sbeen losing weight when Willy was concentrated on Biff.
It’s ironic becauseHappy has several personal traits of his father. He tends to embellish on the truthabout his job position, saying it’s higher than what it actually is, also onhis life in general. Happy isn’t happy.
He has no idea what he’s doing with hislife and how and when it’s going to get better, just like Willy. He’s a typical”womanizer”. He brags about being with three of the executive’s fiancés and evengoes to their weddings. It seems that he thrives on this power of pursuingthese unavailable women, who he would also be dishonest with. “The Loman men arecon-artists.” (Metz), which I can agree to be true.LindaLoman is Willy’ wife and the mother of Biff and Happy. Despite the way she’streated by Willy, she still adores him.
Linda Loman may be the definition ofloyal. Linda doesn’t have an actual occupation, but her job in the play was toplease, protect, and defend Willy to the fullest. She’s very oblivious when itcomes to Willy’s job or money, and even the affair. When she learns of Willy’smental state and the fact he’s tried to kill himself several times, she beginsto make excuses for his actions by telling her sons that he’s just “exhausted”.
She then exposes this news to Biff and Happy and their reactions cause Linda todefend her husband’s actions even more. Allin all, Linda just truly loves her husband. But, it’s more of desperation thanlove. She’s treated so poorly by Willy yet, still accepts him and all hisflaws. She’d rather be with Willy and all his baggage than to not be with him atall. I wish Miller would’ve included more to Linda’s backstory as to why she isso desperate for love and fearful of being alone.
Inconclusion, Miller did an amazing job portraying these characters. “For anyonewho’s ever felt inadequate or adrift, or who’s ever broken a familyrelationship in a way that feels like it can never be fixed, the story’sresonance is gut-wrenching.” (Hurwitt). I’d have to agree with this statement.
Herelated this play to many struggles families face every day and how it affectstheir behaviors, hopefully not the killing yourself part though. He made sure everycharacter was different and had different personalities and behaviors, allbeing motivated by one character: Willy. WorksCited Metz, Nina. “Review: In’Death of a Salesman,’ Arthur Miller’s words take on a new edge.”Chicagotribune.com, 14 Feb. 2017, www.
Hurwitt, CorrespondentSam. “Review: A terrific new take on classic ‘Death of a Salesman’ in Oakland.”The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 20 Mar.
2017,www.mercurynews.com/2017/02/23/review-a-terrific-new-take-on-classic-death-of-salesman-in-oakland/. Treanor, Tim, “Death of aSalesman review.” DC Theatre Scene, 3 Oct.