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Death Of A Salesman Essay

1657 words - 7 pages

Death of a Salesman

The play Death of a Salesman (DOAS) by Arthur Miller, written in 1949, focuses on the life and actions of the Loman family in the heart of Brooklyn. The man of the house Willy and his two sons Biff and Happy are the most interesting of the bunch, since they are very much alike on the surface, but oh-so different on the inside.

Willy Loman, the main protagonist (and antagonist) of DOAS, is your usual patriotic father. He is an insecure, self-deluded traveling salesman, with big dreams. Throughout the play, details about Willy’s childhood are not fully divulged. However, during the "memory scene" between Willy and his brother Ben, the audience learns a few bits of ...view middle of the document...

Although he fondly remembers Biff as a teenager, he is unable to communicate with Biff in the present. As a result, he praises Biff one second, while criticizing him the next. The cause of Willy's inconsistent behaviour is his unbidden memories of a long-ago affair, which he forgets or chooses not to remember until the end of Act II. It is difficult enough for Willy to deal with Howard, his buyers (or lack of buyers), and the everyday reminders that he is not a great salesman like Dave Singleman; however, it is even more insufferable for Willy to accept the idea that he is a failure in his son's eyes. Willy perceives himself as a failure: He is not Dave Singleman. He is just a mediocre salesman who has only made monumental sales in his imagination.

Willy: "Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground." Talking to Stanley, the waiter at Frank’s Chop House, suddenly fixates on buying seeds to plant a garden in his diminutive, dark backyard because he does not have "a thing in the ground." The garden functions as a last-ditch substitute for Willy’s failed career and Biff’s immoral ambition. Willy realizes, at least metaphorically, that he has no showable proof of his life’s work. The seeds symbolize Willy’s failure in other ways as well. The fact that Willy uses gardening as a metaphor for success and failure indicates that he subconsciously acknowledges that his chosen profession is a poor choice.

Now that he is growing old and less productive, the company he helped to build fires him. He regrets being unfaithful to his wife, even though he will never admit the affair to her. He is no longer a respectable man in Biff's eyes. Biff recognizes Willy's tendency to exaggerate or reconstruct reality and is no longer a willing participant in Willy's fantasy. By the end of the play, Willy is overwhelmed; he can no longer deny his failures when they become too many to deal with. Instead, he seeks a solution in suicide. Willy reasons he can finally be a success because his life insurance policy will in some way compensate Linda for his affair. Additionally, Biff will consider him a martyr and respect him after witnessing the large funeral and many mourners Willy is sure will attend.

Biff, the eldest of the two sons, led a charmed life in high school as a football star with scholarship prospects, good male friends, and fawning female admirers. However he failed math and couldn’t graduate. Since then, his kleptomania has gotten him fired from every job that he has held. Biff represents Willy’s vulnerable, poetic, tragic side. He can’t ignore his instincts, which tell him to abandon his father’s dreams of him. Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, not living up to his expectations. Biff realises he has to break free, and plans on moving as far away as possible.

He's the only character in the book that shows any real personal growth. Sure, Biff is also flawed, just like everyone else. He can't hold down a job, he steals from...

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