Death of Salesman

Willys Idea of Success is Misguided
Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman, is idealistic, stubborn and has a false sense of importance. He exhibits skewed perceptions of society that have a negative impact on him and his family. Willy believes that his philosophy of life is one that will guarantee himself and his family a life of wealth and success. Willy cannot achieve this success because his perceptions and methods to obtain it are wrong.
Willy thinks that a part of a persons success is measured by how well liked and how many friends an individual has. This is illustrated when Willy says Its who you know and the smile on your face! … and thats the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! (Miller 86). The context of this quote makes it seem that this is applicable to anyone who believes Willys philosophy that being well liked is in direct proportion to success. Willy believes that it is the Loman family that is guaranteed success because they are well liked and have great personalities. Willy believes that he will be more successful than his neighbor Charley because he has a better personality and is liked by others more then Charley. Willy says, Bigger then Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not-liked. Hes liked, but hes notwell liked (30). Willy and his family know that Charley is a good businessman and earns a good living. The Lomans will never believe he is successful because he lacks the ability to be well liked, which is the trait that is imperative for Willys definition of success. Willy equates success with being well liked, and by saying that Charley is liked, but not well liked is the same as saying Charley is successful, but not very successful. It is this belief that by being well liked, Willy has an advantage over all others.Willy tells his sons, Be liked and you will never want (33). This quote exhibits his philosophy of how success and being well-liked are one in the same. That by being well liked, doors of opportunities leading to great success will open.

Willy feels that personality and presentation are the most important aspect of creating opportunity for yourself. Willy advocates that how one presents oneself is more important to success then doing ones job well and presenting oneself poorly. Image is the other part of Willys perception of success. This is shown when Willy is speaking to Biff and Happy about the importance of appearance in contrast to Bernard:
Thats just what I mean. Bernard can get the bets marks in school, yunderstand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. Thats why I thank Almighty God youre both built like Adoniss. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead (33)
In Willys guide to success, it is imperative that one have a good personality because everyday he is essentially selling himself to those who know and work with him. By having a good personality the potential to be well liked, and thus be successful, is unlimited. Willy states, Its not what you say, its how you say it-because personality always wins the day (65). In this statement it is evident that Willy feels that all men can do the same job, but it is those individuals who can stand out in a crowd, with good looks and personality, that will always come out on top.
Willy believes that stealing and cheating are two methods that will help to obtain the goal of success. He seems to believe that he and his family are above the rules of modern society. He encourages his children to steal and cheat almost always, and never shows any remorse for his or their actions. Willy states, in pride, to his brother Ben, You should seen the lumber they brought home last week. At least a dozen six-by-tens worth all kinds a money (50). Willy not only encourages the stealing but interprets it in another way. He shows his sons how it can be an worthwhile skill when Willy talks to Biff about the football he has stolen from school, Sure, hes gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesnt he? To Biff: Coachll probably congratulate you on your initiative! (30). It is here that Willy shows that stealing helps to ensure an easier road to success. Willy advocates cheating as well as stealing. When Biff fails the Regent tests and does not have the necessary amount of credits to graduate and is not able to go to college, Willy is outraged. But he does not blame his son for failing. He instead blames Bernard, You mean to say that Bernard wouldnt give you the answers? (118). This exemplifies Willy as an advocator of cheating as a way to obtain success. Willy uses this to manipulate others and the rules in order to better accommodate the greater goal of success. Willy applies the same techniques in his work, attempting to ease his ability to see the buyers. The woman who is a secretary for one of the buyers and is having an affair with Willy tells him, From now on, whenever you come to the office, Ill see that you go right through to the buyers. No waiting at my desk any more (116). It is in this situation that Willy cheats his wife and the rest of the sellers because he takes a shortcut to see the buyers.

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Willy Loman maintains a misguided perception of success which is caused by his lack of realization and by the suppression of reality and the world around him. Death of a Salesman focuses on Willys goal. The play analyses Willys implementation of his ideal of success in society. Willys dream is to achieve wealth and to be well liked based on ones looks rather than the conventional idea that hard work and intelligence will ensure a bright and successful future.

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Death Of Salesman

Death Of Salesman In the play, ” Death of a Salesman” , Arthur Miller depicts a typical dysfunctional family. This is Arthur Miller’s best-known and most important problem play. It is a symbolic and in part expressionistic, and it challenges the American values concerning success. Willy Loman is a salesman who after thirty-four years of being on the road, is slowly starting to deteriorate physically as well as mentally. Upon his being fired, Willy tries to understand why he has failed as a salesman, a father, and as a husband. The word “dysfunction” defined according to The American Heritage Dictionary is “abnormal or impaired functioning”.

This definition paints a perfect picture of the daily goings on in the Loman household. It can be said that the Lomans are a dysfunctional family due to the lack of communication, respect, and values. The basis for a good relationship is constant communication. Communication was something the Lomans did not practice often, and when they did, it usually ended in a shouting match. Willy has extremely poor listening skills, which is the key component in communication. He constatnly talks over people, and always interrupts whoever is speaking.

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When Willy went to talk to Howard about getting a job in New York, and not traveling anymore was a perfect example of Willy’s poor communication skills. Whenever Howard would start to say anything that Willy didn’t think was in his favor, Willy would talk over Howard. Page 2 When Howard left Willy alone in the office to greet other people outside, Willy acknowledged this to himself, saying “What the hell did I say to him? My God, I was yelling at him! How could I ?” ( Miller 1285). This is a perfect example of Willy’s lack of communication skills. It’s well known that parents’ behavior influences their children.

So it’s no surprise that Biff lacks communication skills also. Everyone in the family has a habit of interrupting one another as evidenced in this exchange between Biff and Linda talking about Willy’s car accidents: Biff: What woman? Linda(simultaneously with Biff) …and this woman… Linda: What? Biff: Nothing. Go ahead Linda: What did you say? Biff: Nothing. I just said what woman? (Miller 1272).

This is a typical conversation in the Loman household; interrupting each other, not listening to each other, and lack of interest in what one another are saying. Their lack of communication is again apparent when Willy is getting ready for bed with Linda, and he’s instructing Biff on his conduct in his meeting with Bill Oliver the next day. Linda cuts him off, and Willy responds “Will you let me talk?”, cutting Linda off in return. Biff then tells Willy not to yell at Linda, which Willy responds to angrily and sarcastically ” I wasn’t talking, was I ?” ( Miller 1276). This is a common path conversation takes with any of the Lomans.

All this points Page 3 to their lack of communication, which will breed dysfunction in any atmosphere, especially in a family. Problems communicating and a lack of respect are direct influences on each other. Lack of respect for each other is another reason why the Lomans are a dysfunctional family. Willy’s lack of respect for his wife is obvious, due to the fact that he cheats on her during his business trips and thinks nothing of it. When he’s caught cheating on Linda by Biff, Willy explains it’s because he gets lonely, and tells Biff “when you grow up, you’ll understand about these things. You mustn’t overemphasize a thing like this.” (Miller 1306). Willy only cared that he was caught, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the cheating itself.

Further, more convincing evidence of the lack of respect existing in the family occurred when Willy met Happy and Biff at the restaurant the day of Biff’s meeting with Bill Oliver. This was also the day Willy was fired by Howard. Willy strated having one of his dilusional episodes, and went into the bathroom. Biff and Happy got into an argument about Happy’s apparent disregard for Willy, and Biff stormed out of the restaurant. Happy leaves with the two women while Willy is still in the bathroom, in the middle of a flashback.

When the woman asks him about his father, happy replies, “No, that’s not my father. He’s just some guy.” (Miller 1303). This is evidence of the ultimate disrespect ; Happy’s not willing to admit that Willy is actually his father. Taking into account the state Willy is in Page 4 when Happy leaves, this shows total disregard for his own father’s well being. Biff shows the same disregard when he leaves before Happy does. Another example of disrespect in the family is the fact that they don’t even respect themselves.

This is evidenced by Happy’s philanderous ways, and ultimately by Willy’s suicide. When an individual has no self-respect, it is impossible to respect others. When there is no respect for others in a household, this obviously is going to lead to a dysfunctional environment also. The Lomans’ dysfunction is further proven in the lack of morals displayed throughout the family. Happy and Willy’s womanizing alone show a lack of morals, especially in Willy’s case, considering he is married.

When Biff’s thievery is factored in to all this, the Lomans’ lack of moral value becomes undeniable. Even more alarming is the fact that Biff goes undisciplined for these acts by Willy, as well as Linda. In fact, the boys are encouraged at one point to steal. When Willy wanted to build the front porch, he tells his boys to “go over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand” (Miller 1267). What kind of parent encourages his children to steal? During the time Biff was playing football, he stole a football from the locker room at school. Not only did Willy laugh with Biff about the theft, he made the excuse that “sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he?” and even goes so far to say “coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (Miller 1256).

This is a blatant illustration of Page 5 the lack of morals contained in the Loman children, as well as the lack of morals taught by Willy himself. The lack of morals in the Loman boys is the result of never learning any morals from their parents. This is an obvious form of dysfunction in the Loman family. Willy never taught his sons right from wrong, only how to be philandering thieves. The Lomans were a dysfunctional family due to their lack of communication, their lack of respect for each other, and their overall lack of moral value. The examples used to illustrate these points are undeniable evidence of their dysfunction.

Their symptoms of dysfunction are not uncommon in today’s society. The Lomans dysfunction could have easily been avoided by a more attentive and respectful family relationship. The same holds true for today’s societal problems. All problems are created and curbed in the family environment. If more attention is paid to youth, the youth in turn, will pay attention.


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