"Death of a salesman" by Arthur Miller.

Essay by lawrencefu April 2003

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Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a tragic play about an aging and struggling salesman, Willy Loman, and his family's misguided perception of success. In Willy's mind, being well liked is more important than anything else, and is the means to achieving success. He teaches this flawed idea to his sons, Biff and Happy, and is faithfully supported by his wife Linda. Linda sympathizes with Willy's situation, knowing that his time as an important salesman has passed. Biff and Happy hold their father to impossibly high standards, and he tries his best to live up to them. This causes Willy to deny the painful reality that he has not achieved anything of real value. Willy's obsession with a false dream results in his losing touch with reality and with himself.

Willy can't handle the reality from the way that he always rationalizes Biff's behavior.

Many times during the play, Willy drifts in and out of flashbacks. Most of these occur during the period when Biff was in high school, and foreshadow the events of the present. For instance, in one of the flashbacks, Biff "borrows" a football from the locker room, and is told by Willy, "Coach'll probably congratulate you on your initiative." (1140) Obviously, Willy rationalizes Biff's behavior in addition to his own. In the same flashback, Willy asks Biff, "What do they say about you in school, now that they made you captain?"(1141) Willy proudly hears that Biff has a crowd of followers in the halls between classes, and is well on his way to becoming well liked and successful. The reason Willy tries to maintain the guise of success is to not disappoint his boys who admire him. He wants the best for Biff and Happy; deep down, he...