A common idea used throughout literature is the issue of freedom of the individual in opposition to the controlling pressures of society. Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, epitomizes this type of person, one who looks to his peers and co-salesmen as lesser individuals. Not only is Willy competitive and overbearing he also seeks after an ideal that is not in his grasp; becoming the greatest salesman ever. Determined to make money, Willy becomes uncontrollable and in some ways insane. Throughout Willy’s life he portrays a character with an unknown identity and many insecurities.
Willy goes through life with many illusions in his head. His career as a salesman is built on a dream that he witnesses as a child. At an early age Willy hears of a salesman, Dave Singleman, who can make his living out of a hotel room and is very popular with many people. It is this ideal that Willy Loman seeks after; all he ever wants is fame, popularity, and a few friends. Unfortunately when Willy dies, not a single person comes to his funeral. Willy’s life is one that is spent trying to become another person, namely Dave Singleman, it eventually becomes a waste. Willy is determined to live by ideals that place him above everyone else; it is with these lies and illusions that Willy’s life begins to lose its’ air of reality. As a result, he loses his identity, courage, and dignity throughout New England as a salesman. Biff says, “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong. He never knew who he was” (Miller 1888). Realistically, Willy is not successful as a salesman due to his illusions of life.
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As a result of Willy’s illusions in life, his relationship with his sons suffers. Many problems arise that force economic and personal difficulties on him and his family. Furthermore, Willy spends hours on hours dreaming of the past; thinking of himself and his sons for which he had very high hopes for. Willy says, “Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises” (Miller 1836).
While comparing his sons to Greek Gods, Willy again manages to stray from reality and into illusion. Terry Thompson says, “Willy Loman’s attempt at a flattering mythological allusion turns out to be just as inept as his business advice” (162).
In response to this, Biff is Willy’s true inspiration as a father, while he has the determination to become a great football player, not to mention to make something out of his life and the Loman name. However, as Biff flunks math Willy makes it out as he thrown all of his opportunities away. It is with these circumstances that Biff and his father begin to separate and part ways. Willy always promises his sons prosperity and good-fortune but eventually realizes he cannot give it to them. In result, when Willy loses Biff his life becomes an even larger failure than it has already become.
Willy’s goal in life is set on success and prosperity. Charley says of Willy, “He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory” (Miller 1888). As Willy realizes his dream is in jeopardy he spends a lot of time brainstorming how to make his life what he wants it to be. Putting his family aside, Willy commit’s a terrible sin that affects him and his family forever, adultery. As Biff learns of his father’s affair, his thoughts of him being an influential salesman in New England are all lost at this instance. Instead, it appears that his father is a loser with no potential to ever support his family in a good manner. It is at this time that their lives spread apart in a big way. Biff speaks to his father, “I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hardworking drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! Will you take that phony dream and burn it?” (Miller 1885). Using this situation and the many other downfalls in Willy’s life, it is not surprising when he kills himself. In search of happiness, Willy believes that he can give his family what they want if he could only leave the world. Willy’s dreams are wrong in reality, as a result his family does not see any friends or co-workers that care enough to go to his funeral. Willy Loman dies for things that many men live for; pursuit of his family’s happiness and prosperity.
Through Willy’s dialogues and actions, he portrays a character of great insecurity and unknown identity. Willy dies still unsure of his status in the business world, his yearning for success and money at the age of sixty-one makes him realize that these goals are never to be reached. Willy’s identity is lost and is presence on Earth is unknown. While Willy is influenced by society in a way that he cannot overcome the pressures of selling products and making money. In result, the pressure of society kills a man who once had courage and determination, as life goes on Willy loses his ability to see the world clearly. Willy’s eyes can only observe despair and insecurity, it is through this realization that he decides to end his unhappiness by ending his life. Willy Loman dies with a lost identity of himself and his family.
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