The Narcissistic Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
Length: 869 words (2.5 double-spaced pages)
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Many dilemmas throughout the recent decades are repercussions of an individual's foibles. Arthur Miller represents this problem in society within the actions of Willy Loman in his modern play Death of a Salesman. In this controversial play, Willy is a despicable hero who imposes his false value system upon his family and himself because of his own rueful nature, which is akin to an everyman. This personality was described by Arthur Miller himself who "Believe[s] that the common man is as apt a subject for a tragedy in its highest sense as kings were" (Tragedy 1).
An additional segment of his common human nature is Willy's self-centeredness. Although one might say that the American Dream is imposed upon him by the society, Willy himself creates his dream. Willy supports this claim when he praises Dave Singleman's career to Howard: "And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want" (Miller 81). His nostalgia for a non-existing future is also proven by the fact that no one else in his environment has a similar, impossible dream: "If he were not wearing the rose colored glasses of the myth of the American Dream, he would see that Charley and his son are successful because of lifelong hard work and not because of the illusions of social popularity and physical appearances" (Spark 11). Surely the false ego and pride predicted to come from his assured success are the bridges that prevents Willy from seeing through his fake dream, pushing him to persuade the rest of his family to worship it along with him.
Biff sadly bites the apple when he realizes his fate:
Willy! I ran down eleven flights with a pen in my hand today. And suddenly I stopped, do you hear me? And in the middle of that building and I saw--the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be?
What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! Why can't I say that, Willy? (Miller 132)
From then on he is a changed man and tries to extricate Willy from his sea of confusion. But Willy is pushing the boat down to stay afloat instead of getting in it. When he finally realizes what the people around him are trying to do, he finally ends up drowning. Letting Biff continue living on a worthwhile life, he submits to his inner voice, which is Ben, and commits suicide. A good comparison to Willy's life is the story of Sisyphus: "The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor" (Camus 119). Like Sisyphus, Willy attains nothing in his life, no matter how hard he tries, but the mere happiness of controlling his own worthless fate.
He does so because of his narcissistic personality, which drives him to do everything in the play for himself. He manipulates his kids to achieve his avaricious plans with the goal to win his own battle for dignity. He lacks empathy and throughout the play, willfully avoids self-examination by creating his own universe. His schizophrenia keeps the suspense rippling the play as intended by Miller: "Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly" (Tragedy 1). This suspense is Willy's fallacious hope transmitted to the audience, his struggle to evaluate himself justly. As intended originally, "Miller was going to name this play `Inside his head' " (Death 1). Miller wants the spectators to experience the internal conflicts inside Willy's mind. He wants one who analyses the text to understand the motivations behind the selfish and malevolent intentions of Willy. Furthermore, he wants the reader to realize that Willy is above all a common man imbedded with the sinful nature of man.
Finally, many hermeneutics are proposed by critics about how to perceive Willy. But an evaluation must be made of the detriment he solicits to the society. Society has not to adapt to his needs, and because he can't see this fact he perishes as a human being. His failure and lack or excess of determination to succeed is his will to do harm. This misuse of will causes a break in the Loman family. "Willy Neglects to instill in his sons the moral values a parent should teach a child" (Murphy 3). Then it would follow that he would be responsible for his death and the jeopardy his loved ones are left behind with. After all, it wasn't a dream that drives the car into a brick wall. It is he. His death is an intentional suicide, a crime.