Lack of Morals and Ethics in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Much of a person's personality is derived from his or her parents
or the people with whom they live. One's behaviors are a reflection of his
or her up bringing. All actions of others in one's environment have an
impact in one's behaviors. That is especially true of parent's influence
on a child. Nearly all morals
are learned from parents.
Sociologists have indicated that as time progresses American ethics have
decayed immensely. Parents in America have become more lax with their
children, and the strictly enforced code of ethics seems to have diminished.
Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman, portrays the consequences of
the laxity of parents with regards to ethics through the relationship of
Willy Loman and his two sons, Biff and Happy.
Rather than having played a positive role model for his sons Willy
Loman, established a poor standard of morality. For example, when Biff was
in high school he was the star of the football team. One afternoon he
stole a football from the locker room. When Willy became cognizant of
Biff's actions, Wily did not punish Biff. Instead, he told Biff that the
coach was likely to congratulate Biff for his show of initiative (29, 30).
Similarly, at another point in the play Biff and Happy stole lumber from a
nearby construction site. Instead of teaching the boys a lesson in ethics
Willy was proud of his sons. In fact, he bragged about the amount of
construction materials the two stole (50, 51). Willy allowed the boys to
steal, which could be considered an immoral act, worse yet, Willy's praise
for their actions prohibited Biff and Happy from knowing stealing was an
immoral act. Studies have shown that at a very young age children were
extremely impressionable. Teaching the difference between right and wrong
would give hope for a moral future. In the play there was little hope for
Biff and Happy because Willy continued to show poor standards of morality
in a positive light.
In addition to stealing, being dishonest also surfaces as an
unethical behavior that was practiced and thus promoted by Willy Loman.
Willy was a salesman who had a rocky past few months. Instead of admitting
his failure to his wife, Linda, he lied about his income. He lead Linda to
believe he earned more than he actually did. Each month his debt grew
greater and greater because he had borrowed money to continue to live the
lie (72, 73). With the knowledge that Willy lived a lie, Biff saw no wrong
in dishonesty. In turn, he too lied to Linda. He told her that he was
ready to settle down with one women. His statement was only said to please
Linda; it could not have been further from the truth (68). Dishonesty is
against traditional ethics. If Willy taught it as an unethical behavior
Biff and Happy would be aware of it as well.
Moreover, Willy's poor treatment of others revealed his unethical
character and also paved the path his sons would follow. An example of
Willy's poor treatment of people was his affair. Although, Willy and Linda
were married for many years, Willy must not have been satisfied with his
marriage, because he had an ongoing affair with another woman (116, 119).
Linda would have been crushed to know about Willy's unfaithfulness.
Willy's poor treatment of Linda lead his sons to believe that dishonesty
toward others was acceptable. They too treated women as objects. For
example, at one time they left their father at a restaurant so they could
go rendezvous with a couple of woman (24, 25, 27). Through his dishonesty,
Willy was not even competent enough to teach his sons the most important
law of ethics, the golden rule. Do onto others as one would want done onto
them. In a perverse way the Loman boys did practice the golden rule. They
did to Willy what he did to others.
In conclusion, Willy's relationship with his sons in Death of a
Salesman reflected the lack
of enforcement of morals and ethics in the
American society. Through the character Willy Loman, Arthur Miller
demonstrated that it was necessary to teach children a solid code of ethics,
which should be applied to everyday life. Without an ethical background
people would lead immoral lives. Perhaps, if Willy had been more strict
and a more positive role model his sons would have turned out as more
ethical and conscientious people. Rarely does a parent who behaves
unethically raise a child who grows up to be remotely ethical.