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.” 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?” 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 hopes that their lives will be better than his.
During the play, Willy loses touch with himself, evidenced by his numerous contradictions. In one scene, he mention...
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...by the character of Charley, the Loman’s neighbor. He is Willy’s only friend, and offers him a job when the old salesman is fired. Willy’s egotism gets in the way, however, and he cannot bring himself to work for Charley, since this would be admitting failure. Charley symbolizes reality- a reality that Willy never acknowledges.
Death of a Salesman is one of America’s most tragic plays, because it tells of disappointment, failure, and death. Ultimately, Willy wastes his adult years trying- unsuccessfully- to prove his worth. He has a misguided philosophy that he passes on to his two children, and can no longer distinguish between reality and illusion. The story of Willy Loman will remain popular because it serves as a warning to all: the question to be asked upon retiring from an occupation is not, “What does the person know?” but rather, “What has the person become?”
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