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Man vs. Himself: Betrayal and Abandonment Shown in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Powerful Essays
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman tells the story of a man trying and failing to obtain success for him and his family. Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, has been trying to ‘make it big’ for the majority of his life. Miller’s play explores the themes of abandonment and betrayal and their effects on life’s success. Willy sees himself as being abandoned by his older brother, Ben, and constantly views his sibling’s betrayal as one that changed his prospects forever. Willy, in turn, is guilty of a different type of abandonment and betrayal of his sons, especially Biff.

Willy first experiences abandonment through the actions of his brother, Ben Loman. In the first act, Willy sees Ben in his dream, “walking away down some open road; I was going to find father in Alaska…” (Miller 1575). Willy continues a discussion with his brother in which Ben lies and jokingly admits going to Africa. Willy regrets not going with Ben to Africa, because that is where Ben became rich. Because he was not as successful as his brother, Willy views Ben’s going to Africa as a betrayal.

Willy’s issues with abandonment began at a young age. He suffered a lot emotionally and he strived to find a role model. This emotional instability and lack of a role model continued to affect Willy later in life physically, Centola makes the comment “something which often surfaces in his contradictory statements and emotional outbursts” (1). Willy would be vigorous, energetic, and nimble for one minute and then moody, sulky, and cheerless the next. This abandonment and self-worth continued to suffer and became evident when he started a family of his own.

This motif of abandonment and betrayal is carried through to Willy’s son, Biff. Biff feels betrayed whe...

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... in a cyclical fashion. The Loman family gets so wrapped up in betrayal that it eventually takes someone’s death for the family to finally be ‘free’.

Works Cited

Centola, Steven R. "Family Values in Death of a Salesman." CLA Journal 37.1 (Sept.

1993): 29-41. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.

Martin, Robert A. "The Nature of Tragedy in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman."

South Atlantic Review 61.4 (Fall 1996): 97-106. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Dec. 2010.

Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Alison

Booth, J. Paul Hunter, and Kelly J. Mays. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 1556-1621 Print.

Ribkoff, Fred. "Shame, Guilt, Empathy, and the Search for Identity in Arthur Miller's

Death of a Salesman." Modern Drama 43.1 (Spring 2000): 48-55. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
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