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Willy Loman as Coward in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Willy Loman as Coward in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Everybody feels the penetrating presence of fear throughout life. However, people’s reactions to this fear separate the brave souls from the cowards. Mark Twain once said, "Courage is resistance to fear; mastery of fear, not absence of fear" (Twain 6). In Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman fears rejection by his son, Biff, and the business world. His fears master him, creating in him a fantasy world of life as it was eighteen years ago. Willy’s avoidance of reality and his suicide show his cowardice. However, the emphasis he puts on financial success prevents him from realizing the consequences that his suicide would create.

Willy’s refusal to face reality and accept responsibility shows that he is a coward. According to Gordon Hitchens, Willy "broke the first commandment of American business . . . [which is] to be a success" (Hitchens 81). He not only fails as a businessman, but also as a father. He feels especially let down by the bitter state of his relationship with his son, Biff. Nevertheless, instead of facing his dilemmas, Willy cowardly escapes to a fantasy world in which he relives happier times. Furthermore, Biff’s animosity toward his father stems from his discovery of Willy’s affair. When he was eighteen, Biff visited his father in Boston and found him with a female companion. After receiving this shock, Biff’s ambition and confidence, formerly supported by his father, dwindles. Bernard, Biff’s boyhood friend, notices this change and eventually asks Willy what happened in Boston to cause it. Willy becomes defensive and angry. He asks Bernard, "If a boy lays down is that my fault?" (Miller 1257). He refuses to accept responsibility...

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...illy fails to master his fears. He allows money and financial success to control his actions. By doing this, he widens the rift between him and Biff. Willy’s dishonesty and denial also add to the tense situation in the Loman household. Willy’s fears of rejection and failure do not make him a coward. His reaction to these anxieties merits him the label coward. The belief that his actions are for the good of the family does not reconcile the lack of courage that he shows.

Works Cited

Hitchens, Gordon. Attention Must be Paid: A Study of Social Value in Four Plays by Arthur Miller. Columbia University. 82-104.

Miller, Arthur. "Death of a Salesman." Discovering Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays. Ed. Hans P. Guth and Gabriele L. Rico. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997. 1209-1283.

Twain, Mark. Readings from the Voyageur Outward Bound School. 48.
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