Willy Loman, the main character in Death of a Salesman is a complex tragic character. He is a man struggling to hold onto the little dignity he has left in a changing society. While society may have caused some of his misfortune, Willy must be held responsible for his poor judgment, disloyalty and foolish pride.
Willy Loman is a firm believer in the "American Dream:" the notion that any man can rise from humble beginnings to greatness. His particular slant on this ideal is that a man succeeds by selling his charisma, that to be well liked is the most important asset a man can have. He made a living at this for 30 years, but as he enters the reclining years of his life, people have stopped smiling back and he can no longer sell the firm's goods to support himself. His ambition was one of greatness, to work hard and to be a member of the firm; and if he could not succeed in this respect, that he should at least be well-liked and be able to sell until the day of his death: When his friends would flock from all over the country to pay their respects.
Willy's main flaw is his foolish pride, this it what makes him a tragic hero. Yet there are many facets to his personality that contribute to the state he and the family are in during the play. His upbringing of the boys is one major issue, he raised them with the notion that if one is well-liked, he need not worry about qualifications, he believed that if his boys were popular they would come out on top. Sadly, he doesn't realize that the only way an ordinary person can get rich is through work (represented by Bernard) or through luck and good timing (Ben), and Willy missed the boat when it came to ...
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... Willy says to Charlie: "Funny you know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.3" This statement is a sad reflection on the state of mind that Willy is in due the unfortunate combination of his ideals and the change which has occurred in his society.
Willy is a multi-faceted character which Miller has portrayed a deep problem with sociological and psychological causes and done so with disturbing reality. In another time or another place Willy might have been successful and kept his Sanity, but as he grew up, society's values changed and he was left out in the cold. His foolish pride, bad judgment and his disloyalty are also at fault for his tragic end and the fact that he did not die the death of a salesman.
1 Death of a Salesman page 100
2 page 79
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