In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, a major theme and source of conflict is the Loman family’s inability to distinguish between reality and illusion. This is particularly evident in the father, Willy Loman. Willy has created a fantasy world of himself and his family. In this world, he and his sons are men of greatness that “have what it takes” to make it in the business environment. In reality, none of them can achieve this greatness until they confront and deal with this illusion.
Willy is convinced that being well liked is the key to success, exclaiming “Be liked and you will never want...” (Klotz, A 1998). It is unclear whether Willy’s “flashbacks” of past business relationships are remembering when he was once well liked or simply imagining he was. However, simply the fact that it is no longer true reflects upon his inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This eventually brings about Willy’s death. He has imagined that he is worth more dead than alive and the insurance money from his death will be the catalyst for Biff’s success.
Willy has also blinded himself regarding the success, or lack of success, of his sons. He believes Hap to be an “assistant to the director” at his job, but Hap’s position is barely influential, if at all. He has elevated Biff’s past employment experience with Oliver to that of a leading salesman, when in reality he was simply a shipping clerk.
Another significant theme that occurs throughout the play is that it is ok to be dishonest when it suits their purposes. Willy continues to send his sons mixed signals on this issue. This began with Willy finding ...
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...he old stockings.
The woods and jungle constantly referred to by Willy and Ben seem to represent the struggle of life. The “diamond” in the jungle is the reward at the end of the struggle, which would be the materialistic success for which Willy is constantly striving. However, Linda makes the last house payment on the day Willy’s funeral, which represents the futility of that struggle. Willy’s final act of suicide is symbolic as well but it is not known whether his suicide is an act of cowardice or a last sacrifice on the altar of the American dream.
Klotz, A. , with Richardson. Arthur Miller “Death of a Salesman”. Literature, seventh. St. Martin’s Press. (1998). pp. 746 - 822.
Klotz, A. , with Richardson. (1998). W. H. Auden “The Unknown Citizen”. Literature, seventh. St. Martin’s Press. pp. 448 - 449.
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