Willy is the protagonist and the central character in Arthur Millers play, Death of a Salesman. In the first act of the play, we learn that he is a 63-year-old salesman. Willys father left when he was three and remains a distant memory in his life. He says his mother died a long time ago,' probably in his early adulthood. His brother, who is fifteen years older than him left home when Willy was young to follow his father, and he accidentally ends up in Africa and strikes it rich. He is also a distant memory who Willy has seen only twice since. However, Willy lives in these distant memories.
Early in his adult years, Willy meets and marries Linda with whom he bears two sons, Biff, and Happy. His advice to his sons and how he guides them in life is far from exemplary. For example, he tells Biff: just wanna be careful with those girls, Biff, thats all. Dont make any promises. No promises of any kind. Because a girl Y'know, they always believe what you tell them (Miller 15). His impact on his sons lives and their world view is significant. When Biff is a teenager, his mother, Linda, notices that he is too rough with the girls.' Happy on his part turns out to be a womanizer who during the play sleeps with women who are engaged to his managers. His flimsy promises that he will get married are not taken seriously by any of the other characters. He also condones Biffs pilfering activities. Instead of disciplining his son when he steals a football from the coachs locker room, he congratulates him. Willys affair is also an example of how he is a terrible role model for his sons. When Biff busts him, he finally falls from grace in his eyes. Biff later in life resorts to petty theft to rebel against authority figures after his fathers affair.
One of the biggest influences on Willy in the play is Dave Singleman, the eighty-four-year-old salesman. He fails to see Daves human side and is even blind to the fact that Dave is still working and traveling at eighty-four. Daves death, according to Willy is deemed respectable, graceful and honorable as he dies on the job (Marino 17). Willys ambition is to achieve a level of likeability akin to Daves, where he can go to about twenty or thirty different towns at the age of eighty-four and call someone who remembers him and loves him because of the past business dealings. Willys quest for such validation from his business is maybe to want him to get a kind of self-worth and validation of his struggles that he cannot get from his familys love for him. Willy even claims that it was because of the life that Dave Single man lived that he decided to join the salesmen profession.
Willy confesses towards the end of the play that Charley was his only friend. In spite of this, Willy belittles Charley and his son Bernard and their industrious character. Willy mocks both of them when his son Biff is a high school football star. However, after his son changes, Willy turns to his neighbors for help and Charley helps him (Breitkopf 4). However, whenever Charlie offers Willy a decent job, Willy turns it down may be because he does not accept his failure or because he is guilty and ashamed of his earlier criticism of Charley.
The catharsis in this play comes when Willys son, Biff, breaks down and tells his father how his life is and how he is not the man his father imagines him to be. It removes an enormous weight from his sons shoulders so he can finally be his own man, which for Biff is a hard job in itself (Bloom 126). It also helps Willy to understand his sons love for him and perhaps get a glimpse of the reality of his sons life. Though it is not clear whether Willy is finally able to understand his sons life and fortune, the scene is remarkable as it finally allows Biff to live his life the way that he understands it.
Willy Loman in the play has several flaws, but the perception of the world and his misconception of the American dream is his hamartia. Willy believes that popularity and charisma are more valuable than hard work and innovation. He is sure that popularity is enough to achieve success, and this eventually leads to his fall. It is Willys belief that wealth is the measure of success and that this wealth is gained by being liked. He finally realizes that his life is one failure after the other and that he had not become what he thought he should be. In the final act, Willy commits suicide by deliberately getting into an auto accident. He does this to secure his dignity by making sure that he helps his sons pursue their dreams by getting them 20,000 dollars of insurance money. If this is the real motive of his suicide and he does not realize that his ambitions were fallacious, then this is his hamartia.
Breitkopf, Sarah. Willy Loman in Miller's "Death of a Salesman": an Analysis of Character Portrayal. Munchen: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2008. Internet resource.
Bloom, Harold. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. New York, NY: Chelsea House Publ, 2007. Print.
Marino, Stephen A. Arthur Miller: "Death of a Salesman, the Crucible". London [u.a.: Palgrave, 2015. Print.
Miller, Arthur. The Death of a Salesman. Oxford: Heinemann, 1994. Print.
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