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Masculinity and Success in Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman Equates Success with Conventional Notions of Masculinity

{Discuss the way in which Willy Loman equates success and conventional notions of masculinity. Has this equation proved valid for Biff and Happy?}

In a sense there are two Willy Lomans in Arthur Miller?s Death of a Salesman play. There is the present broken, exhausted man in his sixties, soon to end his life, and there is the more confident, vigorous Willy of some fifteen years before, who appears in the flashbacks. The reader is able to imagine the evolution both physical and mental which has occured in Willy, throught the stage directions and dialogue: in the scenes of remembrance Willy?s utterances are often associated with ?laughing?, or ?pleased? and the sentences end frequently with exclamation points. Somehow, the author conveys an impression of slow metamorphosis, a downfall which is based on certain elements of Willy?s personnality which do not alter with the years, but remain genuine while worstening. For the audience, this common baseline, the character?s authenticity is visual: a single actor embodies Willy in two very distinct phases of his life. One very important element of Willy?s personnality which will eventually become so great it will lead to his death, is his ideal , and is aspirations to being a respected and successful salesman, just as reflects his admiraiton for the legendary Dave Singleman.
Willy strongly believes and always has, that success comes from the others ?liking? you, from as he says ?having friends, the finest people?. This notion of popularity and professional achievment can, in Willy?s mind, only be attained through a good image which requires a charismatic personnality as well as an attractive appearance. Willy, is in a way very realistic when he tells his boys : ?Be liked and you will never want?, and we sense that in even in the good days of the past he is aware that Biff?s extreme success in his baseball teem is closely linked with the fact that ?when he smiled at one of them their faces lit up?. For Willy , masculinity and success are bound, but not equal, since the latter is necessary to the former. Sadly, maybe due to his bitter personnal experience and everyday life realisation, Willy is disillusioned in the sense that he does not believe success could result from getting ? the best marks in school?, like Bernard for example. When in a flashback Willy tries to transmit this idea to his boys, he says ?That?s why I thank Almighty God you?re both built like Adonises?. Surely this explains both boys? attitude in their every day life, as well as their behaviour in their professional milieu, which both are not very glorious.

When we are introduced into Happy and Biff?s bedroom, and we hear both men ?laugh, almost crudely? at the memory of ?big Betsy something?, we can not help but feel some sort of disgust at the sight at two grown men, behaving like teenagers and looking down on ?about five hundred women who would like to know what was said in this room?. As both brothers continue talking, we discover that Biff is aware that he is ? mixed up very bad, not in buisness not married, like a boy?, that all he?s done is to ?waste? his life and that he would ?like to find a girl-steady?. Happy, similarly ?hates himself? for having affairs with the vice-presidents of the store he works for and ?longs? for ?somebody with substance, with character, with resistence!?. We realize that by encouraging them to idolize him through his blown-up accounts of their situation, Willy has done little to help his sons really mature. In placing excessive reliance upon his dubious success formulas, Willy fails to take a realistic view of his limitations and those of his son. By all but encouraging Biff's petty thievery and giving it the flattering name of "initiative," as well as by running down the importance of good grades, he prepares the way for Biff's disastrous failure he steers him toward an eventual jail term followed by . Despite the ?visible clolor of sexuality? Happy bears on him, he will be led toward the discreditable habit of taking bribes.
Obviously their father?s notions of success and masculinity have not proved valid for Happy and Biff, who will both near the end grope sadly toward some measure of self-knowledge, just like Willy who realizes he is ?fat and foolish to look at? and who will eventually commit suicidein order for Biff to make the best of the insurance money. By becoming rich and
influential, the handsome, personable Biff would have provided Willy with a victorious reply to his own modest advancement. By making his fortune in the business world, Biff would prove that Willy had been right in turning down Ben's adventurous challenge to head for Alaska and would also outshine the sensible, plodding Charley and Bernard, thus establishing once and for all Willy's theory that having personality, being attractive and being "well liked" were the great requisites for preeminence.

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