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The Dream Will Live on

The popular theme in Death of a Salesman, American society can destroy a man by filling him with false values, is not entirely true. I believe that Willy Loman is just as accountable for his actions as the society that is commonly blamed.

The popular theme in Death of a Salesman, American society can destroy a man by filling him with false values, is not entirely true. I believe that Willy Loman is just as accountable for his actions as the society that is commonly blamed. Through-out the play Willy Loman?s materialistic attitude and his longing to be well-liked brings him to his demise, while taking down his family with him. ?Willy Loman never acknowledges or learns the error of his way. To the very end he is a devout believer in the ideology that destroys him.? (Clurman 69) When talking to his sons, Willy says ?That?s just what I mean. Bernard can get the best marks in school, y?understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y?understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That?s why I thank Almighty God you?re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me for instance. I never have to wait for a buyer. ?Willy Loman is here!? That?s all they have to know, and I go right through.? (p. 33) There are many flaws with this statement. First of all it equates being successful with being happy, which is a common belief in not only today?s American society but in Willy Loman?s American society. Secondly, ?He has assumed that success come to those who are ?well liked,? as he puts it. He does not seen to be much concerned about the quality of the product he is selling. His customers buy, he thinks, because they like him-because he is hale and hearty and a good man with jokes? (Atkinson 55). Thirdly and lastly, Willy is teaching his sons these false values. He lays his happiness and with his son Biff which he has taught these false values as the key to success, and then expects with all his heart that his son will succeed where he has failed.
Willy Loman?s own lies also lead him to his eventual death. Willy has not only lied to himself but has lied to his friends, boss, himself, and even his family. Willy has taught his son to lie as well. Each one is holding back knowledge from the rest of the family. Willy is keeping that he is not this great man, or great salesman. Biff is holding back that he is a thief. This thievery is dismissed by Willy early in Biff?s life, by not disciplining him early in his life for stealing; he shrugs it off and laughs with his son about stealing a football out of the locker room. As previously mentioned, Willy lays all his worth and all his being with his son biff, hoping that he has raised him to be, not a good man like any parent would want, but to be successful, to make money. ?It is a natural human tendency to dream of success for ourselves and for the ones we love, but we must be aware of substituting the dream for reality as Willy does.? (Spalding 41) Willy Loman expects his son Biff to take the false values he has been raised with and be a successful man. Early in Biff?s life it appears that he will do just that despite the values he was raised with. When Biff catches his father with another woman, these values are tested, and fail miserably. Biff travels out west to find himself, and lands in jail because he steals a suit in Kansas City. Only when he returns can he truly find himself in his father. Only when Biff decides that he no longer needs the approval of his misguided father, can he say ?I know who I am!? Willy cannot handle his son not being successful but also his son accepting the fact. Willy continually denies himself the truth, and reality. Willy truly believes that if is worth more dead than alive. Although Biff and Willy have their differences, I believe that Biff really does love Willy for the sacrifices that he has made. He resents him for the values that Willy instills in him, but nevertheless loves him. Through this denial of the truth Willy decides with the help of his brother, that killing himself will get him ?ahead of Bernard again?. Willy did not hear the argument Biff and he just had, for if he did he would know that success does not matter, only his happiness. I do not believe that these values were instilled in Willy by society, but he developed these values himself. Perhaps because Willy pushed Biff so hard to become a success is why he has come to the realization that he is not, and that to be happy he needs to admit that to himself. Happy, on the other hand, is not pushed to succeed. He is only pushed indirectly through Biff, and the conversations he overhears with his father through-out the play. We see in the end that Happy will knowingly follow the same road to destruction that Willy has taken and Biff has narrowly avoided. One of Happy?s last lines in the play describe how he will ?Stay in this city and beat this racket.? Willy has become a martyr for Happy, and Happy wants to show everyone that Willy?s ideals and values are not false, and ?that he did not die in vain.?
The faith that Willy has in people and has in society brings him down as well. Willy trusts people, and what they say. When Willy goes to Howard and reminds him of the time that he was promised a ?New York job? at a Christmas party, Howard for a moment cannot remember. Then he states that he did remember and he could not find anything for him. After Willy is fired he gets upset because he says that he named Howard, and he believes that that should be enough. He trusts that a company that he works for for 34 years will take care of him is another false idea that he has. Willy trusts that the insurance company that carries his life insurance will pay his premium is possibly another misplaced trust. We never do find out if Linda, Biff, and Happy receive the full $20,000 that Willy?s thinks his life is worth. This would be inline with all the rest of the play. That even his last jump at success would fail.
In conclusion, all these facts and realizations have led me to believe that it was not only the society that led Willy to kill himself, but it was his own choices that brought him to is end. ?For a free choice to be made it is not necessary that Willy Loman be aware of all the nuances of his decision; most of humanity doesn?t know all that it has chosen and, if it does, it certainly doesn?t when it chose.? (Newman 495) Willy is the ultimate tragic hero, because these choices in that society could be made by anyone. His ultimate flaw was that he depended too much on other people and not enough on his own merits to succeed. In the end, the story of Willy Loman is not only a social commentary on the social implications of the capitalistic society, but also just a story about a man who made some very bad choices, and his son who will learn from those mistakes.

Spalding, Peter. ?Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.? Macmillan Master Guides. Ed. James Gibson. London: Macmillan Education LTD, 1987. 41.

Atkinson, Brooks. ?Review of Death of a Salesman.? New York Times 20 February 1949, sec 2.

Clurman, Harold. ?Review of Death of a Salesman, in Lies Like Truth?. Theatre Reviews and Essays. New York. The Macmillan Company, 1959. P 68-72.

Newman, William J.. ?Arthur Miller?s Collected Plays? New York: Twentieth Century, 1958.

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