Death of a Salesman: Book Review

On Theme

“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”… – Willy Loman, Act 1 (Miller, 1998)

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“The American Dream” is the highlight of this story. There is a wrong connotation among some people that to be “well-liked” and to wear the most fashionable items are a sign of achieving the all-American dream.

This is the very reason why many who have aspired to become rich and/or powerful would opt to use the “short-cuts”.

By going to the “short-cut” would mean getting the sympathy and/or love of other people so that they will all give anything you want.

However, it can be learned from the story that the most meaningful way to achieving the American dream” is by climbing the ladder. One has to work hard for it. One has to do his share by working hard, earning a living, and having the right attitude towards different circumstances. Needless to say, those people who are not willing to work hard will expectedly fail to reach their dreams.

On Setting

The story took place in the 1940s where the idea of colonialism and Americanization was so prominent.

However, the setting can still reflect today’s modern time. The idea of an American dream then and now is still the same. The people who have such kind of dreams still have their own means and ways of trying to achieve such dreams.

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The place where the story happened was mostly at Willy’s house, although there were instances where other places like New York and Boston were discussed. It should be noted that these places are significant in the whole concept of the story.

The Characters

Willy Loman: The Father, the Husband, and the Great Dreamer

Willy Loman is the first person who was not able to pursue his American dream. He is the most insecure salesman portrayed in the story.

He did not actually stop from wanting to pursue his American Dream, however, he opted to change tactics. He realized that he did not want to pursue his dream alone. He tagged his family – his own sons with his dream. His frequent reminders, scolding, and/or motivation to his own sons made it look like he wanted to reach and achieve his dreams through his kids.

“And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?” (Miller, 1998)

The above-quoted statement came from Willy. He was referring to somebody (Howard) who served as his inspiration. It is very apparent in this statement that his idea of happiness and fulfillment is by being able to go around various cities and “be loved and helped by so many people.” He wanted to be liked because he wanted to be helped. He was thinking that he need not work very hard to be happy because there will be a lot of people who will be helping him and supporting him.

That’s his idea. He failed to see the truth behind Howard’s personality is the fact that even at the age of 84, he still had to be around the city, to actually “ask” for help.

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Happy: The Son who Followed Willy’s Footsteps

Happy, on the other hand, has the exact opposite personality of his name. He was just not happy; he was frustrated and was full of pretensions. He shared his father’s American Dream but unlike his father, he was not so vocal about it. He just worked behind his father’s back and pretended that he was really into something productive. He had even pretended that he is working as an assistant buyer, when in fact, he was just an assistant of the assistant buyer. Unlike his father, Happy would not admit that he had not yet achieved anything.

Biff: The Realistic Son

Biff didn’t share his father’s nor his brother’s American Dream. He did not believe that such a dream is achievable. He did not believe that one should have such a kind of dream to aim higher. But unlike the two, Biff seemed to be achieving more. Biff had been trying to seek the truth and he was indeed able to find it.

“I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be… when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” (Miller, 1998)

This was a statement of Biff as he was talking to his father. This was his way of letting his father know that he is different from him.

That he has different dreams. The statement was his way of blatantly telling his father that he is not betraying his father or he just wants to fail his father’s dream. What he was just trying to say is the fact that in his own way, he can do something good in his life and that he can lead a better life than what his father had.

Linda: The wife and the mother

Linda Loman is Willy’s dependable wife. In some instances, she seemed to be sharing her husband’s American Dream. She had high hopes for her family through her husband’s dreams. However, there were also instances where she acted like she was the more realistic persona.

She would be reminding herself and sometimes her husband that there are more and better things to do than to keep on dreaming.

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“A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.” Linda, referring to her husband Willy Loman, Act 1 (Miller, 1998)

Charley: the Successful American Dreamer

Charley is the first character in the story that seemed able to achieve his American Dream. He is a businessman. He treats Willy as his friend and would sometimes lend some money to Willy. Willy was so jealous of Charley’s success Charley was his only friend. Charley was able to achieve his dream not only because he is full of courage, determination, and self-worth but also because he is industrious. He is focused and knows what he wants and how to get it. He realized even at an early age that if he would want to have a comfortable life, he should strive hard, and that is exactly what he did. He started his own business. He knew that he will not prosper if he was to stay as a paid laborer. He wanted to be his own boss, managing his own time and earning in his own business.

Through self-sacrifices and willpower, he became successful.

Bernard: The Exact opposite of Happy

Bernard is Charley’s son.

He is now a successful lawyer. He is able to become one through perseverance.

He studied really hard and did not stop schooling. Unlike Willy’s sons, Bernard is always sure of what he wanted to become. He did not waver in working all his might just to achieve his dream. Aside from these personal attributes, Bernard also receives positive motivation from both his parents. His father is very supportive of his needs – financially, physically, and emotionally.

He did not receive any force from his father nor from his mother regarding his future and his life.

Ben: Willy’s Inspiration

Ben is Willy’s brother who died for an undisclosed reason. He was a wealthy man and he was always in Willy’s dreams. Ben served as Willy’s symbol of success. Willy would always remind himself that he could be as wealthy as his brother was (Ben).

Conclusion

The American Dream is a good starting point for a more meaningful and productive life or career. It is a symbol of success and of comfort. If one is to set high standards for himself, he must work hard to achieve them. Willy and his family have the American dream but unfortunately, they are not able to achieve it. They lack the right attitude and the willpower to achieve it. They were not exerting any effort to achieve it. For them, they just want instant money to have instant success and wealth. They failed to realize that wealth and happiness should be earned. Ike what happened to the other characters in the story who are lucky enough to achieve the American Dream. They maintain the right attitude. They have the right key to the door of success and that is being industrious, having positive thinking and point of view coupled with the right attitude towards the people around them.

References

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. ISBN: 0140481346. 1998.

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