Death of a Salesman takes place a few years after World War II has ended. America is enjoying a postwar economic boom, but the war has caused a shake-up in American society, changing the way people view business, leisure, themselves, and others. The Lomans live in Brooklyn, a busy suburb of New York City. Miller creates contrasting characters of Willy and his wife Linda in order to depict and demonstrate different social and personal values typical for his age.
specifically for you
for only $16.05 $11/page
In spite of the fact that Willy and Linda live together for many years they have different worldviews and values. Linda is a loving and sympathetic woman, warm hearted and kind. Linda is a sympathetic and patient wife who does everything possible to support her husband: “It’s changing, Willy, I can feel it changing!” (Miller 45). Linda Loman’s central importance seems to be as a voice of protest and outrage against what is happening to her husband. While dreams, illusions, and self-deceptions feed the action of this play, Linda, in contrast, seems very much planted in reality with her concerns over house payments, mending, insurance premiums, and her husband’s care. In contrast to his wife, Willy is depicted as a cold man who values money and personal success more than family happiness and family relations. For instance, Ben tells Willy that their father was a “very wild-hearted man” who would “toss the whole family in the wagon” (Miller 35) and drive right across the country. In contrast to Willy, Linda is a realist and materialist. Linda is a positive representation, and sometimes an ideal, of the nurturing wife and mother.
Willy and Lind have different family and parental duties. Linda is a housewife whose duty is to look after children and her husband. While a mother raises the children, they also need a father’s input. So little do many men understand their role as a father and so little do they take that role seriously that many a father has experienced some difficulty in thinking of himself as such, except in the narrow technical sense. Instead, with the best of intentions, such fathers often think of their children as pals, buddies, friends. As a father, Willy does not an active part in upbringing paying more attention to his work and personal ambitions. Miller does not give a picture of an ideal, romantic father figure who acts as his children’s friend, model, and provider. In contrast to this, Willy is a portrayal of ambitious father who cares about social recognition and personal image knowing nothing about his sons. While Willy sees his son as a hero, loved and admired by everyone because of his athletic prowess, and unquestionably destined to succeed because of this, the play suggests another reality, in which, in sports as well as the rest of American life, “business is definitely business” (Miller 28) and Biff the discarded athlete will wind up on the ashheap, just like his father the discarded salesman, as soon as he fails to make the grade. Death of a Salesman underlines with deep irony the faith in athletics as a means to a better life that Willy articulates: “Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging for him, and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do, Ben. It’s who you know and the smile on your face!” (Miller 49). In contrast, Linda is aware of the problems faced by her sons but can do nothing to change their false values and unachievable dreams. As Willy says, “Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear–or personality” (Miler 47). Willy misses the respect, comradeship, and gratitude that had been a vital part of the business relationships. Willy acts as the family provider, while Linda takes a subservient back seat, and Hap and Biff struggle to make it big.
The main similarity between the characters is that they do nothing to change their family life and false hopes and values. Yet despite Linda’s clear sight she allows her family’s dreams to flourish; she even encourages them. It is possible to blame Linda for collaborating in Willy’s unrealistic fantasies and for remaining passive as her family is being destroyed around her. The character of Linda in the daydream scenes, viewed through Willy’s remorseful idealization of her, is quite different from the Linda in the scenes of the present, who is protecting her young when she defends Willy from the boys. The death of Willy at the end of the play is a dramatic act which shows that dreams ruin family happiness and life of all family members. “I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life” (Miller 23). In contrast, Linda is alive but she is unable to live without support of her husband.
In sum, Miller depicts two different types of people: Linda, who is a housewife and a keeper of home values, and Willy, a salesman who believes in false values and importance of social recognition but fails to achieve them. This contrast allows Miller to depict a typical American family and criticize the basic elements of the American dream showing that people like the Lomans believe in dreams and ideals created by the society and unable to evaluate and predict possible consequences of their actions or inactions.
Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.