In his play the Death of a Salesman, the author narrates a story of Willy Loman’s desperate searching for happiness and recognition. Though aiming for self-realization and professional success, the protagonist, undergo neither spiritual transformation nor liberation as the plot progresses. Instead, readers observe the personal failure of the character as he betrays his family, becoming a victim of his artificially constructed concept of happiness. This paper provides an in-depth analysis of Willy Loman’s personality, appearance, interactions, dynamics, and significance in the Death of a Salesman.
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Appearance, Interactions, Relationships, Motivation
As a representative of an average middle-class American, Willy Loman does not exhibit unique appearance traits. Symbolically, Miller uses his average height, weight, and facial expressions to demonstrate the banality of the character. While Loman considers himself a great salesman, everyone in his family realizes his professional failure. The character’s story is perceived through the eyes of his immediate family (wife and two sons) and neighbors. Willy’s wife Linda says that “a small man can be just as exhausted as a great man” (Miller 37), denying his husband’s perceived “greatness.”
In addition to viewing himself as a successful salesman, Loman also believes that he is well-liked both by his colleagues and acquaintances, mentioning “I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England” (Miller 35). As he interacts with a multitude of people, the man lives under the apprehension of having a profoundly attractive image of strength. However, as his younger son Biff notices, “he’s liked but he’s not well-liked” (Miller 47), suggesting that Loman’s efforts to pretend to be popular, recognized, and respected by others do not bring positive results.
Willy’s motivation to receive the admiration of the crowd and popular recognition is closely related to the concept of the American dream. Interestingly, the author uses the character’s first and last name to describe his inner conflict. On the one hand, Willy is associated with willfulness to reject reality, creating an alternative illusion where the man is loved and respected. On the other hand, Loman refers to “low man,” symbolizing the true status of the protagonist when he engages in lying, self-deception, and delusions.
For Willy, success is defined by recognition and wealth: “the man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle and comes out, the age of 21, and he’s rich!” (Miller 53). Loman is motivated to pursue a career in sales because he believes that it truly is the only possible way to become successful, rejecting all other professional paths as inferior.
Unlike most of the tragic heroes, Willy Loman does not undergo transformation by the end of the play. Some literary critics suggest that the resolution of the character’s conflict happens when he commits suicide. However, only the partial truth is shown after the incident. While Loman recognizes the true nature of sales and his professional failure, the man does not see his personal fall as he betrays his moral principles. Willy exclaims at the end of the play that he “realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been” (155), meaning that other individuals did not remain sincere to him in their judgments. The protagonist fails to change, however, his own self-concept, disregarding personal flaws and continuous mistreatment of one’s family and friends.
Significance of the Character
Play Without the Character
Since Loman is the protagonist of the play, it is difficult to imagine the story without his actions, words, and, most importantly, inner conflict. Simply speaking, Miller’s Death of a Salesman would not exist, lacking the main character and background for the narrative. Willy plays a critical role, distinguishing the main points of the plot and contributing to all story’s turning points. The only possible alternative for the author would be to focus on Biff’s story, presenting a contrary vision about the American dream.
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Different Choices of Loman
Loman’s series of morally unjustified choices lead to his suicide at the end of the story. By changing the reasoning and accepting the unconditional love offered by his family, Willy could avoid the sad ending and invest in more suitable career options. Also, if abstained from delusions throughout the plot, the man would not commit adultery and spoil relationships with Biff, preserving a trustworthy atmosphere in the family. Finally, choosing to listen to his son’s advice, Willy would not assume that life insurance could fulfill Biff’s American dream and bring him happiness.
The main character of Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, fails to acquire self-realization or self-knowledge common for the tragic heroes. Engaging in persistent delusions, lies, and self-deception, the character lives under the apprehension of being liked and recognized by a crowd of colleagues and friends. Despite the strong belief in one’s success, the man does not fulfill his potential, neither in professional nor personal dimensions, spoiling the relationship with his family and failing to succeed in sales. Nevertheless, Willy plays an essential role in Miller’s play, initiating the discussion of the American dream.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Penguin Books, 1996.