Death Of A Salesman

Death of A Salesman
Ethan CT Burwell
January 24, 2010

When reading Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman one may ask Did the character Willy Loman die the death of a salesman? Or is the death of the salesman Willy Loman no different from the death of anything else? Prodded by the aspiration of living up to his brother Ben, Willy endlessly concerned himself with being able to “hold on to something” to prove that he had accomplished something in life; that the “seeds” he planted throughout his life were tangible and couldn't fade like a dream in the dawn. When all is said and done, Willy realized, in the end, that the seeds that he so strenuously sought to grow were alive and well in the heart of his son all along; this being more tangible than anything he had owned. In that respect, the character Willy Loman did, in fact, die the death of a salesman.

In Willy's mind, to die the death of a salesman meant being truly liked and remembered by those you encountered even when your time had passed. Only once in the script is the phrase “the death of a salesman” mentioned; it occurs when Willy describes Dave Singleman to Howard. In this moment of idolization and desperation Willy points out to Howard that Dave“died the death of a salesman.” Willy describes how at the age of 84, an age where, from an economic and financial stand point, a person would basically be considered a “has-been” in nearly any other field, Dave Singleton was still making a living in sales. What is more is that Dave was “remembered and loved,” drawing hundreds of salesmen and buyers to his funeral when he died.

This aspect of being loved and remembered to the extent of Dave Singleton is a key factor that drives Willy's character throughout the script. In a flashback to a conversation with Ben, Willy establishes how important being well liked is, citing Dave's story as well as Biff's bright future as solid examples. Nearly everything involving Willy's ambitions that is relayed down to his sons, Biff and Harold, harps on the idea that if you're not first, you're last and that if people like you then you'll be fine. This is plainly evident in earlier conversations from when Biff and Harold were children eagerly awaiting the arrival of their father from any of his various business trips as Willy states that he'll be bigger than his brother Charley “Because Charley is not- liked. He's liked, but he's not- well liked.” The view is also carried through the story to the present point in their lives when Willy suggests that all Biff has to do is win Oliver over.

As much as Willy truly believed in the power of being well liked he was also trapped in the truth of having been surpassed by time. When Biff comes home Willy is at a point where he is no longer capable of fulfilling the job that he had thrived at for more than thirty years. Clearly evident within the family, the feeling also extends outward into once welcoming faces. Forced by the dreadful state engulfing him, Harold, Willy's boss whom Willy essentially named, has little choice but to let him go; Charley, his brother, becomes a reliable source of dependency; and Oliver has altogether has forgotten about days they both had known. Though times and people are changing all around him Willy is unable to over come the idea that people who once held you in the highest regards can move on and forget “respect and comradeship and gratitude.” As his own wife put the current feelings towards Willy: “a lot of people think he's lost his- balance.”

Despite all that Willy had lost over the years, the thing that most disturbed him was the apparent loss of the love of his son Biff. Though never formally acknowledging what could have led to this greatest loss, or any of the other losses for that matter, Willy was highly conscience of the absence of his son's once prevalent admiration. It is in the confusion over Biff and what could have been as he opens up to his nephew Bernard that Willy realizes how far off the “popularity mark” he has come from the old days and how much his, as well as his families, situation has deviated from the course that he set it on long ago. If not for the presence of Biff constantly reminding him, Willy could plausibly live in his own memories, believing that things are exactly as he had intended them to be, yet at the same time it is the occasional prospect that Biff could pull through that reinvigorates him to what the family had known before. Essentially, without the love of his son, Willy had nothing but the persistents of his mind clinging to the past; oblivious to the fact that the world had forgotten about the days when he was well liked.

“Hundreds of salesmen and buyers” attended the funeral of Dave Singleman; no one came to Willy Loman's funeral. His wife stood at his grave unable to understand why no one came of “all the people he knew.” In the same scene Biff says that Willy had “all the wrong dreams.” Willy Loman truly believed that the key to any success was being well liked, and that is what he based his life and his dreams on. When comparing their lives courses Willy realizes that Charley had never shown any interest in his son who had turned out successful even though he was not “well liked”, Charley responds that his salvation was in never taking an interest in anything. Thus, Willy never really did sell his dreams in the way that he had intended.

Right before his death Willy was brought to the abrupt awakening that everything he had thought for all these years was all wrong, in that Biff did love him. Though he couldn't sell his dreams, which had been so real to him, his son did love him. Despite not succeeding in selling his dreams Willy was able to die loved and remembered by those to whom he tried to sell his dreams- his buyers. Despite not succeeding in selling his dreams Willy did die the death of a salesman.

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