English 1020 PX1
June 12, 2011
A fabric of deceit
Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman is a sad tale about a family and its struggles to live up to the fathers perception of success. The play features three main characters: Willy the father, and his two sons Biff and Happy. The play has a political undercurrent that is cynical of the American economic system and the burden of expectations it places on society. Miller describes a post-World War II family in suburban Brooklyn struggling to gain its footing at a time when capitalism is taking off in America. Willy Loman is anxious to make a name for himself in this new world no matter the cost. By comparing and contrasting the different personality traits of Willy, Biff, and Happy, one comes to the conclusion that Death of a Salesman demonstrates the consequences a family endures when the father cracks under the weight of unattainable success, and how his failures and deceit can ruin the lives of those he loves the most.
Willy is an ambitious salesman, who, while being moderately successful in his younger days, has fallen on hard times. The caveat to Willys success is that it is presented from his own perspective, and Willy is not someone who has a firm grip on reality. Early on, after his oldest son Biff came home from an extended absence, Willy falls into a memory of the past when his sons are young. He speaks out loud, giving instructions how to wash and polish the car, to an image of his sons when they were young. Another example of Willys questionable mental state occurs while having a conversation with his wife Linda about a recent sales trip. Willy states ???… Ill go to Hartford. Im very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people dont seem to take to me.??? (1791). Willy contradicts himself by claiming to be very well liked and then makes the statement that people do not take to him. Willy uses bluster and self-delusion to convince himself and his family that he is a successful business man. Willy also never really knew his father as a child because his father left for Alaska when Willy was young.
Happy Loman is Willys youngest son, and the most like his father. Happy is afraid of failure, like his father, so he has never taken any risks in his career life and greedily feeds into delusions of success. Happy, much like his father, ostentatiously brags about success or fame to whomever he can. While waiting with his brother Biff for their father to show up for a dinner engagement, Happy brags to a call-girl that his brother is a great football player and ?????¦ is quarterback with The New York Giants. ??? (1825). Much like his father Willy, Happy manufactures his own version of reality to gloss over his lifes failures. Another facet of Happys life that is similar to his father??™s is the fact that Happy never really had a father either. Willy is present in Happys life in a physical sense, but his attention is often on his older son Biff. Miller illustrates this at several points in the play when Happy says ???I??™m losing weight, you notice, Pop??? (1788). Willy, with his attention on Biff, never bothers to acknowledge his younger son??™s question nor does he address his youngest son??™s underlying pleas for attention.
Biff Loman is Willys oldest son, and as an adult, is the least like his father.
Biff spends his youth being built up by his father and shares in Willys self-delusion until right after high school. Upon learning that he is not going to graduate without going to summer school, Biff heads to Boston to seek out his fathers advice while Willy is on a sales trip. While in Boston Biff has an epiphany. Catching his father with another woman Biff realizes that his life is a lie and that his father is a fraud. Biff angrily proclaims, ???You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!??? (1835), and storms away despite his fathers pleas to return. This is the pivotal moment in Biff??™s life where his path departs from that of his father and brother. While not able to cope well with reality, Biff now sees through his father??™s fabric of lies and only begrudgingly entertains his delusions. Another facet of Biffs personality that is different from his father and brother is his tendency to steal. Miller emphasizes this by detailing Biffs relationship with Bill Oliver. As a youth Biff works for Oliver as a shipping clerk and steals a box of balls from the company. Ironically, years later as an adult, Biff steals Olivers pen from his office after failing to get Oliver to back him in a business deal.
In conclusion, Miller uses the Loman family to portray a deeper problem that exists in American society today. Capitalism brings great wealth to America and to its citizens at the expense of those who cannot weather the storm. By pulling back the curtain of reality on the Loman family and exposing the societal pressure that they feel to be well-liked and successful, Miller also exposes the weakness of America??™s capitalistic economic system.
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Di Yanni, Robert. ???Death of a Salesman.??? Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Emily Barossee. 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 1777-1844. Print.