Monday, January 9, 2012

The play, Death of a Salesman, was first produced in 1949. Write an essay evaluating the play in terms of how it is relevant to families today. Support your judgement with experiences taken from the lives of yourself and your friends as well as specific examples from the play.

First produced in 1949, Death of a Salesman's featured family and their conflicts remain congruous with families of the 21st century. In the time the play was set (the 1930s), up until the here and now, it has been a common occurrence for a child's parents to try and foist the dreams they themselves were unable to accomplish upon their sons or daughters. Similar to what happened to Willy Loman's family in the play, these circumstances tend to create kid-to-parent conflicts. Also, as Willy Loman spent his whole life in pursuit of the American Dream, many families today are doing the same, whether as a whole, or individually. It is said that history repeats itself, and it looks to be holding true within numerous American families as they strive to become one of the lucky few who are able to achieve the ever-elusive "American Dream."

It is only natural that parents desire the best for their children, that parents want more for their child than they were able to have. More opportunities, more happiness and a better life all-around. It goes hand in hand with loving and caring for treasured offspring. However, many parents have taken just "wanting the best" for their children to a whole new level. It has become common for some parents to push their own dreams onto their sons and daughters. Perhaps they feel that they are able to live through their child at that point, but it is not a fair situation. Every person is unique, and their dreams are as well. Therefore, a person should  never force their dreams on someone else. It will end in unhappiness, like for Biff in Death of a Salesman. His father Willy Loman had always dreamed of being successful, of achieving the American Dream. He wanted to be well-liked, respected and make good money. That's what would make him happy. So, having failed at achieving his own dreams, Willy tried to "groom" his Biff into an all-American football star with a head for business. His thought process was that because Biff appeared to be well-liked and respected, he could follow in his father's footsteps as a salesman and succeed where Willy had failed. Yet this was not young Biff's dream. Biff wanted to have a job where he could work with his hands and be beneath the sky. He wanted nothing to do with the superficiality of the people operating within the world of business. The basics of this story are not so uncommon. The people of today can see much the same going on in households across the nation. The phenomenon is even depicted in various American films. The Proposal and Something Borrowed are just two such movies. In both films, the son of a successful man is being pressured by his father to go into a profession, have a job or, in Dex's case from Something Borrowed, a marriage he does not want to. 

"If Willy's is an American dream, it is also a dream shared by all those who are aware of the gap between what they might have been and what they are." If this is so, then the nation of America, throughout its abundant number of generations, can relate to being caught up in the ideals of the American Dream. It seems the lower and middle class populations, of which Willy is a prime example, put their faith in the pursuit of the American Dream, believing it to be infallible if they only try hard enough to achieve it. Its promise of financial security and happiness beckon to many. It did so in the 1930s and continues to be pursued by families of today. The American Dream also holds great appeal for the nation's illegal immigrants. Indeed, many people migrating to the land of the United States are looking for better opportunities; in education, jobs and even just simply living. From my own personal experience, I know that from other countries are here working and making money to send to their families back home. I have several friends currently in this situation right now. It is apparent that some of the central themes in Death of a Salesman continue to remain relevant in American families and society.

Overall, many aspects and themes from Death of a Salesman have persevered throughout the decades and remain pertinent to American family life. Parents continue to "give everything" so that their children may have better and still think that when their children turn down the dreams that have been imposed upon them that it is a reflection of their parenting abilities, though it is not so. In addition, the belief in the American Dream is still alive and kicking. This is in part due to all the wonderful things it seems to promise, which include financial support, a higher standard of living, and a happily ever after. Many have failed to realize that a person's worth lies far within, and achieving the American Dream is close to impossible. Hopefully future generations will learn to put their faith in more realistic goals with tangible rewards, so history no longer has to repeat itself when it comes to this vicious cycle of disappointment.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How is Willy's killing himself for the insurance money symptomatic of the way he has lived? What legacy does Willy leave his family?

Willy's life was about making money. As a salesman, that is all he strove to accomplish. Indeed, it was his job. In the end, by killing himself for the insurance money, he was still doing the same thing: striving to make money. His whole life he seemed to be going about things in the wrong way and he applied this same level of ineptitude in killing himself. Willy and Linda had only one payment left on their house, the fridge, and numerous other things, and then they would be in the "free and clear." Yet this is when Willy Loman decides to succeed at killing himself before those things could be realized by him and his wife as a couple.

Willy leaves in his family a legacy of failure. Maybe not for Biff, but for Happy. It is easy to see who more closely resembles Willy in temperament and characteristics. Biff resembles Willy's older brother Ben in a way, while Happy has the same younger sibling syndrome that Willy had when he was growing up. Admittedly though, Willy sort of bred it in his son, and it could be considered a cycle because that was probably how Willy's father treated him. The only difference in the two situations is that Willy didn't leave his children entirely, although he was on the road a lot and not able to be with them as much as another man with a different job would be able to. Ben was treated as the golden child in Willy's family and he passed that same treatment to his eldest son Biff, possibly because it's the only behavior he knows. Perhaps saying that Willy left his family a legacy of failure is harsh. But it is true that he has left them with the same unreachable ideals and dreams he held. The very same ones that led to his demise. In essence, this is the same as setting them up to fail.

The apple does not fall far from the tree, but let us hope that Biff and Happy are not as willing to sacrifice their very lives for the sake of money.

How does the structure of the play mirror Willy's blurring of illusion and reality?

The play is a collage of events in the life of the protagonist, Willy Loman. It is a mixture of flashbacks and events that are occurring in the present. Willy seems to be living in two worlds, one where he is a great salesman, making awesome sales and being really well-liked by people and the second (one I like to call Reality), in which he is a sad, small little man who no longer earns a salary, but is reduced to living on commission, who is not so well-liked, and not such a great salesman.

The play could be seen as a sort of reenactment of the turmoil going on inside Willy's head, where he can no longer tell the difference between past and present. Perhaps the gas-inhaling he does using the tube attached to the water heater has damaged his mind a little bit and messed with the stability of his mental state, but it is clear that Willy would rather reminisce and lose himself in the better moments of the past than live out the current real life situation he's in. He has in essence let his control of his mind go, letting his thoughts and memories have free reign, which causes a bit of chaos. Indeed, Willy could be talking to a memory of someone while another, "real" person is sitting in the room trying to talk to him.


Cartoon Penniless Businessman Posters, Art Prints

Trace one of the symbols (stockings, diamonds, etc.) throughout the play and explain why and how Miller has used it. What other symbols does Miller use and to what purpose?

[THE WOMAN bursts out laughing, and LINDA'S laughter blends in. THE WOMAN disappears into the dark. Now the area at the kitchen table brightens. LINDA is sitting where she was at the kitchen table, but now is mending a pair of her silk stockings.]

LINDA: You are, Willy. The handsomest man. You've got no reason to feel that--
WILLY [coming out of THE WOMAN'S dimming area and going over to LINDA]: I'll make it all up to you, Linda, I'll--
LINDA: There's nothing to make up, dear. You're doing fine, better than--
WILLY [noticing her mending]: What's that?
LINDA: Just mending my stockings. They're so expensive--
WILLY [angrily, taking them from her]: I won't have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!
WILLY: She's nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.
BIFF: You-- you gave her Mama's stockings!
LINDA: Be careful on the subway stairs.
[She kisses him, and a silk stocking is seen hanging from her hand. WILLY notices it.]
WILLY: Will you stop mending stockings? At least while I'm in the house. It gets me nervous. I can't tell you. Please.

An important symbol throughout Death of a Salesman is stockings. For the protagonist Willy Loman, they stand as a reminder of his betrayal and infidelity when it comes to his wife Linda. As can be seen in the passages above taken from the play, Willy lashes out at Linda for mending stockings because it reminds him of his affair with THE WOMAN and the incident in Boston with his son Biff. When Biff caught Willy cheating, he was heartbroken and really upset. Apparently, Willy had promised the Woman a box of stockings, and Biff accused him of giving her Linda's stockings. 

No one wants to be confronted with something that reminds them of their own bad qualities and mistakes. Willy certainly does not wish to be either. He is not comfortable with Linda fixing her stockings because he cannot fix his betrayal. If her stockings not being mended means that she won't wear them, the better off for Willy. If she throws them out, they can no longer haunt his conscience as much. Also, the fact that Linda has to mend her stockings instead of simply buying new ones stands as a further reminder to Willy that he is failing to provide for his family and his wife. 

The stockings evoke shame and guilt- two feelings that Willy Loman does not want to have brought up. He does not wish to face these emotions, rather, he wishes to suppress and ignore them. This is what drives him to yell at Linda for no apparent reason. 

Other symbols seen throughout the play include diamonds- which act as a symbol of tangible wealth, a wealth that Willy was never able to put his hands on like his brother Ben was- the rubber hose taken from the water heater serves as a symbol of a man's desperation to kill himself and be of some kind of worth to his family, and the seeds Willy wishes to plant are a symbol of Willy's efforts to provide for his family. A garden would feed Linda and his sons where his income is lacking in its ability to do so at the time. A garden is all that Willy has left, considering the son who was supposed to turn into a big success turned out instead to be a "bum." 

Why does Miller let us know in the title that Willy's death is coming? Why doesn't he make it a surprise? Is Willy's death in a car more or less appropriate than a suicide using the rubber hose on the water heater would be? Why? What harm does Willy's death do? What good?

Miller's purpose behind letting his readers know right from the beginning that the salesman Willy Loman is going to die is simple. There can be no other end for a salesman. In the play, salesmen are portrayed as working until their life is finished. Of course, in those times, people were known to stick to one profession throughout their lifetime and usually the company they worked for would honor their employees loyalty. For Willy Loman, unfortunately, he was fired. Yet even in the end, he was earning money, although his suicide was an attempt to obtain insurance money for his family, since he was no longer making his own money in sales.

*Being fired was technically the "death" of Willy as a salesman, and his actual death was so soon after the loss of his job that Miller might have meant that the death in the title was in fact Willy being fired. 

Willy Loman had a road job. He was constantly on the road in order to sell merchandise. The fact that he committed suicide and died by way of a car is much more appropriate than gas poisoning by inhaling the fumes from the water heater. Besides, Biff had taken off the hose to the water heater, effectively canceling out that as an option for Willy to try and kill himself. It seems that he didn't much of a choice if looked at in that way. 

Overall, Willy's death seems to be rather anti-climatic and unnecessary. For Linda, it was a shock, considering they were almost finished with all their troubles and they were finally working on getting along with Biff and Happy. They seemed to be coming together as a family when Willy decides to die. If the situation is looked at with an absence of emotion, then it could be said that Willy's death did a lot of good. His family would no longer be submitted to his lies, Charley would no longer have to pay out fifty dollars a week, and Biff and Willy would of course no longer be able to fight. No longer would any tension between the members of the Loman family in regards to Willy exist, but they did lose a vital person in all their lives. The effect is devastating even when the member of a family dies that is hated or despised. Willy was simply "not well-liked." His family did indeed love him and his death was hard on them all. Linda is now technically on her own as well. Who will support her now? Linda gave the majority of her life to support Willy Loman, now let’s hope the insurance money from his death will be enough to support her in his absence. 

Willy is proud of putting up the living room ceiling and making a cement porch. How is the image of working with his hands carried through the play? Why, then, doesn't Willy think highly of being a carpenter?

It is shown throughout the play that Willy is very proud of his renovations in his home and porch. He is always bragging to others about his accomplishments in this arena. Even though it is clear that Willy enjoys working with his hands and doing projects along those lines, that he finds joy and satisfaction in these things, he looks down upon professions that make their living performing manual labor. This is because many manual laborers do not get paid much. That is unacceptable for Willy Loman. As previously stated, Willy is all about making money. It seems his pursuit of happiness morphed into the pursuit of the dollar bill.

Even gardening seems to put Willy at ease. His family notices that he is never as happy as he is than when he is fixing something or creating something new, like putting in his ceiling or the garden he wants to plant in the back of the house. It is true that no greater satisfaction is to be had than when someone sits back and looks at what they have built or created. To physically accomplish something is Willy's drive, and he is more successful when it is an in-home project than selling merchandise.

How does Ben affect Willy? How does he influence the events in the play? What do you think of the way he has achieved his wealth?

Ben is Willy's older brother, a figure he looks up to. A figure he is always trying desperately to impress, even though Ben has passed away. In a way, Ben haunts his younger brother with his failure to be successful and achieve the American Dream. Ben is said to have walked into the African jungle at the age of seventeen, and when he walked out at twenty-one, he was rich "by God." It is assumed that he got into the business of diamond mining to earn his riches. Why Ben never deigned to share with his brother Willy is uncertain. 

Whenever Ben shows up throughout the play, during one of Willy's numerous and periodic flashbacks, he causes Willy to become over-exuberant and a bit pathetic. Willy seems to simper in the presence of his brother, his idol. It is rather like the way Happy looks up to Willy as his father. It is reasonable to infer that Ben acted as Willy's father figure in their father's absence. Ben serves as a reminder to Willy of what he could have been, and the things he could have accomplished. He stands as a real-life example of one of the few lucky people ever to attain the American Dream. To Willy, Ben holds the secret to success, so whenever he appears, Willy immediately focuses solely on him, asking him questions and consulting him about his life. Although, to be honest, the way Ben earned his wealth is questionable. He was originally supposed to travel to Alaska and ended up in the African jungle... He makes like he didn't know he'd traveled to an entirely separate continent, which is pretty unbelievable. Ben even mentions the fact that he's built an empire and never kept any books. People who don't keep track of their money usually tend to lose it. It is not clear whether he is even telling the truth about his rags to riches story, given that he would never go into to detail and only kept repeating "When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich." That is the extent of his story, the only piece of information he really gave anyone. 

In all honesty, I would rather see a man who works hard for his money, see him get to experience a struggle, because that is when respect is earned. Easy money builds no character, and it is clear that that is something Ben does indeed lack. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What do we know about Linda? What can we guess? Does she know about the Woman in Boston? What makes you think she does or doesn't? Describe her relationship with Willy and with her sons. Is her character the same in reality and in Willy's memories of her?

Not much is known about the life of Linda Loman before her marriage with Willy Loman. Throughout the play she is shown to be a kindhearted, caring woman who is able to look past her husbands flaws and stick with him no matter what is happening. She has enormous stores of patience in dealing with Willy and her sons, although you can tell she is worn thin at times. Linda is not as naive as she might appear to be to some people though. She hears one word and understands two when it comes to her husband. She knew without Willy telling her that he has to get fifty dollars a month from Charley, but she pretends she thinks it is Willy's actual pay. She seems to understand what he needs even though it is clear that he does not even know what he needs.

However, I do not believe that she knows about the Woman in Boston... Is she does in fact know, she does not let on throughout the course of the play. I do not think Linda would treat Willy so well if she knew he was having an affair with another woman. Although, she might love Willy so much that she might be able to overlook being cheated on. She's overlooked many of Willy's faults in the past, why not this one?

In terms of her relationship with Willy and her sons, she holds much influence, even though she remains a little subordinate to her husband, probably a product of the time period the play was written to reflect. During Willy's flashbacks however, Linda appears to speak her mind more, and have more say in her relationship with her husband. In what is considered the "present" of the play, she is unable to say much before Willy quiets her and she does not express her opinions and things of that nature. Willy's memories, Linda is stronger and has more hope for her husband. In their older age,  Linda seems to have devoted her life to simply supporting her husband day by day. In the past, she did not have to worry about things like Willy trying to kill himself. You could say a weight had settled on Linda's shoulders that was not there in Willy's memories of her. As life goes on, a person has more to deal with. This certainly applies to Linda Loman.

Discuss the significance of Willy's being a younger son with an absent father. How does that influence his behavior with his own sons? In what ways does Happy's situation reflect Willy's? How has Willy treated Biff? Why is the athletic trophy in Willy's room instead of in Biff's?

Willy's situation as a young boy is very similar to his own son, Happy's, situation. This is evident throughout the play because it is shown that Happy was ignored by his father Willy. Yet the same could be said about Willy and his father, given the fact that his father was absent from his life. Ben, Willy's older brother, became extremely successful and rich, and was also the eldest brother. Maybe it is due to this fact that Willy invests all his hopes and dreams in Biff as he grows up. Perhaps Willy believes that it's an "eldest child syndrome" to be successful in life. Whatever the case may be, Willy ends up emulating the way he himself was brought up, and it takes a toll on the Loman family. Parents should never have a favorite child (or at least not make their choice obvious..) yet it is obvious that Willy values Biff more as a son than Happy. As Willy forever lived in the shadow of his brother Ben, his treatment of Happy has led him to live in the shadows of Biff. Even though Happy has seemed to absorb more of Willy's ideals and aspirations, and follow more in his footsteps, which he'd hoped Biff would acquire, it made no difference. Happy would always be the lesser child in Willy's eyes.

Willy has never won anything in his life. So when Biff wins an athletic trophy, it ends up in Willy's room because he wants to claim his sons accomplishment. Maybe he feels that because Biff is his son, some of the recognition and respect gained from having the trophy will transfer off on to himself. That is all Willy Loman craves. Just a small bit of respect, recognition, and a dash of admiration. It is apart of his life dream. However, it is a tad unfortunate that he has to take his son's trophy in order to feel these things though...

I do have another theory. Biff does love his dad very much, so perhaps he gave it to Willy, or said he should keep it in his room so he can remember Biff's accomplishments. It could be possible.

Why is Biff so angry about the incident in Boston? Why does Biff steal? Does Biff use Willy's behavior as an excuse for his own waywardness?

Biff was more than angry about the incident in Boston. He was furious. It was enough to keep him away from home for many years, and it was enough to make him throw away a good future him and his father had been discussing throughout his highschool years. It was enough to throw his "life" away. Catching your father cheating on the mother you love and respect more than any other woman in the world is a harsh situation to deal with for any child, and Biff has already had a rocky childhood. Also, Biff thought of his father as a hero. As a truly magnificent man, and finding out that he was cheating on his wife opened Biff's eyes to an uglier image. A stark image. One that I'm sure he did not want to see. After this incident, he sees his father as a phony, a fake. He is not a magnificent man, no, he can't be, because he's a cheater and a liar. It was a rude awakening for a man of only about 17 or 18 years old.

Biff is no perfect man himself though. He has a little issue with stealing things that are not his own. When he was younger, it was small, insignificant things like a football or some wood. Biff was never taught that stealing was wrong, Willy had convinced him that these small things were perfectly alright, that he could get away with it, not thinking of the possible future repercussions. This led to Biff getting into trouble when he was an adult for theft, even serving time in prison for a couple of months. It can be said that the incident in Boston is what sent Biff on his downward spiral, and Willy believes that Biff is blaming him for his wayward actions that he disapproves of. Going off and working on a farm is not what Willy wanted for his son, but Biff took off after the incident in Boston. It is uncertain of whether or not Biff truly blames Willy for the way he ran off and how his life has turned out, but it can be assumed that it was a factor. This is because Biff had had plans to make up his grade in math before his trip to Boston, and when he came home, he no longer had any. It is understandable, under the traumatic circumstances.

What is Willy's dream? What is he searching for throughout the play? Why doesn't he find it? Did he have a chance of fulfilling it? Did he have the wrong dream? Inappropriate attitudes? Is he born a loser, or does he stand in his own way to success? Explain.

Willy Loman's dream is to become a great man. He believes that a job in salesmanship is the way to accomplish this. He wishes to reinvent himself into a man who receives respect and is looked at with admiration. He believes that gaining riches will be a way to earn the respect and admiration he craves. His dream may consist of more than just being a great man, however. Due to his numerous flashbacks and loose grip on reality, it can be said that Willy might also dream of starting over, or even being young again. That way he could have a second shot at his true goal, his real dream. That way, Willy Loman could have more years in which to accomplish the goal he's worked his whole life endeavoring to reach.

Throughout the play, Willy is searching for the moment his life took a wrong turn, because he doesn't understand why or how, with all the hard work and effort he put into his dream, it's never come to fruition. Maybe he's also looking for a way back, a re-do button. But these things he can never find, because it is impossible. One could be harsh and say that Willy Loman never had a chance of fulfilling his dream, and, with the way the play is presented, I would have to agree with that. It was very obvious to me right from the beginning that Mr. Loman did not have what it takes to reach his own goal, yet I would like to commend him on his efforts. I also think that he should have settled on a more realistic goal, but then, it is apparent that Willy was not completely in touch with reality. Perhaps his dream was the right one for him, but even then, he went about going after it in an entirely inappropriate manner, and definitely with inappropriate attitudes. Willy Loman should not be rude and grouchy to his superiors, that is not a way to move up any kind of professional ladder. That is in fact the way down the business ladder, which is exactly the direction in which he was moving. Being fired would have to be the last rung on that specific ladder and by the end of Act 2, Willy Loman had reached it. It is in this manner that he stood in his own way to success, for his failure to adapt and work the system he was given. There was a way for him to succeed, but Willy unfortunately ended up choosing the wrong path. No one is born a loser, and Willy Loman is no exception to this either. But he made himself a loser in the end.

Discuss how Linda's statements, especially those near the end of Act I, incorporate the following quotes of Miller's ideas on tragedy.

I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.

This, one of Miller's ideas on tragedy, is reflected in Death of a Salesman when Willy's wife Linda states that "A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man." (page 40) In combining these statements, we can see that Miller is emphasizing his belief that tragic things can happen to people who don't have much to lose, but still lose most of what they have. Granted, it is understood that with a king, or some type of great man, a tragic fall is much more noticeable and dramatic than it is with an average man. But it cannot change the fact that tragedy can befall anyone and, like Linda says, "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person," any person, and that though they may not be the finest characters, they are human beings, and because a terrible thing is happening to them, attention is due for them.

I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity. 

Willy is just such a character as described above. Though it is not Willy who reveals this much about himself, but his observant wife Linda. She says, "He drives seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? ... When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it's his pay?" It is with these statements that the readers see that Willy has pride. That he is trying so hard to protect his personal dignity that he must lie to his family in order to keep up the appearances that he can still support them. Perhaps this is the "tragic feeling" Miller is talking about, perhaps it is pity that is evoked in us. Yet one thing is for sure: Willy is indeed willing to lay down his life to protect his personal dignity and try and support his family with monetary earnings. We know this because, Willy did lay down his life.

Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly. 

Is it tragic then, when Willy decides to share with Linda his real take on his own salesmanship skills? If Miller is to believed, then yes it is so. "When he was young, they were glad to see him. But now his old friends, the old buyers that loved him so and always found some order to hand him in a pinch-- they're all dead, retired. He used to be able to make six, seven calls a day in Boston. Now he takes his valises out of the car and puts them back and takes them out again and he's exhausted. Instead of walking he talks now..." Linda knows Willy is unable to survive in the salesmanship business any longer, by his own accounts. Though he tries not to worry Linda or his children and puts on a facade, Linda is able to see the truth of his own self-evaluations. He knows he is not well liked, nor welcomed any longer. He feels that it may be due to his appearance, but to be fair, he is an old man. Willy's "total compulsion to evaluate himself justly," is where readers are able to clearly look upon the tragedy of the situation, the decomposing of a man, a human being.

The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing- and need be nothing, but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status. 

Perhaps Willy Loman sees his rightful status as a great man, one like his brother Ben, even. It is obvious that Willy refuses to lie down and accept the fact that he will never achieve some type of greatness, even if he could somehow do it through his sons. Linda tries to remind Willy that he has "enough to be happy right here, right now." That he doesn't need to do things like take his brother's proposition to go to Alaska, although he'd rather go and make quick money versus having a steady job. This belief stems from the fact that, like in this idea on Tragedy and the Common Man from Death of a Salesman's author Arthur Miller, Willy remains unwilling to remain passive in going after his dream. He is willing to work for what he wants, as is apparent by his commitment to his salesmanship company for so long.

Now, if it is true that tragedy is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly, his destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment. And this is precisely the morality of tragedy and its lesson. 

"Why didn't anybody come?
... I can't understand it. At this time especially. First time in thirty-five years we were just about free and clear. He only needed a little salary. He was even finished with the dentist." Willy Loman did indeed destroy himself in his attempts to evaluate himself justly. Maybe he figured his life was worth the insurance money his family would gain from his car crash. Who knows what went through Willy's mind when he decided to commit suicide. Certainly not Linda, who remains befuddled as to why he would do such a thing when they were close, so close, to being "free and clear."

As a character in the play, Linda's words and actions were the application of Miller's ideas on tragedy. His beliefs injected into the structure of Linda and Willy Loman's story, if you will. It is clear that much thought was put into this play. Makes one wonder.. How much of the author is reflected in their characters?

Does Linda help or hinder Willy in overlooking his small sales and his dishonest attempts to make them seem bigger? How else does she influence Willy? Discuss Linda's remark, "Attention---attention must finally be paid to such a man!" What is the effect of the switch in Linda's speech to this very formal statement? Why does Miller use it?

What Linda does is more complicated than simply helping or hindering Willy in overlooking his small sales and dishonest attempts to make them seem bigger. She is Willy's backbone, his support, unwavering and always there for him. In a way, by overlooking Willy's lies, she might be doing more harm than good because Willy already seems to be heavily out of touch with reality, and Linda's encouraging the continuance of this behavior by overlooking it is not beneficial to them in any way. Yet they manage to make it as a family, in terms of money. Through thick and thin, Linda stands by Willy and tolerates his eccentricities and he needs that kind of support, though he may not acknowledge this fact. He's had a hard life, chasing an effervescent dream that always appears just a little out of reach. In this way, she helps Willy and simultaneously hinders him in some fashion.

A woman has a significant amount of pull with her husband, even in the 1930s when women were still viewed as inferior to men and treated with different standards. Linda is no exception when it comes to Willy Loman. Linda keeps her husband on track, and calms him down when necessary. She acts as a buffer at times for his wild, bipolar emotions. She offers him the emotional support he needs, never insulting him and treating him with kindness and respect even when he snaps and yells at her. She more than simply supports Willy as his backbone, however. It could be said Linda holds together the stitchings of Willy's life as she holds together the stitchings of his clothing in her efforts to mend them.

Linda understands that what Willy craves is recognition and attention for all his efforts as a salesman, just like he's seen other salesmen receive repsect and recognition. Indeed, her comment "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person." reflects on her awareness of Willy's desperate dreams, and her goals to help her husband reach them if possible. Linda knows that Willy may not be the greatest man, but he has tried his hardest to be the best man. For herself, for their children, and for his company. She wants his efforts to be recognized before he dies. Addressing her sons in a short speech, Linda explains that Willy must not "be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog," and that though he may not be the finest character that ever lived, he's a human being and attention is due to him for that reason. This change in Linda's speech drew attention to her most important point she was trying to make. It could be said that Miller did this on purpose to ensure the readers grasped the important concept. It is also possible that Miller used this statement to express his own ideas on how every man deserves some type of recognition, at the very least for sticking a hard life through and trying to accomplish his dream. It does take someone strong and resilient to persevere when a powerful possibility of failure seems apparent. Perhaps Miller commends Willy (Everyman) for having a dream, even though the dream never came to be. Not everyone has to be a star to deserve some basic recognition, and Willy was no star. Sixty-three year old Willy Loman deserved some basic recognition.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What is the turning point in Willy's life? Is Willy the main character in this play or is Biff? Why? What does Biff discover about himself? How does this discovery affect his relationship with Willy? How is Biff's self-realization dramatic? What is the climax of the play?

Willy's life took its most obvious turn when he was caught cheating on his wife with another woman by his son Biff. It destroyed their father-son relationship, which was going pretty well up to that point. Biff loved his mother very much, respected her greatly, and could not fathom why his father would betray her in such a way. Biff was heartbroken, and wept when he discovered his father's treacherous actions. It came at an inopportune time for Willy too, because he'd rested many of his hopes and dreams on his son. Biff was headed to the University of Virginia before he'd flunked math and gone to talk to his father about it in Boston. He'd gone to discuss summer school and having Mr. Loman talk to his math teacher when he discovered another woman in his father's bathroom.

Although most of the book seems to revolve around Willy, and he appears to be the main character of the play, the heart of the play, its main issues, what can be called the "meat" or substance of the play, is rather centered on his son, Biff. Willy remains the same throughout the play, what is called a static character, because he undergoes little inner change, while Biff is the dynamic character, undergoing important inner change throughout the course of the play. Biff discovers who he is. He is NOT all that his father built him up to be, a successful business man who is well-liked by everyone and thought highly of. He is a man of the outdoors, a man not meant for the office, a simple man. (Granted, he is also a thief, but that is an unfortunate side quality, and there is definitely some complicated reasoning behind that.) This discovery about himself leads him to be completely honest with his father, and Willy does not know how to react. He breaks down and wants to run from Biff's words, but Biff doesn't let him. Disappointed that his son will never become what he wanted him to, Willy Loman is distraught. He does not know where to turn. The climax of the play occurs during the big argument between Willy and Biff, in which Linda and Happy are around to witness. Here, Biff lays down the rubber tube from the gas pipe on the table, determined to address every issue between them, including addressing the fact that Biff had been under arrest for a couple months out West. He no longer wants to fight with his father and thinks that laying everything out on the table will help solve their previously unspoken issues, yet Willy is in denial. He does not want to listen and tries to escape. Biff eventually breaks down completely, in tears, and Willy finally comes to realize that his son does indeed love him. After this rather climatic event, everything appears to relax and run smooth again.

Biff's self-realization creates a fair amount of drama in the play, one, because he came to this realization in the middle of running away from the office of the man he'd just stolen from and two, because telling his father caused Willy to inform the boys that he was fired. It came as a shock to Biff and Happy, who know they now have to step up and help out their family more with household income. It further contains elements of drama in that it goes against everything Biff was brought up believing, all the brain washing Willy put Biff through, all the hopes and dreams laid on him even as a young child and throughout his teens. He'd always felt guilty for not going into business like his father wanted him to, but it appears that when he came to his self-realization, Biff was able to shrug the weight of this guilt off and accept himself for who he knows himself to be.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Who is to blame for Willy's destruction?

In a very literal sense, Willy is solely responsible for his own destruction. After all, he did kill himself (or at the very least, that is what can be assumed when he drove off in the car and later found dead). He had a history of suicidal attempts, crashing his car on numerous occasions. An insurance inspector had to inform Willy's wife Linda that they had evidence that all the accidents Willy Loman got into within the last year of his life were in fact not accidents at all. There was even an eye witness, a woman who saw Mr. Loman purposely smash into a bridge railing. From this it can be inferred that Willy's death was indeed a suicide in the end.

In a more figurative sense, American society can be blamed for Willy Loman's demise. The media plays up the business world, claiming great amounts of money are to be had. Willy Loman was just another man sucked into this dream and, in a way, the business world drained his life from him. It is said he became a salesman when he was a boy, around eighteen or nineteen, and stayed in the business up to the point of his death, which occurred the day he was finally fired from the company where he was working. Willy was around the age of sixty-three when that happened. That means that he put the majority of his life into the business world, searching for riches and ever elusive respect. Approximately 45 years of his life he spent searching for these things, and he never found them. Tragic? Yes. But a reality Willy Loman had to face. Perhaps it is these things that led him to try committing suicide numerous times. He was a very unhappy and unsatisfied man, who'd lost most of his hope. He'd invested a lot of this hope into his son Biff too, who unfortunately let him down as well. Willy had such high hopes for Biff becoming the success he himself could never achieve, yet Willy failed to take into account what his son desired. This is not unheard of when it comes to parenting. In fact, it is quite common.

In essence, the American Dream promised Willy Loman things that could never be obtained. He spent his whole life endeavoring to reach them, and it was a factor that led to his demise. As to the question of who is personally to blame for Willy's destruction, it can be seen that Charley, Biff and Howard are the vehicles through which society acted to tear down Willy's hopes and dreams, and, eventually, his character. More abstractedly, the makers of American society, the people who established the ideals of the time, and the ones who ran the country were responsible for this small man's death. Willy Loman never quite fit into the mold set out by society, even though he tried his damnedest, and in the end, his efforts destroyed him.

In what ways does Willy not fit into the definition of an average working man building a secure home for his family? In what ways does he represent Everyman? How does Willy represent more?

Willy Loman is an unstable man. His job, his health, his mind, all fit perfectly into the category of "unstable." When thinking of the average working man building a secure home for his family, Willy Loman is not what comes to mind. Reasons for this include the fact that he attached a rubber tube to the gas pipe in his house in order to inhale gas... and his other efforts to try and kill himself by crashing his car. When someone is trying to secure and keep his family safe, these are not actions typically taken! Willy Loman is selfish. Even in his efforts to make his children into something great, he does it for himself, for his appearances. He wants to prove to outsiders looking in that he has made SOMETHING, ANYTHING of himself, even if it happens to be through his sons, Biff and Happy. They are tools he tries to use for his own ends.

The average man has limits. Mr. Loman seems to lack those limits, and it turns out to be detrimental for his family. Also, the average working man knows his place in ways Willy Loman seems to not know his. He is rude to his superiors, complimenting them in one second, and insulting them the next! Willy's bipolarity is something his dear wife Linda should have looked into, although it can be seen that she had quite enough on her plate.

Yet, Everyman has big dreams like Willy Loman. Everyman endeavors to bring home as much money as they can for their family, and Everyman has vices. Not Everyman cheats on their wife, but Everyman is influenced by temptation. Everyman wants the best for their children, and Everyman is self-conscious. Everyman is not perfect, and Willy Loman isn't either. In these ways, Willy Loman represents Everyman. He falls victim to societal expectations that only the very few can ever accomplish and yet just like Everyman, Willy still tries. Indeed, the American Dream is rarely ever achieved but Everyman tries.

Willy Loman is more than Everyman though. He represents the failures of the American society. He represents a betrayal of modern-day values (although admittedly the values were probably synonymous with the times in which the play was written), and he represents the trials and tribulations low class citizens were known to experience. He held the naivety of previous generations while being introduced to a new age, and so he faded away because of a failure to adapt. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Willy Loman was an old dog.

Is "Death of a Salesman" a tragedy and Willy Loman a tragic hero, or is his death merely the pathetic demise of a small man?

"A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man." However, this comparison should only be made when said small man has qualities that make up for not being a "great man" in terms of accomplishments. Willy Loman does not have these qualities and it is indeed this reason that he is a small man. In turn, his death is merely his pathetic demise. In terms of being a hero, Willy Loman could have been. If he would've opened his eyes and been more in touch with reality, not lied to his children and cheated on his faithful wife, been an honest, hardworking man who unfortunately didn't ever get to accomplish anything great even though he tried, he would have in fact achieved the greatness he so craved. In life, it's about fulfilling the position you currently have to your best potential before you can ever move forward and go on to accomplish better things.

Willy Loman was just a product of his time period. Can he be blamed for that? Perhaps not. However, it is every persons duty to take responsibility for their actions and their conscious decisions. Because Mr. Loman's decisions were just that: conscious ones. Presented as a little bit crazy and out of his head, it is easy to say that he didn't know better. Essentially, excuses can be made for him and it is possible that a position for him as a "tragic hero" can be argued. Yet this should not be so. For every action, there exists an equal and opposite reaction. Willy Loman never accepted responsibility for his actions, never accepted the resulting consequences, even though he alone made the bad decisions that created them. It is in this that Willy Loman can never be any type of hero, even a tragic one, to the readers of Death of a Salesman.

As a person though, Willy Loman deserved a certain basic respect. Linda, his wife, demonstrates this when she states in Act One: "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog..." Even the smallest man deserves basic respect, and, though he was no hero, Willy Loman is no different in this regard.