Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Essay Example
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Essay Example

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Essay Example

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  • Pages: 11 (2828 words)
  • Published: November 2, 2017
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There are debates about whether Willy Loman or Biff is the true hero of Death of a Salesman. The purpose of a tragedy is to evoke sympathy and fear in the audience, typically featuring a central character who causes chaos in their community. This tragic hero is tempted by something that reveals their fatal flaw, leading to their downfall and death. When the hero dies, order is restored, giving catharsis to the audience. Miller presents an American tragedy instead of a Greek or Shakespearean one because America lacks traditional tragic heroes like monarchs or aristocracies. He aims to give voice to ordinary working class individuals and show that their lives can also be tragic. In spite of critics arguing against it being a tragedy, Linda recognizes the play's tragic nature when she asserts that attention must be paid to such individuals. She


highlights that even ordinary working-class people can be tragic heroes. Willy, as the tragic hero, suffers greatly for his one fatal error caused by his unwavering belief in the American Dream, leading him to feel insecure throughout the play.Willy, an unsuccessful salesman in the metropolis, struggles to face the world while reliving distorted memories (Page 2003, Page 62). Despite his unrealistic aspirations, he idolizes Dave Singleman, an 84-year-old salesman who he believes is universally loved and adored (Page 63). Hoping to be remembered and loved like Singleman, Willy follows his career path (Page 63). However, both his perception of Singleman and the American Dream are distorted illusions. This lack of grasp on reality ultimately leads to his tragic demise. Instead of pursuing a false dream, Willy should have lived a simpler life with

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his family in the countryside. Although he takes pride in installing his own ceiling using his own hands as a testament to hard work and determination, he lacks the skill and expertise for such tasks. When Charley compliments him on it, Willy questions how it was accomplished. Biff realizes that their dreams were misguided and regrets this realization. Nevertheless, Willy has always worked tirelessly for his family with courage and determination. He desires success in order to have more time with his wife and children but often dismisses and criticizes Linda for buying the wrong cheese. Willy's pride prevents him from accepting a job offer from Charley and questions why he was offered the job at all. His unwavering pursuit of his dream makes him a tragic hero. At a young age, Willy was abandoned by his father and brother leaving him insecure.Throughout the play, Willy battles with his insecurities and seeks solace in memories and conversations with his deceased brother Ben. However, it is important to note that Ben's portrayal in Willy's memories is not an accurate reflection of reality. It is unlikely that Willy ever saw Ben again. Nevertheless, Willy uses Ben as a voice to criticize his own life. In these memories, Ben often belittles Willy and attempts to leave, as shown in the quote: "Haven't the time, William" (Page 66).

In addition to his insecurity, Willy also possesses other character flaws. He frequently contradicts himself by referring to Biff as a "lazy bum," but later stating that Biff is "not lazy" (Page 11). Despite Biff stealing a ball, instead of reprimanding him, Willy encourages his behavior by saying: "Coach'll probably congratulate you

on your initiative!" (Page 23). Furthermore, he contradicts himself regarding Biff's interactions with girls; cautioning him to be careful while having a mistress himself (Page 21).

The introduction of his affair tarnishes Willy's memories since it was Biff who discovered the affair which caused their relationship to deteriorate. To boost his self-esteem and combat insecurity issues, Willy often exaggerates his accomplishments. For example, he tells Linda that he made "five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston," but quickly changes it to "roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip" (Page 27).Willy exaggerates his achievements to convince himself of his success and uphold belief in the materialistic American Dream. He believes that being well-liked is crucial for success and the foundation for achieving great things. Ironically, he believes he must be successful for his son Biff to love him, despite Biff always loving him. Willy's expression of happiness for Bernard's success shows that he is a good person. Despite pursuing misguided dreams, Willy still exhibits courage and love for his family, which evokes sympathy from the audience. However, it is ultimately his numerous flaws including insecurity that lead to his tragic downfall.

A contemporary hero possesses qualities like strength, honesty, morality, unity,independence,and braveryto confront reality.At the start of the play,Biff has not completely let go of his father's aspirations.Although passionate about his current job, he feels guilt and strives for success in a career he despises.Biff recognizes that he would thrive better in the countryside and all he truly desires is to be outdoors.But he hasn't been able to completely let go of his father's aspirations.As a result,Biff's confidence diminishes leading to a decline

in physical attractiveness and potential as a top football star.From the beginning, it is clear that Biff is concerned about Willy's struggle with reality and his past. He questions if Willy realizes that their mom can hear him (Page 20). Since a young age, Willy has instilled wrong values in Biff. Instead of reprimanding him, Willy often turned a blind eye and supported Biff's habit of stealing by saying "Shut up! He's not stealing anything!" (Page 40). Feeling humiliated, Biff turned to theft as a way to regain power. By the end of the play, Biff confesses to his thievery and even admits being imprisoned for stealing a suit in Kansas City (Page 104). Stealing a pen from Ben Oliver's office makes Biff reflect on the futility of his actions and what truly matters in life, prompting him to question "What the hell am I doing with this thing?" (Page 105). Ultimately, at the end of the play, Biff experiences self-fulfillment by accepting reality and being honest about his own life. He comes to the realization that he and his father have spent their lives pursuing unrealistic dreams. He believes that his father must release the American Dream and urges him to "take that false dream and burn it before something happens" (Page 106).Biff tries to force the rest of his family to face reality, briefly succeeding in making Willy confront it. However, Willy refuses to let go, missing the chance to become a true hero and remaining as the tragic hero of Death of a Salesman.During Biff's youth, Willy consistently praised him excessively, leading to Biff developing an arrogant attitude. This is evident through

the constant words of admiration from Willy like "Good work, Biff" (Page 22). Their relationship remained strong until Biff discovered his father's affair. Towards the end of the play, Biff has a realization that he is not unique and refers to himself as being "a dime a dozen" (Page 105). This realization triggers him to let go of his long-held superiority complex. He understands that Willy's excessive praise has made him conceited and admits, "I never achieved anything because you inflated my ego so much that I couldn't bear taking orders from anyone" (Page 104). Biff acknowledges his arrogance and faces reality by admitting that he is "not a leader of men" (Page 105) and has always been hesitant about pursuing the American Dream. By the conclusion of the play, he comprehends that both Willy and the Loman family have been chasing misguided dreams. As a result, he confronts reality head-on and accepts it. In Death of a Salesman, Biff goes through a transformative journey where he accepts his true self and confronts life's realities. He recognizes that his family has been living in a fantasy world for years, describing it as "talking in a dream" (Page 82). As he gains confidence, Biff confidently declares, "I know who I am" (Page 111), embracing his identity and being honest about his life.

Arthur Miller incorporates both expressionism and realism in the play, demonstrating qualities of a contemporary hero. Realism accurately portrays characters and situations through human traits, language, costumes, and sets. Meanwhile, expressionism focuses on conveying inner emotions and psychological state through poetic dialogue and atmospheric lighting. The play employs realism with lifelike sets, realistic American-English language

usage, and typical costumes. However, there are moments of expressionism when Willy relives past memories to escape his painful present. Seeking solace in happier times allows Willy to temporarily avoid strain in his relationship with Biff, his sales failures, and guilt over an affair. Like Willy, Happy is influenced by the pursuit of the American Dream but lacks the same relentless drive for success. Despite his desires, Happy falls short of achieving the level of success he craves. In seeking revenge against those who have surpassed him professionally, Happy resorts to sleeping with women as a means of retaliation similar to Biff's desire for retribution against those who have humiliated him. Much like Willy himself, Happy chooses to live in a world of illusion rather than facing reality head-on. He willingly enables Willy to continue living in his own fantasy while also participating in maintaining this facade.

Even after Willy's death, Happy remains unable to let go of his father's aspiration to achieve the American Dream. Happy displays signs of jealousy towards Biff being favored by Willy. This could be one reason why he relentlessly pursues the dream - seeking approval from his father. Linda consistently defends and makes excuses for Willy's behavior, inadvertently trapping him further within his destructive dream. Miller's stage directions suggest that Willy shapes Linda's ideals for her; she shares his aspirations but lacks the courage to voice them or follow through. Linda plays the role of mediator within the family dynamic and often observes the underlying reasons behind Willy's mistreatment before intervening. Despite her love for Willy, Linda faces rejection when she shows acts of kindness towards him. She accepts this

without argument because she refuses to acknowledge the fact that Willy has unrealistic dreams, unlike Biff. Linda is determined to protect Willy's dreams because he means everything to her and she won't tolerate anyone making him feel unwanted or low. However, what she doesn't realize is that by allowing Willy to pursue his dreams relentlessly, he will become a tragic hero.In the countryside, Willy idolizes Singleman and sees him as an inspiration and father figure due to being abandoned by his own family.He criticizes himself using Ben's voice in distorted memories influenced by his abandonment issues which contribute to his insecurity and eventual deathThe text explores the dynamics between Willy and Biff, highlighting how Willy's insecurities damage their relationship, ultimately leading to its disintegration. Despite his flaws, Willy is portrayed as someone who loves his family and proves himself to be a good man, generating sympathy from the audience upon his death and positioning him as a traditional tragic hero. However, it is argued that he is not the true hero of the story. Biff, with his physical strength, had the potential to succeed as a football player and stands out from other members of the Loman family by being brave and not fully buying into the American Dream. In fact, he completely abandons it by confronting reality head-on and even forcing his father to face it briefly. This honest confrontation with life choices, career decisions, and past thefts showcases Biff's morality and integrity. Consequently, Biff emerges as the true hero in Death of a Salesman due to his ability to face reality. The author raises questions about whether Biff surpasses Willy Lowman's role as

the designated tragic hero by A. Miller. Miller deviates from tradition by creating a character like Willy Lowman - an ordinary working-class man rather than an aristocratic or noble figure - representing an American tragic hero according to Miller's perspective. Linda's character further emphasizes Miller's belief in recognizing individuals' significance within society like Willy Lowman despite their social status. Ultimately, Biff becomes central in Death of a Salesman because he acknowledges not only flaws within himself but also those present in his family's lives and society's relentless pursuit of the American dream.
The concept of the American dream is that America provides abundant opportunities for individuals to explore and seize. Arthur Miller portrays Biff as initially embracing his father's belief that being popular will lead to success. Willy believed that a person's reputation directly determined their sales success and subsequent wealth, which he thought would bring him closer to his family and prove his worthiness. Unfortunately, Willy's dream was misguided. While pursuing wealth and popularity is not inherently wrong, prioritizing them above all else can have negative consequences. This diverted Willy from finding true happiness and fulfillment through self-discovery. By the time Miller wrote this play, some American authors had tarnished the idea of the American dream, but it still remained influential in young American society. Miller suggests that the pursuit of the American Dream is not the only aspiration and may not be suitable for everyone. The United States Declaration of Independence emphasizes certain unalienable rights for all individuals, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This historical document supports Biff Lowman's belief in finding his authentic self in America rather than solely chasing

after wealth. Biff realizes that his father's desire for riches and fame does not align with his own dreams.During his visit to Oliver, Biff realizes that he was never meant to be a salesman and reflects on how he deceived himself into believing otherwise. His act of taking Oliver's pen symbolizes his inflated self-esteem, influenced by his father's excessive praise. It also suggests that Biff was never taught not to steal, which Willy often commended him for. This act represents Biff's desire for a different life. As the play progresses, stealing becomes more significant as Biff confesses to stealing a suit and serving time in prison because of it. Unlike Willy, who idolizes Dave Singleman, another salesman he met, Biff acknowledges that they have been pursuing the wrong dream and should instead work with their hands out west. Singleman serves as a role model and inspiration for Willy but also embodies solitude and transience through his name. This description seems to reflect on Willy's own life. Ultimately, the belief that being a well-liked salesman guarantees success proves untrue for Willy.When Biff seeks Willie's assistance upon discovering his father with another woman, he anticipates that Willie will leverage his influence to boost his academic performance and secure a football scholarship for college. However, Biff soon realizes that Willie is insincere when he exposes his father's deceit. This realization serves as a turning point for Biff, enabling him to see beyond the facade and pursue his own aspirations by understanding Willie's true character and flaws.

Willie believes that in order for Biff to love him, he must achieve success. Nevertheless, despite realizing towards the end of the play

that Biff has always loved him, this revelation does not alter Willie's decision to take his own life. Shortly thereafter, Willie begins hallucinating and sees his older and more accomplished brother Ben, whom he hasn't seen since their youth. This further propels Willie towards suicide as Ben informs him about the potential insurance money their family would receive upon Willie's death—a sum which could be utilized by Biff to establish a business. Once again highlighting that Willie fails to comprehend what Biff had tried to communicate earlier and indicating that he will never abandon his dream.

After leaving Willie at the restaurant and returning home, Biff comprehends the importance of being truthful with his father about who he truly is in order to attain his own dreams. He emphasizes to Willy that they are not ordinary individuals but rather Willy Loman and Biff Loman respectively.
By abandoning Willy and his dreams, Biff gains control over his own future and frees himself from the oppressive influence of Willy's dreams. This marks a personal transformation for Biff and signifies the end of his role as a salesman as well as breaking free from his association with Willy's ideals. He starts a new life out West which represents new beginnings while also symbolizing the death of a salesman – an end to an old chapter in their lives.

In summary, Biff stands out as the genuine hero in the family as he refuses to embrace Willy's concept of the American dream and instead follows his own aspirations. It should be noted that Biff's pursuit aligns with the American dream, but unlike Willy, he actually manages to achieve happiness for himself and

his family by pursuing his own version of the American dream.

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