Review of Death of a Salesman
A number of other writers also draw the inability to capture the American Dream.
Instead, he tends to be drawn to the times at which he behaved in revealingly unpleasant ways. This tendency suggests that Willy longs for self-knowledge. He wants to figure out how he got into his present mess, and he knows that the answers lie in the past. Willy’s efforts at self-analysis are doomed not just because he gives himself wholly to his memories, but also because his passionate emotions are not balanced by cool critical thinking. Willy is constitutionally incapable of analyzing his own behavior, understanding his character, and comprehending the mistakes he has made. Over and over, Miller shows how Willy plunges back into the past, stares uncomprehendingly at the errors he made, and then makes those identical errors in the present. He remembers idealizing Ben as a boy; then he describes Ben in outsized, glowing terms to his sons. He remembers implying that Biff did not need to work hard in order to attend a good college; then he bridles at the implication that his parenting has something to do with Biff’s failure. Willy dimly senses that his past missteps have a bearing on the present, but he cannot bring himself to make the connections explicit. Willy Loman has a multitude of faults, but escapism is not one of them. He truly wants to understand himself; part of his tragedy is that he is incapable of doing so.
Willy retaliates by telling Biff that he has been nothing but a failure (103). As such, Bill comments that: “(he had been) trying to become what (he didn’t) want to be… (And asks Himself) What (he was) doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of (himself), when all (he) wanted (was) out there, waiting for the minute (he) say (that he) knew who (he) wanted to be! (105). This is an emotional realization of the betrayal that Willy led him to believe was the truth. Their relationship was never the same again.Willy’s greatest need was emotional and psychological. Willy needed to feel liked and loved not only by his family but also by his clients and friends. From his mentor Dave Singleman, Willy thought that success was brought by popularity and attractiveness, and these two ideals subordinated virtuous ideals such as honesty, integrity, and hard work.
It is ironic that he feels this way, after years of service, he must give up his life, so his family can live the American Dream he always wanted. Willy is excited again. He believes when Biff gets the cheque he’ll be ahead of Bernard again. When they were children, Willy always believed that Biff would be more successful than Bernard because of his likeability as opposed to Bernard’s anaemic personality. Even as Willy sees that he is worth more to his sons dead than alive, he fails to grasp any semblance of self realization and failing to realize that killing himself to put Biff ahead of Bernard is utterly pathetic.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.