Willy Loman: A Caricature of American Dream
We see the caricature drawings of people when we go to an amusement park and laugh at them. Willy Loman, on the other hand, was the depressing literary caricature of a man who time has passed by as he has outlived his ability to be a successful salesman. Willy Loman lived in a world of fantasies where being well liked and good looking were the keys to the American dream.
Due to his obsession with his understanding of the American Dream and success, Willy Loman had a dangerous amount of pride, an inflated sense of self-worth and his ability. Simultaneously, Willy was always comparing himself to other people in his life that were doing better financially and crumbling under the pressure. The Death of a Salesman is a montage of memories of the past and the present which leads to no future. Willy Loman mixes old memories with the present moment showing both that Willy longs to understand himself, where did he fail in his quest for the American dream, and also that his efforts to do so are doomed.
The play opens with Willy, a sixty-three-year-old traveling salesman, returning home early from a business trip, truly exhausted. His wife, Linda, gets out of bed to greet him. She asks if Willy is all right as he had once had an automobile accident, driving off of bridge Ito river. Willy, who is annoyed by the questions, angrily responds “I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me?” (Miller 2).
Willy then said that he had kept falling into trances, think road hypnosis, while driving and and actually had almost hit a boy. Willy goes onto say that he is “tired to the death” (Miller 2) and explains that he was going off the shoulder of the road and drastically changing speeds without noticing. Consequently, Linda tells Willy that he should ask his new boss, Howard Wagner, to let him become a New York based salesman but he responds “ They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I am vital in New England. ” (Miller 29). Later on, Willy remarks “ If old man Wagner was alive I would be in charge of New York now. ” (Miller 29).
Willy’s belief that he is vital for the New England market is a sense of pride that has created a mindset that he is the only one that is good enough to do that job. Additionally, Willy’s remarks about “old man Wagner” makes the reader believe that he truly would like to be in New York but without Linda bringing the topic up he would not have admitted it.
In Act 1, after an altercation between Willy and his son, Happy, Charley, the neighbor and friend shows up in the doorway. After starting a card game, Charley asks Willy “What are you doing home” to which he responds “Trouble with the car. ” (Miller 29) A little while later, Charley asks “ You want a job” ( Miller 29), which starts a brief but hostile altercation between Willy and himself:
“Willy ‘ I got a job, I told you that. [after a slight pause] What the hell are you offering me a job for?’
Charley ‘Don’t get insulted’
Willy ‘Don’t insult me’
Charley ‘I don’t see no sense in it. You don’t have to go on like this. ’ (Miller 29)
Act 2 opens with Willy complaining about how the Studebaker will not start up and how he is always buying items that fail quickly. After complaining about the items, he owns Willy compares his property to his friend’s which he says “I told you I should have bought a well-advertised machine. Charley bought a General Electric and it’s twenty years old and it’s still good, that son-of-a-bitch. ” (Miller 53)
By this point in the play, Willy is starting to show very significant traits of pride and envy; pride because he believes he deserves these luxurious items and envy because he wants them and doesn’t have them, but his neighbors do. These traits, especially pride, effects how Willy interacts with his sons and how he thinks of them too.
After not making enough money on the road and that Linda wants him to work as a New York salesman because of his health, Willy goes to speak to “old man Wagner’s” son and his new boss, Howard. Howard is not interested in hearing what Willy has to say to him, so he plays with his recorder and listens to his children’s voices on the tape.
When Willy and Howard do start talking Howard becomes concerned because he is supposed to be in Boston. Howard asks, “You didn’t crack up again, did you?” Willy replied by saying “Oh. no. no…. ”(Miller 59) Howard’s question makes the reader believe that Willy has had problems at work like he did after he turned around to come home the day before. Willy then tells Howard that he does not want to be on the road anymore, but Howard replies by telling him that there isn’t a spot for him in New York. Angrily, Willy begins to beg Howard and says “Howard, all I need to set my table is fifty dollars a week. ” And is told that he doesn’t have a spot for him. (Miller 60) Unrelenting, Willy asks if it is a problem with his selling abilities, which it is not, but goes on to tell a story to which Howard pays no attention Trying to change the subject right after having an altercation shines the light on Willy’s immaturity and cowardice because of his need to be well liked. ( Cortina 2008)
Knowing that his sons don’t make the much money and what they do make they spend frivolously; Willy insists on going to Boston to do his sales trip but Howard is insistent on him staying. Willy, being obsessed with the American Dream, tells Howard “I can’t throw myself on my sons; I’m not a cripple” and when told no again he grasps Howard’s arm saying “ Howard, you’ve got to let me go to Boston!” (Miller 63) Now that his health has gotten so poor and there is not a job in New York; Willy is let go from his job after 34 years with the company. However, Howard suggested that he could do this last sales trip if his sons were able to help him to which Willy replies “They’re working on a very big deal. ” After having enough of it, Howard says “This is no time for false pride. ” (Miller 63). Willy wants to be admired by his sons so badly that he is willing to risk his life driving to Boston so he can make that sales trip. (Cortina 2008)
The unfair comparison of himself to other people, the amount of pride, and the sense of self-worth caused Willy to have feel like he has to be rude to people solidify his self-worth and think of the times when he got along to his sons. Due to his mental illness Willy sometimes recreates memories, which could either false or true memories, where he puts down the neighbors’ son for being small and when Biff made a touchdown for his dad. Additionally, Willy during theses episodes Willy loses all sense of reality and his mind is just swimming with illusions.
After Howard leaves the scene, Ben Loman, Willy’s deceased older brother comes into scene and talks about how he has to board a ship soon and just bought timberland in Alaska, so he doesn’t have time to talk to him. Ben, who is dead, is one of Willy’s hallucinations that brings him out reality, so he doesn’t feel the pain of losing his job, not having money, or looking like a failure. Furthermore, as Ben is walking away Linda comes in with wash and takes Willy out of hallucination. After Linda comes in a dialogue starts between them in which Linda is obviously confused:
“Willy: No, wait! Linda, he’s got a proposition for me in Alaska.
Linda: But you’ve got— [To Ben] He’s got a beautiful job here.
Willy: But in Alaska, kid, I could—
Linda: You’re doing well enough, Willy!” (Miller 65)
Afterwards, Willy goes to Charley’s house to borrow money to pay for his insurance premium. Soon it comes out that Willy has been borrowing 50 dollars a week from
Charley for a long time. (Juan 2010) By now, Willy is obviously contemplating suicide and is obviously uncomfortable with the dialogue between Charley and himself:
“Charley: Sit down, Willy.
Willy [moving toward the chair]: I’m keeping an account of everything, remember. I’ll pay every penny back. [He sits. ]
Charley: Now listen to me, Willy.
Willy: I want you to know I appreciate. . .
Charley [sitting down on the table]: Willy, what’re you doin’? What the hell is goin’ on in your head?
Willy: Why? I’m simply. . .
Charley: I offered you a job. You can make ﬁfty dollars a week. And I won’t send you on the road.
Willy: I’ve got a job.
Charley: Without pay? What kind of a job is a job without pay? [He rises. ] Now, look, kid, enough is enough. I’m no genius but I know when I’m being insulted.
Charley: Why don’t you want to work for me?
Willy: What’s the matter with you? I’ve got a job. ” (Miller 75)
After exchanging initial insults and swearing at each other Willy and Charley begin to calm down. Willy tells Charley that he has just been fired from his job
In Act II Scene 8, after being fired and leaving Charley’s house, Willy meets his two sons, Happy and Biff at a restaurant where he tells them that he has lost his job. Biff, who is looking into going to business is trying to talk because he might have lost his investor, Bill Oliver. However, Willy needs the attention on him so he keeps interrupting Biff so he can’t get the words out of his mouth. Biff is unlike his father who prefers fantasy over reality, so this causes an argument. This time the hallucination isn’t one that would be happy necessarily because it is the memory of Charley’s son, Bernard telling Linda that Biff had failed math and gone to Boston to ask his father to talk to the teacher.
The difference in personalities causes an argument that leads to the end of their relationship. Willy snaps out of his hallucination and hears Biff saying “so I’m washed up with Oliver, you understand? Are you listening to me? To which Willy responds “Yeah, sure. If you hadn’t ﬂunked—” (Miller 86) Consequently, a big argument arises between Willy and Biff that causes Biff and Happy to leave their father in a restaurant bathroom while hallucinating. This hallucination is most likely caused by knowing that Biff messed up his chance of reaching the American Dream and it causes him more stress not like the others that relieve stress. Willy began to hallucinate that an operator is trying to get him to pick up the line but in the middle of the restaurant starts yelling “I’m not there, stop it!” while his anger escalates as Biff and Happy try to speak to him. (Miller 87)
Obviously, as I previously stated, Willy most likely got emotional and hallucinated because he thought that Biff was going to change his lifestyle and do what he never could; that is be successful.
When Happy and Biff get home their mother, Linda asks them “Don’t you care whether he lives or dies?” (Miller 97) after they told her that they were with two girls. Biff almost immediately snaps back starting an argument with Linda yelling “Get Out of Here! Get Out of my sight!”, Biff yelling “I wanna see the Boss”, and it ending with Linda saying “ You’re not going near him!”
While all of this is happening inside, a distraught Willy is outside organizing vegetables while talking to the hallucination of Ben about committing suicide so that his family will have money. Ben and Willy go back and forth about whether the insurance company will honor policy because it is so large, $20, 000, and his death would from suicide. However, Willy was always looking to make money and successful but this time he realized that if he died his family would get the money and they would still achieve the American Dream.
Right before Willy kills himself, he and Biff have one last spat as Will. Even though he is giving up his life for his family and their future Willy can still not let his pride down and must argue.
While Willy was a villain in a lot of aspects towards his family, especially Biff, he was also a tragic hero because he suffered so much and committed suicide so his family could prosper.
In conclusion, the fact that much of the play’s action takes place in Willy’s home is a reflection of the struggles Willy Loman endured pursuing hie version of the American dream of success by being popular and good looking instead of through hard work and determination. When Willy and Lind purchase their house in the Brooklyn neighborhood it was an oasis from the high paced speed of New York City. Buying this house reflected Willy’s it was as if all of their dreams were coming true. Their neighborhood had room to grow, space for a garden and his children could grow up to be All-American successes.
The reality now however, is that their neighborhood is overpopulated, loud and polluted. Their house is surrounded by tall apartment buildings that block even the smallest mount of sunshine from lighting their windows. Even though his house almost paid for in full, the metamorphosis of their oasis into a horrible place to live is a reflection of Willy’s realization is that he will never experience the fame and fortune promised by the American Dream.
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