Death of a Salesman was a powerful play, written by Arthur Miller, which was produced in 1949. He establishes a serious tone towards his subject. Also, Miller sets an ambiguous attitude towards the audience.
Miller established a very serious tone about the relationship between the father, Willy, and his son, Biff. Miller feels that a father should always be loved. However, Willy has filled his son with false values, emphasizing flashy success and personal popularity, like being star quarterback for his football team, at the cost of real effort and personal integrity, like when Biff flunked his math exam. He even taught Biff to steal, without even realizing it. “Willy:…[Biff] Go right over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand…Charley: Listen, if they steal any more from that building the watchman’ll put the cops on them!…Willy: You shoulda seen the lumber they brought home last week…”(50).
As one can see, Willy is almost encouraging Biff to steal in order to make a new stoop. However, when Willy finds out Biff has been stealing other things, like the school’s football, he seems shocked. “Willy: What is he stealing?…Why is he stealing? What did I tell him? I never in my life told him anything but decent things.”(40). Because of the lack of morals, Willy had made it extremely difficult for Biff to love him, especially when he caught him with a women other than his mother. Nevertheless, he always loved his father, even when he totally ignored him. “Biff, crying, broken: Will you let me go, for Christ’s Sake?…Willy, astonished, elevated: Isn’t that-isn’t that remarkable? Biff-he liked me!…Happy, deeply moved: Always did, Pop”(133). When Biff was crying, it showed that he still loved his father, even though Willy is making it hard for him to live his own life. Happy’s quote shows that Biff always loved his father. As a result, Miller feels that no matter what circumstances, a son should always love his father.
Miller set an ambiguous tone towards his audience. The audience must chose whether they pity or scorn Willy’s actions. For example, when Willy committed suicide, one can pity him because killing himself could have been an act of love for his family. Since he saw himself as an inadequate husband and father, Willy felt that his family would be better off without him in their lives. Also, by killing himself, his family would reap the life insurance benefits from his death for his family. As a result, the audience has sympathy for Willy because he gave up his own life to benefit the lives of his family.
At the same time, the viewers have hatred for Willy. The lack of moral character was the biggest flaw and it leaked into his children, like teaching his children success and popularity over effort and integrity. Also, he lived his life a lie. He thought he was someone big and special, and was not. He angered the audience, not because he thought he was someone successful, but because he knew he was not successful. Living like a coward, he was always afraid to face the realities and problems of his family life and work, and this is how Willy disturbed the audience.
An important aspect of the story was towards the end of the play. The scene is set with Willy conversing with his son, Biff. The conversion between the father and the son was an expression of both love and hatred, two very opposite and distinct human emotions. Biff expressed his outrage with the moral character that was instilled in him by his father but, at the same time, he expressed his forgiveness by proclaiming his true love for his father. “Biff, at the peak of his fury: Pop, I’m nothing! I’m nothing, Pop.
Can’t you understand that? There’s no spite in it any more. I’m just what I am, that’s all…Biff, crying, broken: Will you let me go, for Christ’s Sake?…”(133). Biff unleashes his rage towards his father by forcing him to understand that he is who he is, not someone his father wants him to be. Also, love is shown when Biff breaks out crying for his father. At the end of this very emotional conversation, Willy feels that his life is now over. He enters his automobile and drives recklessly, taking his own life.
In conclusion, Arthur Miller stresses the important of a father and son relationship. Also, the ambiguous tone towards his audience leaves the reason for Willy’s suicide open for interpretations. Was it an act of love, or an escape from reality? It is left for the audience to decide.