A controversy engulfs Arthur Millers play, Death of a Salesman. Was Willy a victim of modern American society, or did he simply lack the morals and ethics to achieve success and happiness? Willy Loman is a victim of the American capitalistic machine, as evidenced through his frequently ambivalent attitudes concerning the importance place on pride and being well liked, as well as the self delusion he displays in his affair and many other aspects of life. One of the many false, contrived attitudes contemporary America instills in its citizens is a very fierce pride, in which they cannot accept criticism and are blind to reality.
Willy Loman took such a pride in his work, claiming himself to be vital in New England (Miller 14), and concurrently viewed himself as a failure. Although Willy was wonderful with his hands (Miller 138), he saw any profession in carpentry or construction as an inadequate measure of success, although he was aware that he took pleasure in putting up a ceiling or repairing a porch. As a traveling salesman, the ultimate symbol of an American occupation and one he so revered, Willy also saw himself as a failure. But I gotta be at it ten, twelve hours a day.
Other men I dont know do it easier. I dont know why I cant stop myself I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words Im fat. Im very foolish to look at (Miller 37). Even after being fired by Howard Wagner, Willy was too proud to accept a job offer from his neighbor and good friend, Charley. Willy failed in selling because he couldnt succeed living life by a false standard of making money by lying and cheating, despite the pride he sporadically took in it. The business world places great emphasis on being well liked.
Willy assumed these business values as his own, maintaining that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked (Miller 86) and coincidentally acknowledged that his colleagues had little respect for him and ridiculed him when he attempted to make a sale. He equated having success in life with earning money and keeping up appearances, rather than the greater value of love that he received from his family, which resulted in him teaching this to his sons, Happy and Biff, which consequently resulted in their unhappiness and failure.
Denial, in more recent years, has been considered a justifiable means of avoiding an uncomfortable situation. This very thing played a large role in Willy Lomans lifestyle. Years after having an affair during his marriage to Linda, Willy denied to himself that he took part in this betrayal, in spite of the fact that it was one of the main things contributing to his delusions. He felt relentless guilt over the affair, but continually tried to ignore it and push it to the back of his mind.
He realized the severity of what he had committed when Biff, as a young man, caught him in a hotel with his mistress. Willy suggested that when Biff grew up, he would understand what had transpired and rationalized that you mustnt overemphasize a thing like this (Miller 120). This, combined with Willys seeming disrespect for Linda, proved to leave an impression on his sons. Willy left the same legacy to Happy, who continued to treat women in the similar manner.
Although Willy was extremely remorseful for his adultery and truly loved Linda, he was never able to admit this and make it blatantly clear. Parents in the nineteenth century have continuously been pressured to encourage their children to succeed in life. Willy Loman evidently felt confused as to whether it was necessary to push his sons, particularly Biff, into the business world to ensure their success in life, or to encourage them to do just what they felt impassioned to do. While discussing their son with Linda, Willy, within a few lines of the play, said both Biff is a lazy bum!
Miller 16) and Theres one thing about Biffhes not lazy (Miller 16). He knew that, while not succeeding in the business world, Biff still had potential to succeed in what he truly wanted to achieve. As Elia Kazan once said, Willy is one vast contradiction, and this contradiction is his downfall (1). His frequent ambivalent attitudes on pride, being well liked, success and his affair contribute to this contradiction, and portray Willy Loman as a victim of little more than a capitalistic paradigm.