Death of a Salesman, written in 1949 by American playwright Arthur Miller, illustrates the destructive compulsion of a man to attain a success far beyond his reach. This is accomplished through the portrayal of Willy Loman, the play’s central character. Willy Loman is a pathetic character because he does not hold any possibility of victory. Unrealistic dreams which are the product of a refusal to honestly acknowledge his abilities deter any triumph that Willy may have the ability to achieve. Throughout the play Willy Loman surrounds himself with an obvious air of insecurity and confusion. His lack of confidence and uncertainty in what he wants are qualities which prevent him from achieving his dream. Willy shows this weakness while observing himself in a mirror. He focuses completely on what he deems as negative qualities in his personality and physical appearance. In talking with his brother he reveals his insecurity by mentioning that he “feels kind of temporary” (pg. 51).
Although Willy has chosen to pursue success as a salesman he demonstrates confusion by continually contradicting that choice. Willy resents the advancements, such as the loss of fresh air and fertile land, increased population and, most significantly, the competition which have been created by the very business community he has opted to be a member of. It is impractical to assume that Willy Loman can be victorious in a career that he does not seem comfortable in or completely dedicated to. His attempts make him pathetic because they are at the expense of confidence that he may receive from another field of work. Willy Loman’s false pride is another factor that contributes to his pursuit of a prosperity which is unobtainable to him as a salesman.
This attribute is apparent in him when his mind journeys back to the day he turned down his brother’s offer to battle for riches in the Alaskan timberlands. Willy’s most enthusiastic moments in the play come in directing the rebuilding of the front stoop, teaching his sons to polish the car and in talking with Charley of the ceiling he put up in the living-room. These instances make it obvious that his true talents and joys lie in working with his hands. He is unable to go with his brother and put his skills to use because he has given his family the impression that he is greatly excelling in his career. He is unable to leave behind such great success as a salesman for uncertainty in the woods without admitting his true position and suffering the humiliation of his lies.
Willy is ready to avoid that embarrassment at the cost of happiness so that his family’s praise for him may continue to remain active. Willy’s false sense of pride also compels him to repeatedly refuse accepting the job offered to him by Charley, his best friend and neighbor. Although he needs the money, Willy finds himself incapable of working for someone who is the success he himself only pretends to be. It is also that same false pride which brings him to degrade himself by borrowing money from Charley so that he can keep his stature intact with his family. What Willy Loman views as pride is, in reality, his self-deprivation. By ignoring what he is best fitted to do Willy does not allow himself happiness or the opportunity for triumph.
This makes him a pathetic character.V Willy Loman cannot be victorious in achieving success because he does not have the aptitude to be a salesman or the capacity to be a good father. His jokes and much too talkative nature demonstrate his inability to do his job productively. His exaggerated claims of past profit and deals made with Howard’s father are not able to get him a position in New York because he has long been insignificant to the Wagner Company. He was placed on commission like an inexperienced newcomer to the industry on account of interference in his job productivity: “You didn’t crack up again, did you?” (pg. 79). Willy is unable to keep his business obligations. He displays this irresponsibility when he fails to make a sales trip to Boston and, as a result, he is fired. Since his own father was not present throughout his life to act as an example, Willy Loman seeks guidance from his brother, who pays little interest to him or his wife and children, on how he should parent.
Willy, in choosing one son over the other, makes his greatest mistake as a father. He ignores Happy, his younger son, in favor of the athletic Biff. The consequence of this type of parenting is the inheritance, by Happy, of the same desperate need for recognition that Willy possesses. Willy has failed Happy because his son is now obsessed with losing weight, is a proficient liar, and lacks respect for others. Most importantly, as showcased in the restaurant scene, Willy’s parenting has left Happy easily able reject him as his father when it is convenient for him: “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy” (pg. 115). Willy shows that he is emotionally immature by allowing a football game to become much more important than his son’s studies. This leads Biff to ignore his education and trivialize his future. Willy places great expectations upon Biff by way of always insisting that his eldest son will succeed. He does not allow his son to be anything other than what he wishes because he is attempting to live success through him.
He shows disregard for Biff and reveals a selfish nature in not supporting the career paths that his son has chosen in the past. At the discovery of his infidelity, Willy does not try to show his son affection and help his son come to terms with the extramarital affair, instead, he never speaks of it again and leaves his son with the painful secret. Throughout the play Willy Loman does not obtain the skills required to be a successful salesman or father. Pathetically, he does not realize the limits of his capabilities and is, therefore, unable to assess realistic possibilities of victory. Victory for Willy Loman is overshadowed by his distorted view of how to attain success. Willy and you’ll believes that you must “start big end big” (pg. 64). He does not seem to understand that, before a person is able to climb their way to the top, they must first create the rungs on the ladder which reaches to success and that this must be done through gaining working experience from the bottom. Willy proceeds through the play trying to sell himself and his image much more than the products he is peddling because of the ideology that they are his key to success.
“Be liked and you will never want,” Willy advises his sons; and his famous distinction between being “liked” and being “well liked” seems to rest on whether or not the liking can be exploited for practical ends. Be liked and youll never want, however, Willys funeral is very lonely. Suicide is Willy’s final attempt at gaining success. He clings to the idea that if his son is successful then he, in return, is also a success. The money from his $20,000 life insurance plan would allow Biff the ability to finally be as great as Willy has expected him to be. He holds the belief that his son will “worship (him) for it” (pg. 135) because the possibility of true success will come into existence. Willy, shows irresponsibility in bypassing all thought of the trauma and hurt his family may experience as a result of his suicide. Willy’s illogical definition of success causes him to wander through life trying to achieve the impossible. This makes him a pathetic character because there is never any chance for him to rise above and become victorious. In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller gives his readers the opportunity to delve into the mind of Willy Loman and come away with an evaluation of their own definitions of success and victory or the destruction that they may cause.
For Willy, it is the refusal to honestly evaluate his abilities and limitations that makes him a pathetic character by stripping away any possibility of success. Perhaps others can use Willy’s example to avoid the unhappiness that he experienced throughout his life