Willy Loman is an aging salesman in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. He is married to his wife Linda, with Biff and Happy being his two sons. In the play, Willy tries to accomplish the American dream, but is only concerned about his past success which make him oversee the tragic position he is in and that his life and actions are a complete failure. This leads to the three major themes within the play; denial, contradiction and unhappiness. In the play, each individual of the Loman family lives in denial, whether about their position in real life, or to their relational conflicts. For example Willy Loman was denying the painful reality of his recent failure as a salesman because he was not capable of accepting the abominable position he was in and changing his critically wrong thinking about the honor and fame he pretended to have.
The worst factor is that he only thought back to his previous success in his career which caused him to deny the reality that he has not achieved anything of real value, such as his obsession with a dream to become rich, famous and happy, which resulted in losing touch with reality and with himself. An example of this is when Charley, the Loman’s neighbor and Willy’s best friend, offered the old salesman a job when he got fired, but Willy’s egotism and self-importance got in the way, however, and he couldn’t bring himself to work for Charley, since this would be admitting failure. His sons Biff and Happy also adopted, to some degree, their father’s habit of denying and manipulating reality, which they displayed many times in their lives, until they also, ended up corrupting part of their lives and their minds. The one exception of this tendency was Linda who saw the reality and knew that things were going wrong and that her husband would soon be corrupted.
Even though she could see the end coming, she kept the reality to herself and went along with Willy’s fantasies and even encouraged him in them, in order to prevent disagreement and unwanted conflicts. Another major theme in this play is that Willy was constantly confronted with contradictions. Since Biff works on a farm in Texas, Willy interprets Biff’s instability as a sign of laziness and lack of character. At the beginning of one conversation, Willy called Biff a “lazy bum” (Miller, 16), but contradicts himself later and described Biff as a ‘hard worker’ (16). When Biff still attended high school and was about to fail his math course, that he desperately needed to graduate, Willy tried to shrug it off by telling his son that personality and being well-liked is more important than scholastic achievements. Another time, Willy found out that Biff stole a football from the high school, but Willy simply gave it no importance and said, “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative” (30).
Another contradiction is when he tells Linda at the beginning of a conversation that his Chevrolet was the best car ever built, and then moments later he contradicted himself, saying, “they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car!” (36). As the play continues, Willy disassociates himself more and more from the present and his flashbacks increase as his problems become too numerous to deal with. The third major theme of the play is unhappiness. This was the result from all the problems Willy had gotten himself in due to his thoughtlessness. Willy failed to realize his betrayal of his own soul and family because he was too occupied with his sales profession and because of this became unresponsive to the changes that were happening. A major problem was that he told many lies to create illusions to others, including to his family, to make him appear as a well-liked and successful man.
An example is when he brags about having friends all over the East Coast, saying, “I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own” (31). Another problem that led to bad memory flashbacks and unhappiness is when Willy gave away Linda’s new stockings to the prostitute woman in their Boston hotel room. Stockings were expensive at that time and by giving them away to the woman as a present, Willy not only felt pride, but also resembled being a financially successful man. Unfortunately the reality and the acknowledgement of the opposite outcomes, including being in debt, forgotten among other business men, and cheating on his wife, led to the fact that he became a failure despite his attempts in his lifetime. This led to dramatic unhappiness and frustration with his own life, so that he ended up killing himself hoping that the insurance would pay the rest of the family 20,000 dollars and that at least Biff could fulfill the American dream.
Everybody in the Lomans familiy could have prevented this miserable ending of Willy’s life but nobody helped to see the mistakes that Willy did and no one tried to hold him back from his plans and illusions. Linda played along nicely with his lies and told him what he wanted to hear, out of compassion to him. On the other hand, the boys try to make their dad happy and follow his desires for them, without being certain that they like his ideas, and last but not least, Willy himself could have prevented such a tragic ending by accepting the job he got offered and accepting that he is just an ordinary American citizen. Summing up, the play ‘Death of a Salesman’ shows the final demise of Willy Loman, a sixty-three-year-old salesman in the America in the 1940’s who has deluded himself all his life about being a big success in the business world and achieving the American dream.