Free Essay on Willy Loman Character Analysis:
“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller is a great source of beliefs, myths and mores of the US of 1940s. Characters of the play, as well as thematic issues, enhance the reader’s understanding of time. The hero of the play or better to say “anti-hero” is Willy Loman, a sixty-three year old man, who has not achieved self-realization in his life.
In this essay I will present my analysis of the main character of the play using psychological approach to the matter. I will analyze his past and his present, the development of the character and his environment, and try to discover how cultural beliefs influence the people’s value system and impact their lives.
Arthur Miller in his play “Death of a Salesman” skillfully connects the past to the present of the main hero. It is a play that reveals how important is to be the man of word, to acknowledge the responsibility, to accept the notion of causality and to understand that our present if the direct product of our actions is in the past. The play shows how the wrong turn or wrong decision, which usually comes from person’s mind and not from his heart, can destroy the whole life. Willy Loman is looking for this very moment, when his life took the wrong turn when he ruined relationships with his son, whom he deeply loved, and betrayed his wife (Abbotson, 2000).
The opening setting of the play has a very important meaning, as it presents the background of Willy Loman’s life and an attempt to explain his death. From the very beginning a faint pastoral melody played on flute starts to play, which brings recollections about Willy’s father (as he played the flute when Willy was young) and probably Willy’s dream about another life (Ardolino, 2004). It seems that Willy has always wanted another life for himself, but he hardly confessed even to himself about this. The harsh business world he had chosen to live and work in didn’t suit his nature (Bloom, 1991). It becomes obvious that for the entire life he was just trying to pay the bills and pay for the house, which taken as a life objective, becomes miserable by itself. Loman’s family lives under great social pressure- breaking home appliances, surrounding concrete constructions, which seem to almost crush their house. At the beginning of the play Willy comes home devastated that makes his wife worry about him.
WILLY. I’m tired to the death. The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb. I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
LINDA, very carefully, delicately. Where were you all day? You look terrible (Miller, 1988).
Willy Loman cannot handle life he doesn’t want to live. He struggles with the fiercest enemy – his true self, and probably loses the battle, as his mental health suffers.
Willy’s psychological portrait
Career of Willy Loman was broken. Even though he saw himself as a successful businessman, he was so much obsessed with this notion that could not see the reality. His character becomes volatile, he cannot control his mood and he is constantly lost in his thoughts. He often talks to his brother Ben who passed away. He has difficulties distinguishing reality from his world of illusions and shows signs of schizoaffective disorder with all his bipolar episodes and hallucinations. It is the way his organism fights the reality, it is a defense mechanism (Bentley, 1951).
Willy’s illusions about his personality and his sons’ lives completely distort the facts, as he fails to acknowledge his personal failures and failures of his sons. He conceives himself as a successful and respectful businessman, when still borrowing money from his neighbor Charley. But at the same time Willy refuses to accept the job offer from Charley, as does not want to realize that he is not earning money with his job as a salesman. This money borrowing makes him feel like this state of things is just temporary and not acknowledge the fact that his entire salesman career was unsuccessful. He is stuck in the past and does not want to get out of their. This can be seen in his conversation with Howard at his office: Now pay attention. Your father—in 1928 I had a big year… I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in the year of 1928! And your father came to me… it was right over this desk—and he put his hand on my shoulder… Frank, Frank, don’t you remember what you told me that time? 1928 was the peak in his career and he wants to remain in 1928 forever.
Willy has an illusion of his grandeur that makes him exaggerate his achievements and his personality. In his conversation with his son Biff he tells him “Go to Filene’s go to the Hub, go to Slattery’s, Boston. Call out the name Willy Loman and see what happens! Big shot!” (Miller, 1988)
The fact that he refuses to evaluate critically his own life, also distort Willy’s view of his family. Willy refuses to accept the fact that his sons are not successful, especially Biff. He has constant flashbacks about the times when his boys were in school, when they were successful. It happens exactly after he starts to realize that his sons have not achieved much in their lives. Will is so sadly mistaken that he even convinces his son Biff that he worked as a salesman for Oliver, despite the fact he was just a shipping clerk. They decide that Oliver still remembers such a good person and worker Biff and will lend them big money. But after Biff comes to Oliver’s office and he cannot even remember Biff, he realizes that all his life was a fake: “…what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years”(Miller, 1988). Willy’s beliefs were so strong that he made his family to believe in those.
Willy Loman has difficulties distinguishing between the past and the present and often gets lost in is own thoughts, having imaginary conversations or flashbacks. The fact that Willy might have a mental disorder becomes clear from the very beginning of the play when he tells his wife Linda about his way home. He thought that he was driving Chevy, the car he owned when his boys were still studying in the high school. His constantly diverts his attention to older better times and therefore denies his present. This denial process is absolutely subconscious (Novick, 2003).
His brother Ben had always been the symbol of wealth and luck for him. Willy sees him in his hallucinations, which are the main thing distinguishing psychosis from neurosis. His brother appears to him several times. The first time during the card play with his neighbor Charley:
Ben: Is Mother living with you?
Willy: No, she died a long time ago?
Charley: Who?… Who died?
Willy, unnerved: What do you mean, who died?
Charley: What are you talking about? (Miller, 1988)
Their conversation turns into confusion. But the most obvious indication of Willy’s mental disorder we get at the very end when Willy gets Ben’s support that he should commit the suicide.
WILLY. Carrots. . . . quarter-inch apart. Rows. . . . one-foot rows. He measures it off. One foot. He puts down a package and measures off. Beets. He puts down another package and measures again. Lettuce. He reads the package, puts it down. One foot– He breaks off as BEN appears at the right and moves slowly down to him. What a proposition, ts, ts. Terrific, terrific. ‘Cause she’s suffered, Ben, the woman has suffered. You understand me? A man can’t go out the way he came in, Ben, a man has got to add up to something. You can’t, you can’t—BEN moves toward him as though to interrupt. You gotta consider, now. Don’t answer so quick. Remember, it’s a guaranteed twenty-thousand-dollar proposition. Now look, Ben, I want you to go through the ins and outs of this thing with me. I’ve got nobody to talk to, Ben, and the woman has suffered, you hear me?
BEN, standing still, considering. What’s the proposition?
WILLY. It’s twenty thousand dollars on the barrelhead. Guaranteed, gilt-edged, you understand? (Miller, 1988)
Willy Loman thinks that all he and his family need in life is money and recognition. He believes that so deeply that he decides to makes their life easier by committing suicide so that they received the money from insurance. He has gone so far in his illusions that he sees no way out. Willy is not a bad person, as he is truly loved by those who are near him, regardless he is a adulterer and braggart. It is through love of those people, we can see his better side and feel sympathy to him. Willy loves his family very much and decides to sacrifice his own life for them (Bloom, 1991).
Willy does not realize how tragic the whole situation is and he is not even trying to understand. He idealizes the death of another salesman Dave Singleman, who died on the train still trying to make some deal. Willy envied the kind of funeral he had with a crowd of people who came from many states. He wanted to be as popular as Dave was. Envy the dead man, what can be more ridiculous and pathetic? Willy worked his entire life to be recognized as a successful businessman, but ends with borrowing money from his neighbor (Novick, 2003).
Willy has always exaggerated his ability to earn money. Even though he earned enough in the past, he could not follow new standards of work, efficiency and productivity. He still believed that people would buy from him because he is such a good person. He was too self-centered and thought that the whole world revolves around him. If the whole world is his family, it really does, as Willy’s sons adored and idealized his father as children. After they grown up their picture of the world began to ruin (Murphey and Abbotson, 1999).
Illusions, dreams and self-deceptions are central in this play. Willy Loman lived in the world of illusions he created not only for himself, but also for his family. His career was a complete failure, even though he still considered himself a successful salesman. His inability to do what he really wants to do in life, desire to be someone he is not, finally makes him a person schizoaffective disorder. It is a defense mechanism of his body. He has constant hallucinations and abrupt mood changes. He is stuck in his past when he was successful, when his sons were successful and his family was happy. He wants his family to be happy and he commits the suicide to make their lives easier.
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