Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a play starts with flute playing in the background following the main character and his journey into the unknown. It that takes place in two settings, New York, and Boston, the play is centered around an elderly man Willy Loman and his somewhat distant family his wife Linda and their two sons, Biff and Happy, occupying in the depth of his mind. Both Willy and Linda worry about their eldest son Biff and his future in society now that he is thirty-four years old and still making less than “thirty-five dollars a week!” When Willy gets fired, he begins to unravel back into his memories of the yesteryears, and how simple life was without all the hassle of societal norms and children that are too lazy to get a real man’s job. Getting fired is extremely difficult for Willy because, before losing his job, he had trouble remembering events, and focusing on what is in the present and not the past.
Throughout the story, there are many references to the past, the beauty of nature and religion, all of which help further Willy’s outcome. As Willy gradually starts freefalling into his memories, the more delusional he becomes and the deeper he goes. He pushes the real world out of his head and enters a world created purely for his financial success and his visions. While in his memories, Willy remembers his brother Ben, and his job offer in Alaska. While thinking of the answer he gave to his brother, his memory automatically shifts from Ben to Biff’s last big football game and how pointless it was to be there. Willy’s constant shifting in and out of the past worsens as the play goes on and his life becomes disorganized to the point of him never returning from a world reconstructed by events of his memories.
The play ends just like it began with a flute playing in the background and a family still grieving from their loss heading into the unknown. Through the use of vivid imagery and illusions, Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, suggests that the issues of one’s identity and acceptance in society play a huge role in understanding how to escape a world full of difficult challenges through illusions and ultimately, death. The use of vivid imagery of nature and the environment depicted in the play shows the downfall of the Loman family, showing their lack of growth as a family and individually played to their true intentions. At the beginning of the play, the narrator described Willy’s environment with a mystical vibe, “an air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality” (1709) as if it created itself just to be altered by the viewpoints of man. This foreshadows what is to come, just like Willy’s mind frequently creating things and re-shaping his memory, so is his environment.
While in his home, talking to his wife, they look out the window to the land next door with great envy and longlines. As they continue to stare out the window, it is revealed that streets are lined with cars and the air has been polluted by industrialization. “The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood” (1712). This quote can be compared to Willy’s mental state because to him it might look neat, and reliable, but to others, it is just like those streets occupied with endless cars and polluted by his greed for something more. Another element of nature that is used is the flowers that once grew where they lived. “This time of year it was lilac and wisteria. And then the peonies would come out, and the daffodils. What fragrance in this room!” (1713). The flowers represent the untouched land that prospered with the changing seasons.
They also represent the past before Biff and Happy outgrew their father’s wishes and mental disappearance. Willy tries to mask his disappointment with the fragrance of a hardworking man too involved in his work and dreams to notice his family falling apart. In turn, his family hides their true feelings from him too through the fragrance of societal norms and values. Their emotions of how they feel about Willy constantly changing just like the flowers is a depiction of a flawed family. Dreams or illusions are often used to escape one’s situation and alter them into something else, while illusions help one to gain knowledge and independence, it can also bring a feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness. Every member of the Loman family, except for Linda is living in a world of pure fantasy based on good times and individual prosperity.
It seems like they take their fantasy world more seriously and use reality as a bypass lane for their next ‘grand’ adventures. Willy Loman dreams of being successful, he is incapable of accepting the title of a salesman and greatly exaggerates his actual wealth in society. “They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England” (1711). Willy thrives for the better version of himself and that can only be found in the biggest dream of all, the American Dream. “Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it” (1712). This quote also shows the vision of perfection created by those seeking the American Dream, once you acquire it, no one can touch it. He will defy the odds against him, in reality, to achieve it in his fantasy. Linda Loman too engrossed in her family’s life she does not even have time to create her world.
“Most often jovial, she has developed an iron repression of her exception to Willy’s behavior” (1710). She acknowledges Willy’s mental state of retreating to his memories, but she does not consider the possibilities of how it will affect him and her family physically. Throughout the entire play, there are many instances of dreams and illusions, but most come from Willy had how he judges his life based on the materials for wealth and success. Willy’s ideology of hard work increasing one’s societal role is heavily rooted in his family.
A major force acting upon Willy’s dreams of prosperity is his constant fear of failure and questioning how to leave his mark in society. There are multiple times in the play where Willy succumbs to his fears and they get in the way of his success. We see his fear progress as he entangles himself even more in his web of lies. His refusal to come to terms with “old” habits and creating a “new” him that regularly needs affirmation deceives his realistic beliefs. Willy never found his rightful place in the business world, let alone society, that is his ultimate failure. “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong” (1775). It is at the end of Act II of the play that Willy’s son Biff comes to realize that his father never understood what the American Dream truly was or how to achieve it to better his family.
The Loman house is a symbol of the American Dream dying in this play. From the very beginning of the play, Willy’s world was confined to his house. Even though its description is poor and seemed to lack importance, it was always there for him to return to after long exhausting days. It is the only thing that never changed physically and mentally for Willy. As the play continues, mainly the outside world and other buildings are described, it is finally mentioned at the end of the play through Linda. “I can’t cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and search, and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home” (1755).
Right after this, one finally realizes the tragedy that took place within the Loman household. Not only is this said, but the audience starts to see Linda’s emotions and experience its rawness. The whole passage of Linda without Willy, they become aware of reality physically and mentally. This is symbolic because when she mentioned paying off the house, the Loman family was freed from the strings of Willy’s illusions. This also means their imprisonment to reality and that their lives and minds will never be the same. While reality encourages them to pursue success, it disintegrates their dreams. This play embodies the message of people constantly battling their unwanted realities with their illusions. When Willy succeeds in projecting his illusions onto his family, they were all prone to deception and lies that trapped them in a place not bounded and easily corruptible.
Willy’s lack of reality became their reality causing them to fall away from society. It was not until Willy’s death that they understood the dangers illusions could create, and the struggle they all took to escape it. Once they realize this, everything starts to fall into place, creating a feeling of peace and uncertainty. The numerous imageries and illusions help the audience better understand the play as it moves in and out of both the present and reality. It shines a light on how far one will go to achieve their dreams no matter what, Willy’s family finds their freedom through his death and they chase after their realities.
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