Reality and Illusions in Death of a Salesman

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There is a substantial contrast between reality and illusions. Many characters in literature find themselves struggling with the inability to establish the difference between the two, leading to a conflict with themselves along with the character’s family. This is no exception to Willy Loman, a failing salesman in New England. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a major theme and interest of conflict is Willy Loman’s quest to achieve the American Dream leading to his failure, due to the pursuit of his illusion of the American Dream and not the reality of it.
The most prominent and repetitive illusion of Willy Loman is the importance of success being dependent on popularity and having personal attractiveness. Willy has built a life around this ideology, preaching it to his family, especially his son, Biff. His belief in this theory is proven when Willy’s sons, Biff and Happy, are expressing how lonesome they were without their father. Willy promises them, Someday Ill have my own business, and Ill never have to leave my home any more Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not – liked. He’s liked, but he’s not – well liked (Miller 30).

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Amidst his preoccupation with financial survival, Willy insists he will make it big someday and have the life that he wants. Almost more important to him than successful business deals is being liked. Over the course of the play, however, it is quickly discovered that Willy is not particularly well liked at all. This is just another one of his delusions. While teaching Biff the concept of being well-liked, Willy only reinforces his belief in the ideology and furthers his sense of this false reality; similarly, Willy illustrates this delusion when Biff explains to his father that the coach continues to congratulate and comment on his industriousness, despite him stealing the football. Willy replies saying, That’s because he likes you. If anyone else took that ball, thered be an uproar (Miller 54). Willy is elevating being well liked over all virtues as he suggests that Biff can get away with thievery because of his popularity. In the end, Biff’s kleptomaniac tendencies stand in the way of his path to success.

Willy believes that his father, Dave Singleman, and Ben represent the true meaning of the American Dream. Focusing more on the wealth and materials they have, Willy fails to understand that what made them successful is the work put in. Ben says to Willy, Great inventor, Father. With one gadget he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime (Miller 49). Being a salesman like his father, Willy is under the impression that he can achieve material success such as money, luxury, wealth, and popularity without having to work for it. Willy portrays himself as a successful businessman to his family which in turn, results in his deceitfulness and distress. When Linda asks about the Chevy, Willy says it’s the greatest car ever built. As soon as Linda brings up the fact that Willy owes money for the carburetor, Willy backtracks and says, Im not going to pay that man! That goddam Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car! (Miller 36). Willy steps out of the myths he created about himself and his financial situation and quickly changes his opinion on the car, especially when the lies he told Linda are proving impossible to keep up with.

Worried about his driving in the beginning of the play, Linda tries to convince Willy to get a job in New York. They dont need me in New York, Willy tells her, Im the New England man. Im vital in New England (citation). This is what Willy has been trying to emulate his entire life. Willy’s need to feel well-liked is so strong that he often makes up lies about his popularity and success. At times, Willy even believes these lies himself, believing that he will have a spectacular funeral. Contrary to Willy believing he is important and admired in New England, Linda learns the truth during Willy’s funeral when she says, Why didnt anybody come? But where were all the people he knew? (Miller 137).

This is a pivotal moment when Linda realizes the truth about Willy’s inaccurate conclusions on his life. Willy, dear, I cant cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and I search and I cant understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And theyll be nobody home. [A sob rises in her throat] Were free and clear, (Miller 139). Linda’s refrain of “we’re free” after her comments about mortgage payments implies the linkage of freedom with economic security in Death of a Salesman. The play seems to be making a larger comment on the American system of capitalism. Willy Loman was trapped by his longing for financial gain, focusing on material things keeping him from truly being free. This is something Linda, unfortunately, is forced to realize while talking to her deceased husband’s grave.

In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Willy Loman’s quest to achieve the American Dream leads to his failure, due to the pursuit of his illusion of the American Dream and not the reality of it. In doing so, Willy Loman is deceitful towards his family about his finances and he ends being overwhelmed by the lies he told to accommodate for his belief in success. Willy clung to memories of his distant past to find hope for the future. Ironically, Willy killed himself because he thought the insurance was worth more than himself, not realizing that there was no insurance money since he hadnt paid it. Willy Loman’s perception of reality became more of a perception of his illusions.

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Reality And Illusions In Death Of A Salesman. (2019, May 31). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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