Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The American Dream
Willy believes wholeheartedly in what he considers the promise of the American Dream—that a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business will indubitably and deservedly acquire the material comforts offered by modern American life. Oddly, his fixation with the superficial qualities of attractiveness and likeability is at odds with a more gritty, more rewarding understanding of the American Dream that identifies hard work without complaint as the key to success. Willy’s interpretation of likeability is superficial—he childishly dislikes Bernard because he considers Bernard a nerd. Willy’s blind faith in his stunted version of the American Dream leads to his rapid psychological decline when he is unable to accept the disparity between the Dream and his own life.
Willy’s life charts a course from one abandonment to the next, leaving him in greater despair each time. Willy’s father leaves him and Ben when Willy is very young, leaving Willy neither a tangible (money) nor an intangible (history) legacy. Ben eventually departs for Alaska, leaving Willy to lose himself in a warped vision of the American Dream. Likely a result of these early experiences, Willy develops a fear of abandonment, which makes him want his family to conform to the American Dream. His efforts to raise perfect sons, however, reflect his inability to understand reality. The young Biff, whom Willy considers the embodiment of promise, drops Willy and Willy’s zealous ambitions for him when he finds out about Willy’s adultery. Biff’s ongoing inability to succeed in business furthers his estrangement from Willy. When, at Frank’s Chop House, Willy finally believes that Biff is on the cusp of greatness, Biff shatters Willy’s illusions and, along with Happy, abandons the deluded, babbling Willy in the washroom.
Willy’s primary obsession throughout the play is what he considers to be Biff’s betrayal of his ambitions for him. Willy believes that he has every right to expect Biff to fulfill the promise inherent in him. When Biff walks out on Willy’s ambitions for him, Willy takes this rejection as a personal affront (he associates it with “insult” and “spite”). Willy, after all, is a salesman, and Biff’s ego-crushing rebuff ultimately reflects Willy’s inability to sell him on the American Dream—the product in which Willy himself believes most faithfully. Willy assumes that Biff’s betrayal stems from Biff’s discovery of Willy’s affair with The Woman—a betrayal of Linda’s love. Whereas Willy feels that Biff has betrayed him, Biff feels that Willy, a “phony little fake,” has betrayed him with his unending stream of ego-stroking lies.
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Death of a Salesman Essay
December 9, 1996
Willy Loman is responsible for his own downfall. Willy finds his own hero and tries to become the hero in his own existence. Willy tries to become a very successful businessman, at the start of his career he thinks that no one can tell him what to. Willy is not good with people, he is good with his hands, he is not a good salesman and he chooses the wrong career. Willy often makes up stories or changes the stories he knows because he cannot face the truth of his life that he has not accomplished as much as he has planned. Willy's downfall is his own doing which is brought about by his unrealistic dreams, his pride, his career choice and his failure to manage life's problems.
Willy, at a young age, noticed an old salesman who worked at an age of 80 and made a lot of money. The old salesman took orders from no one, he made his own orders and everyone did as the old man said. When the old salesman, Dave Singleman dies, all the buyers came to his funeral. All the people Dave ever knew came. There were thousands mourning his death. From that point, Willy Loman found an awesome dream which he followed the rest of his life. Willy became a salesman. Willy is the most unqualified salesman ever! He never sold a thing. Willy stops seeing the truth at one point of his life and he relies on his own lies to numb his pain. The pain of knowing he cannot and wont be able to become Dave Singleman. He is Willy Loman, who is good at fixing the house. He is not cut out for travelling from city to city and selling goods to people he has never met before. Willy dramatically dies living out his dream, the dream that never suited Willy Loman.
Willy does not allow people to tell him what to do. He believes that he cannot be bossed around and that he is too important to fall under anyone's authority but his own. Willy teaches Biff and Happy not to take orders from anyone. He thinks this will make Biff, Happy and himself successful, but it is in fact a major contribution to Willies failure. Willy did not become a "Big Shot" meaning he did not become important to the field of retail. Willy thought he was a "big shot" when he was not and this must have made people angry because he is not liked by many people. People have to earn their importance. They cannot just be important overnight. This lack of status contributes to his co-workers disrespect.
Willy accomplishes less when he works compared to working and staying at home. Willy fixed up his house with great skill and ease. Willy's family appreciates the things Willy does for the house and the family. They share many happy memories of him working on the house. Willy is suited at a job that requires hard labour rather than being a salesman. Biff says in the novel that Willy puts more work in the house than he ever did at work. This is not true because Willy paid off the house because of his job but in a sense it is true because Willy put his whole life into being a salesman and if he put his life into being a carpenter he probably would have accomplished much more than just paying off the house. Thus manual labour brought Willy enjoyment but he rejected it in his pursuit of the American Dream.
Willy Makes up stories or changes stories because his life so uninteresting. He is not doing anything with his life and this depresses Willy. He often says that he will take care of the problem first thing in the morning. When Willy wakes up he intentionally forgets about all his problems and goes on with his life. These problems accumulate until Willy loses control. Willy ends up killing himself because of the overwhelming amount of lingering problems.
Willy Loman thinks he is an important figure but in reality he is an ordinary person. Willy cannot take orders from anyone and this does not allow him to gain respect from others. Willy chooses the wrong career and does not accomplish much during his life because of his poor career choice. Willy Also never faces the truth and blocks out his problems until there are too numerous to handle. These four reasons show that Willy is responsible for his own downfall and ruins his and his families lives.
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