Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a play best summed up in its title, it is just that, the death of a salesman. This death is not necessarily the physical end to a human life, but the crumbling end to the dreams of Willie Loman, the play’s main character.
The three main parts to Willie’s world are his job, his family, and his image as seen by the rest of the world. Although these parts are interwoven and interrelated, they are best divided and given separate analysis.
The first part of Willie’s world is his job. Willie is a salesman for a large company in New York. Willie’s self-image and much of his self-worth are based in his job. In his own mind he is still as he used to be, well known and well respected among the clientele in the New England area. Things have changed though and the people Willie once knew in the business are no longer there and he no longer has the connections he once had. His inability to cope with and adapt to this changing business has caused, among other things, a loss in pay. Willie has lost his competitive edge, and with it his feeling of self worth and identity.
The second part of Willie’s world is his family, more specifically his son, Biff. Biff is the firstborn and favorite son of Willie. Willie has high expectations of, and transfers his dreams, as so many fathers do, onto Biff. Biff can not live up to the expectations of his father and has dreams of his own which cause Willie to see him as a loafer, a shiftless bum with no desire to succeed. Although Willie’s dreams are not realized in Biff, his son’s respect is still important. This respect is lost when Biff catches his father in an affair with a young lady. Even though this is not talked about (Biff never told anyone, not even his mother) it still creates tension and causes Biff to lose the respect he once held for Willie.
Willie’s main philosophy in life is “Be liked and you will never want” and this is the cause of the problems in the third part of Willie’s life, his image. Image is everything to Willie. In his past he was a well liked, well known, respected man who turned his image into his success, but his image has changed. He is no longer well known and so he makes less sales and less money. His loss in pay has caused him to borrow money just to support his family. The constant borrowing of money is a source of great tension for Willie, he is no longer self-sufficient and feels he is nothing.
The compounding of Willie’s problems, the loss of his self-respect, and the loss of respect from others cause Willie to go mad. He sinks into a manic/depressive state and loses touch with reality. He has no dream and no will to live causing him to entertain thoughts of suicide. In the end it is the love for his son and the belief that his insurance money will make Biff “magnificent” that give him the needed excuse and cause him to end his life.
A man’s life is his world and this world is expressed through his dreams and desires. Death of a Salesman is the loss and destruction of one man’s dreams. The effects of this loss and destruction are utter madness that eventually lead to suicide. This dramatic work has a moral that should not soon be forgotten: When a man loses his dreams he loses everything and a life without dreams is a dull and empty void.