Willy Loman is an insecure and dissatisfied individual, unsuccessful in his life and governed by his craving for attention and approval. Throughout the play, Willy is defined by the delusions of grandeur he experiences, and the unrealistically high image he has of his own importance. Willy’s dissatisfaction with life is a result of his failure in his job as a salesman, his inability to meet the high ideals he has set for himself, the failure of both his sons in establishing a settled life, and also a constant flow of guilt that has arisen from the extra-marital affair he was engaged in at a point in his life.  Willy tends to dwell on past glories, and tries to sugar-coat the harsh realities of his life with his own imaginations and fantasies. However, his troubles soon become too burdensome to handle, resulting in a breakdown of desperation, hallucinations and even suicidal thoughts.

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Willy also more than often seems to contradict his own statements. For instance, he describes his Chevy as the “the greatest car ever built”, and moments later contradicts his own words by saying that the manufacturing of Chevrolet should be prohibited. He also calls his son Biff a ‘lazy bum’ but later states that Biff is anything but lazy. His behaviors towards a person also change by every minute because he is unable to differentiate the past from the present. His thoughts, emotions, behaviors are all developed though his interactions with the people around. However, he tends to mix up his present-time conversations with conversations from the past and treat both as happening at the same time.

A major cause of Willy’s dissatisfaction in life is his excessive faith in the American Dream. To Willy, the American Dream is the ability to become prosperous by mere charisma, or by being “well-liked”. He is extremely concerned about having an impression on people, and believes that it is the only way to achieve success. Willy poses too much trust in the idea of “freedom of opportunity” and the idea that every individual is entitled to success if he is popular. He thus tries to instill the same idea in Biff and Happy right from their childhood, and is confident that Biff will do well in life merely because he is admired by his peers. “A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!”

Pursuit of Happiness in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Willy’s serious need for social approval and his craving to be well-liked is manifested by his extra-marital affair with the Woman. Willy depends on her to fulfill his need for approval, and to tend to his fragile ego. She compliments him, and tells him that she picked him. “Because you’re so sweet.  And such a kidder.” Willy is flattered by her praise, and he uses it to validate himself and to feel appreciated, liked.

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Willy often refers to his older brother Ben, and idolizes him because of the fact that he owns diamond mines in Africa. One of his biggest regrets is not going to Alaska with Ben, and he attributes his failure to this decision. However Ben’s success is almost completely due to luck, which Willy fails to realize. Most of Willy’s hallucinations involve Ben, in which he has elaborate conversations with him, and Willy’s suicidal tendencies are reflected in these. He unconsciously justifies these tendencies, eventually convincing himself that he is of more worth dead than alive and causing him to take his own life. He is also greatly insecure and jealous of his neighbor Charley because he is a successful salesman, while he, on the other hand, is forced to work with a company where he is no longer appreciated. Willy realizes that he is no longer taken seriously by people, and expresses this realization to Linda as he says, “You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me. “ He relates his failure in making an impact on people to his way of dressing and appearance.

Death of a Salesman: Symbols

Thus, despite his efforts to be a successful person, Willy’s façade, his contradictory behavior, his insecurity soon gets the better of him, and he ends up perceiving himself as a complete failure.  

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