In “Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Miller presents a wide range of themes throughout its story. Themes such as the “American Dream” are shown in various ways through the lens of the characters such as Willy Loman that reveal the problems of trying too hard to achieve this dream only to be frustrated by failures that come along the way. Family is also a present theme in this story as it is the tragedy of a family that could not accept the changing times. Willy Loman, while trying to materialize his American dream, loses his senses. He knows that he has lost touch with the modern market. Therefore, he depends on his sons to realize his dreams, but both fail as Biff is lost in life with no big aspirations, while Happy does not seem to dream for anything ambitious himself. “Death of a Salesman” shows the reader of the tragedy of living in a fantasy world for too long and figuratively dying in the real world.
To begin, a frequent theme utilized in “Death of a Salesman” is the “American Dream” which was glorified in the 1950s. Willy Loman is a tragic example of failing to live the “American Dream”. Everyone around him in his life succeeded in some shape or form as his older brother Ben became wealthy by finding diamonds in Africa, his hero Dave Singleman became a wealthy salesman that everyone admired after his death, and his boss Howard Wagner inherited his father’s dream which was the business he built on from the ground up. Willy Loman, on the other hand, had failed to become a well-known salesman and even failed to make his sons accomplish his failed dreams. All Willy Loman had in life to talk about was other people’s successes while he had to boast about as he failed to succeed in anything.
Moreover, his failures are caused by his own decisions he had made. Willy Loman is a person that could not wake up from his dreams of being successful as he failed to make his dreams come true in the real world. One reason that Willy could not continue to be an active salesman is not due to weariness, age, or people he once knew retiring or dying, but rather he was unable to remain mentally present in the real world. Throughout the play, he slips from reality and enters his fantasy world, where he is living through a past event of his life while still talking to people in the present moment. A small glimpse of this occurs at the beginning of the story when Willy talks about opening the windshield on his car to his wife Linda. When Linda mentions the windshield, Willy corrects her by saying ‘the windshields don’t open on the new cars’—and realizes that he was ‘thinking of the Chevy’ that he had in 1928. But it is more than thinking of it: ‘I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevy today.’ (19 Miller). It is normal to recollect the past, but Willy uncontrollably relives it. Regardless of whether to consider these occasions fantasies or dreams, they are a critical piece of the play. These dreams always occur when Willy is dealing with a crisis, especially when it is an issue about his older brother Ben and his son Biff. So this shows that not only does his actions affect himself, it affects his family also as shown various times throughout the play.
In addition to the theme of dreams, another recurring theme that plays out is family. Willy’s family is a tragic failure on its right as everyone suffered in different ways. Linda is Willy’s loving wife. She is blindly loyal to her husband which enables him to carry out his fantasies and lies. Linda is never able to see the bigger picture of Willy’s issue and never thought to question him on it. This blind loyalty led her to be oblivious to the fact that Willy was not doing financially well and that he had an affair with a mistress during his business trips. She even believed in the “American Dream” like Willy does as she believed that anyone could be successful and gain happiness from material objects. In contrast to Willy, she acknowledged that their son Biff was failing math class and had a habit of profusely stealing things that are not his. But at the end of “Death of a Salesman”, Linda’s blind fidelity to Willy made it hard for her to understand why he committed suicide and why only his family had shown up to his funeral. Linda had even left an ironic statement at the end by which she says ‘we’re free’ just to remind the reader how oblivious she is (112 Miller). Linda failed to realize how tragic her life was around Willy.
Out of everyone that suffered more than Willy himself, Biff was the worst victim of his actions. Biff Loman in his prime was the hotshot high school football player that was described to be strong, good looking, and in Willy’s words “Well Liked” amongst his peers. Willy. However, like his father, he too was a flawed person in his regard. He had anger issues and lacked putting in hard work academically which led him to fail math as a senior. Of course, this was the result of Willy’s poor parenting skills as he enabled him to get away with any misdemeanors he caused and never motivated him to succeed academically. Due to him not passing math, Biff was unable to graduate and therefore couldn’t do college football. Even though he failed math, he still had a chance to redeem himself through summer school. However, once again Willy’s actions made things even worse as around the same time, Biff caught him cheating on his mom with the mistress and unfortunately took made him lose it. Biff decided to give up on summer school and more importantly his chances of becoming a football player. From that point on, Biff’s life took a major downturn.
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