In the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the main character Willy Loman is a man in his 60’s. He is dressed in a drab coloured, ill-fitting suit. Willy shows early signs of dementia, as he spends much of the play having flashbacks or incorporating the past into present day situations. Through this the viewer learns much about Willy and his past. We learn that Willy is a salesman, who has had only minor success. Willy blames this on the fact that he is not well liked. This is due to the fact that Willy believes that a person must be popular in order to be successful. In the beginning of the play Willy has had a car accident as a result of the long distances he drives in order to sell the companies merchandise. His wife Linda wants him to ask his boss if he can work only in New York instead of having to travel so far. We then see Willy in a flashback with his two sons Biff and Happy. In the flashback he appears to be happy and affectionate with his sons, who seem to return the affection.
In the flashback we learn that Willy was not that successful at being a salesman due to what he believes is him not being well liked. He believes that Biff could be a successful salesman because he is a popular high school football player and tries to get him to follow in his footsteps. In fact, when the neighbour’s son Bernard comes over to get Biff to study for his math final. Willy dismisses Biff’s need to study saying essentially that Biff did not need to be smart because he was popular. This would result in Biff failing his math test later and would inadvertently lead to a series of events that would result in the temporary loss of Biff’s “American Dream” The key turning point seems to be when Biff discovers that Willy is having an affair. Biff then separates himself from Willy. Biff goes out West, where it appears that he was not very successful. The second key turning point was when Willy chose to stay with Linda and his sons over going to Alaska with his brother Ben. He would later regret not taking the risk when Ben became rich from finding a diamond mine in Africa. This along with the affair could also be seen as the two morally low points in Willy’s life. On the other hand, many would see Willy choosing to stay with his family as being a moral high point because he chose to do the stable and non-risky thing and provide for his family is a simple way rather than leaving or taking them into a situation that may have turned out badly.
The degree in which Willy was responsible for the tragedy depends on what one sees as a tragedy and what one sees as Willy’s culpability in the situation. Biff failing math and not going to summer school may have been instigated by Willy encouraging him to blow off his studies and Biff discovering that Willy was having an affair. One cannot lay the blame totally on Willy because while he may have been the catalyst Biff made that decision not to study or go to summer school. Willy is kind of responsible for his family not being wealthy. He turned down an opportunity to go to Alaska with his brother a decision that would eventually cost him. Had he gone with Ben he could have been rich from finding a diamond mine in Africa. Although in a way one can understand him not taking the risk and going to Alaska. Finally, Willy is responsible for his own death. I see this as a tragedy because Willy felt that the only way for him to make up for the fact that his past actions contributed to Biff’s failure in life was to commit suicide. In order that Biff would get an inheritance that would allow him to achieve the “American Dream”
There are many things I would have done differently. The first being, I would have gone to Alaska. This is because if I did not I would have spent my life wondering what could have been different. I would have figured that I would either take my family with. Then if I found Alaska to be inhospitable we could always have returned, or I would have just gone myself and sent for my family when the time was appropriate. Either way I would have taken the risk. I would have also quit the salesman job a long time before. This is because Willy admits that he is not well liked, therefore he is not very good at it. This makes it sound as though it is a job that he feels he is stuck at rather than a job he enjoys doing. I would have quit and tried to find something that made me happy and if I failed then I would hope to go back.
I do not think that fate or chance had anything to do with any of the events in the play. Everything that happened was a result of a choice. Willy chose not to go to Alaska, he chose to continue on as a salesman even though he was not very good at it, he also chose to have an affair, and later he chose to commit suicide. So as you can see fate or chance had nothing to do with it. I think Miller was showing us how making the wrong decisions even for the right reasons can have a profound effect on our lives. Realistically if Willy had gone to Alaska with Ben, he would have most likely made money from the diamond mine. If Biff would have studied for the math test he would not have failed. Therefore, he would have been able to attend college. This is perhaps the one time I can see fate kind of playing a role. Biff’s failing math was what led him to discovering Willy’s affair. This in turn caused Biff not to go to summer school, which resulted in him not going to college and being unsuccessful in life. On the other hand, Biff made the choice not to go to summer school, which is what led to him being unsuccessful. In this play, I think Miller was showing us that fate has nothing to do with the outcome of our lives. Instead our lives are determined by the choices we make.
Kelly, Joseph. The Seagull Reader Plays. 3rd ed. WW Norton, 2014. Print.