In the twenty- first century, there are numerous television shows that connect illusion with reality. By today’s standards, almost every one is able to decipher between the real and non-real. Within Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman cannot decipher the difference of the two. He roams around in a dream-like state- confused, and unaware of reality. Due to his inability to remain focused on the truth, a constant struggle developed inside of him, engulfing Willy’s thought process, life, as well as his two sons.
Willy Loman, a salesman from New York, was an extremely confused man. In the later portions of his life, this bewildered nature of his only became worse, as the times progressed. From the onset of the play, Willy’s confused essence is made apparent. This is seen in his arrival from the road, when he tells Linda, his wife, “ I suddenly couldn’t drive any more. The car kept going off onto the shoulder, y’know?”… “Suddenly I realize I’m goin’ sixty miles an hour and I don’t remember the last five minutes. I’m-I can’t seem to-keep my mind to it.”(1186) His wondering mind enabled him to veer from the road while driving. Unfortunately that was not the only moment that mind wondered off.
From his conversation with people he encounters, to those with his family, Mr. Loman actually dwells in former things, thinking he is actually in that particular moment. In a critical essay, Brian Parker writes the following:
“…Willy is technically a schizophrenic: overwork, worry and, particularly, repressed guilt have resulted in a mental breakdown in which present and past mingle for him inextricably…”1 Willy’s mind continually wonders while he is engaged in conversation with individuals. While the persons he is speaking with are talking on one subject, suddenly in the middle of their response, Willy begins referring to someone else whom is not actually around. During this engagement, both conversations are going on simultaneously, until the words become intermingled and the actual live person has to snap Willy back into reality. This constant mingling of conversation takes place in one scene of the play when Willy and his two sons have finished dinner and Mr. Loman is in the restroom. Here Willy talks with his son Biff and relives a conversation from years ago with young Bernard, and Linda. Upon continuing in conversation with his son and the gentleman from the past, Willy Loman mixes the two until he snaps back from a question asked by Biff, in reference to his unattentiveness. This constant switching back and forth not only affects his thinking, but his life as well.
Mr. Loman sees his life as an extravagant one, in which only good things happen. Never willing to face the truth head on, Willy Loman lives a life of deception, deceiving all including his family. This deception only occurs because of his inability to view reality. According to Mr. Loman, “ if a man is well liked, he has a prosperous life.” Believing himself that he was well liked, Willy deceived his family into thinking that he actually was. The illusions only built up more and more until he was borrowing money from a friend, Charlie, to make his wife think he actually sold things that day and made money. Even after he is fired for lack of staying focused, Willy seldom faces up to reality; he only brushes it away. In the play Willy speaks of a promise made several years ago by Howard’s father, who was the manager then over the company. He never listens to Howard’s rationale for terminating his employment, only dismissing it to tell of the former years.
Another illusion created by Willy was the illusion of his son’s being great men that are in the works of closing a huge deal, “…..Why don’t your sons give you a hand…They’re working on a big deal.”(1205) This illusion of non-reality only allows Willy Loman to dig himself deeper into an unconscious like matter. This matter transfers onto his sons and they began living in untruth and illusion.
Both of Willy Loman’s sons dwelled in untruth. Their father brought about this involvement. Throughout their entire lives the real meaning of things were kept secret, unspoken and unheard. C.W.E. Bigbsy wrote in a criticism on Death of a Salesman the following about the two Loman boys,
“[ In Death of a Salesman] the two brothers, Happy and Biff,…. Reflect the two sides of Willy’s warring personality. Happy values only material things. He looks for some kind of consolation in his relationship with women, and though vaguely conscious of some insufficiency, measures himself solely by the reference to his success in business. Biff on the other hand, is aware of other values than the purely material and is capable finally of the kind of genuine humanity which Willy only approaches in moments of rare sensitivity”2
The main son that was affected the most would be Happy. Happy Loman in all of his lies and deception began actually believing that his position at the company he worked for was one of importance and in the upper division of the company. Truth be told he was actually an assistant to someone else’s assistant. This point was evident in the play in a conversation between Happ and Biff,
Biff: “You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant, aren’t you?”
Happ: “Well, I’m practically….”
Biff: “ You’re practically full of it!…..”3
Although Happ dwelled in the untruth and non-reality openly, Biff, on the other hand dwelled secretly.
Biff Loman, the man that “stole his way out of every job”, has his share of deception. He allowed himself to believe that a former boss of his would actually remember who he was after several years had passed since he last worked for the man. This idea only stemmed from his “important” nature and stature within that company many years ago. Only after arriving at the company to attempt to propose a business deal, does Biff realize that he was never important to that man or anyone else unless he was playing football. He also deceived his parents into thinking that he was away on a nice job for a while when he had no address. The truth does not come out until the end of the play. It is here that all truths are revealed. For the first time The Loman’s actually view themselves as they actually are, as well as their circumstances. Although the brothers are different in character, they both stem their untruths and non-reality from their conversed and lost dear father.
The Loman family was one of deception and numerous hidden things and agendas. The head of the house, Willy Loman was the most devious one of all. His deception comes only from the lack of not facing reality head on. Continuous ignorance of the truth only leads Willy into a bottomless pit affecting all that he knows, does and his family.
1 Parker, Brian. “Point of View in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.” Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert Corrigan. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969. 95-109.
2 Bigsby, C.W.E Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 10. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research
Company. 1979. 343
3 Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Fourth Edition. Lee Jacobus