Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman explores the Lomans’ values. The entire family values a misconceived notion of the American dream.
The American dream is something that we all chase after, yet we have different concepts of it. Willy Loman’s vision of this dream is a rather distorted one; he and his family never really obtain the dream. They never actually have all the stability, success, security, and love that they expect they will, and are constantly worrying about finances. After hearing his bills, Willy exclaims: “A hundred and twenty dollars!My God, if business don’t pick up I don’t know what I’m gonna do! ” (Miller 1933).
This constant worrying about money also eliminates the chance for having a happy, communicating family, because it inhibits all of Willy’s time. Willy Loman is a part of our capitalist society; he measures success by material wealth and popularity. One author writes, “Miller dramatizes the limited nature of Willie’s values of material success and continual optimism” (Magill 1). Wealth and success are all the things that he values; he believes that they are the American dream.
Willy teaches these values to his sons, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it — because personality always wins the day” (Miller 1947). His belief that popularity provides the essential tools for success proves to be a tragic mistake. Willy grew up believing that being “well-liked” is the secret to becoming a success. He thinks that popularity will help you charm teachers and even open doors in business.
This may be true, especially in our superficial society. However, one should also have real skills. Not to mention the fact that this is a plainly immoral view.So, one can even say that his ideas are twisted in more than one-way.
Miller shows multiple points in the story where Willy speaks of the importance of being well liked and of the importance of appearances. Willy says, “…
I thank the almighty God you’re both built like Adonises” (Miller 1931). His values are twisted from the very beginning, there are numerous other examples of this. He is blinded by his narrow-minded views. For instance: he scoffs at the slightly nerdy Bernard, who is too focused on his academic success to be popular.
In a flashback Willy has a conversation with Biff: “Bernard is not well-liked, is he?… Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out into the business world, you are going to be five times ahead of him” (Miller 1931).
While still in high school Biff’s future was assured, described as “… a young God.
Hercules – something like that” (Miller 1949). He was also tremendously “well-liked”, but it all came crashing down soon afterwards, when he failed math. Biff never studied, or thought about the value of grades. He valued what his father instructed him to.
Willy believes that this teen popularity will guarantee Biff’s success in his adult life. Even though Biff fails as an adult, his father still holds on to the poorly conceived idea that Bill Oliver, a businessman who Biff met numerous years ago will offer him a job. He will not let himself believe that Biff stole from this man. On top of it all, after Biff confesses to stealing the pen from Oliver, Willy gives his regular old great advice.
Again, his advice is to lie: “You give it to him and tell him it was an oversight!… You were doing a crossword puzzle and accidentally used his pen! (Miller 1971).
Willy’s overall goals may be okay, however, his values are not. They are incredibly off-target, valuing only image, and popularity; never thinking about hardwork, honesty, or skills of any sort. Another misconception Willy has is that he believes Biff can be successful in business. Ardolino writes: “He believed that Biff, who was already ‘divine’ as a football player, would become [even] more so as a businessman” (1).
He thinks that this company will be successful because of Biff’s popularity and attractive personality alone.Willy never considers the possibility that the company may very well be a failure because of Biff’s lack of experience or knowledge. Miller writes, “Lick the world! You guys together could absolutely lick the civilized world! ” (Miller 1947). But Biff knows this isn’t true, he knows that once again his father is just filling him full of “hot-air”.
Once Biff discovers his father’s cheap ways, the vision he held of him is shattered. He is stunned by reality and finally starts to come to the understanding that there is in fact more to life than being well liked and football (Ardolino 3).Now, after years of roaming, Biff comes to terms with exactly who and what he is: “..
. I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw – the sky. I saw the things I love in this world ..
. and I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be…
I am not a leader of men … Pop I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you” (Miller 1981).
Biff comes to a realization in the story, besides Bernard and maybe Charley, the “changed Biff” is the only other character who has any true values.Although he realizes his false values, the other Lomans do not. This is evident right after Biff pours everything out and Willy, Happy, and Linda still don’t have a clue as to what Biff is saying. Happy, the younger son of the Lomans unfortunately is not able to see himself for what he is.
A direct opposite of his brother he never realizes his father’s fallacy of being well liked as the key to life. Less favored by his family, he is always seeking out approval: ” I’m gonna get married, Mom, I wanted to tell you. ” She merely brushes him off: “Go to sleep dear” (Miller 1949).His values may always stay the same because he is constantly ignored, he never thinks for himself, because he is too busy trying to keep up his father’s values.
He still believes all the “hot-air” that his father fed him and Biff when they were younger, and may never realize what Biff realizes. Even after his father’s death, he still does not understand. He will carry on the work routine and live the life of salesman: “..
. I’m staying right in this city and I’m gonna beat this racket …
he had a good dream. It’s the only dream a man can have – to come out number one man.He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (Miller 1984). Not only do Willy’s misguided ideas ruin the chances for him to obtain the American dream, but he also influences his sons.
By instilling all his wrong beliefs in Happy, he ruins him. While the Lomans’ values are misconstrued, in contrast to these tragic characters, there are Charlie and Bernard. Both of the characters have survived the real world, not because of popularity or risk-taking, but because of hard work and perseverance. Willy’s distorted view of the American dream causes many hardships for both him and his family.
However, Miller shows that the dream is possible through the lives of Charlie and Bernard. The tragedy in the life of Willy Loman is that he never realizes that popularity and luck are just a substitution for real work and education. Bernard’s values and views are shown throughout the story, especially at the points where he is trying to help Biff: “..
. just because he printed University of Virginia on his sneakers doesn’t mean their going to graduate him! ” (Miller 1931). His values are correct, and they carry him to success later on in life.His values are obtained partly on his own, and from the good examples his father sets.
Charlie, taught by example his son what to value, and how to live. Willy forces values upon Biff and Happy using poor advice, and setting even worse examples. Sadly, even when Willy sees Bernard again, he is unable to understand that Bernard is successful because of hard work and determination. Willy’s incorrect values and actions affect him and his family heavily.
They basically destroy the lives of Happy and Biff, and once he realizes the fallacy of his ways, it destroys him too.His misguided values stay with him until the bitter end, one source addresses this: “When Willie’s position at the company is terminated, he is driven to what seems to him to be his last opportunity for success: He decides to stage an accident in which he will take his own life so that his wife may collect on his life insurance policy” (Magill 1). Willy never actually obtains what he wishes for, the American dream: to have all the financial security and stability, family love, and success he could imagine. He never has this because of his false values.