Arthur Millers “Death of a Salesman” tell the tragic tale of a man, Willy Loman who was unable to settle for less than his dream. Willy Loman wanted it all; a nice house, a nice car ,to be successful like his brother Ben, but more than anything in the world he wanted to be ‘well liked’ and respected by others.
Willy’s insistence of placing such great significance on these things eventually led to his self-destruction. His failure to realize that he had not accomplished his ambitions led to him living his life half in reality and the other half in a time switch.This essay will focus firstly on how Willy’s retreat into the past serves as a form of escape for him, and secondly it will try to explain how this functions as a way for Willy to cope with the reality of his failed ambitions Reality can be a somewhat uncompromising fellow. He does not permit the use of a ‘rose-tinted’ view of events.
Nor does he allow for aspects to be misinterpreted. Rather, he serves up an awareness of how things really are, regardless of how painful or difficult to accept they may be. Willy’s failure to accept such characteristics of reality have led him in search of a more sympathetic ally.In contrast to the factual, objective nature reality holds, a retreat into the past can offer a much more appealing mechanism for which to cope with a situation.
The past differs greatly from reality in that she does allow for unpleasant things to be swept away and forgotten when desired. She also allows for certain events to be viewed much more favorably or pleasantly than they may have been originally. This is the beauty of the past. She is comforting, welcoming and she is more than willing to provide a haven for Willy to escape to, from her more severe counter-part.
It is not surprising then, that Willy chooses her as his affiliate. Here, he feels safe and secure under her protective shield. Willy’s first retreat into the past comes late one night after he has arrived home, tired from work. He appears to have a lot on his mind with work, financial responsibilities and the added worry that his sons are getting older but not getting very far with their careers.
To escape, he makes his retreat to where he is suddenly back in his youth, with his boys Biff and Happy. Here, he feels more in charge of his life and prides himself on the knowledge that he is idolised and looked up to by his sons.He is proudly told by Biff; “This Saturday, Pop, this Saturday – just for you, I’m going to break through for a touchdown. ” (Act one p24).
Willy is ecstatic; he feels proud, optimistic, and more importantly he feels loved and respected. His next retreat comes after he speaks to his boss, Howard to ask him for a transfer. Howard appears to have little sense of loyalty. Unfortunately for Willy, he appears far more interested in his own affairs than to waste time considering the feelings of his faithful employees.
Willy is not only refused his transfer but is told by the young, arrogant Howard that he is no longer needed.Willy, although clearly demeaned by having to practically beg for another chance from Howard; “God Knows, Howard, I never asked a favour of any man. But I was in the firm when your father used to carry you in here in his arms. ” (Act two, p62), he still manages to feel a sense of almost fond familiarity towards him, misbelieving perhaps the young man’s apparent lack of compassion.
When Willy discovers that no amount of pleading with Howard is going to make any difference, he once again makes his retreat into the past, where here, life is looking more optimistic.He is once again transported back to his youth where his brother Ben is offering him the chance of a lifetime; “Now look here, William. I’ve bought timberland in Alaska and I need a man to look after things for me. ” (Act two, p66).
It seems that each time reality strikes Willy with yet another blow; the past is ready to welcome him with open arms to comfort him. His final retreat into the past comes further on in Act two when he is feeling terribly desperate. He has to go home to face Linda to tell her he no longer has a job and he has had to borrow more money from Charley so that he can pay his insurance.He seems worryingly distressed but manages to find some consolation in the knowledge that he is meeting up with Biff who is bound to have some good news to tell him following his meeting with Bill Oliver.
When Biff fails to deliver the good news Willy has been pinning all his last desperate hopes on, he once again makes his retreat into the past. This time however, Willy’s retreat serves the reader more than Willy. This part of the play weaves together all the untied strands of the play to supply the reader with the ‘big picture’, as to what actually happened in the past.Here we learn of Willy’s infidelity, and its role in shaping the relationship Willy and Biff now have with each other.
This part of the play could also be viewed as Willy coming face to face with the long – held guilt he has carried for so long. Guilt over both his adulterous act, and the blame he has saddled himself with for Biff’s underachievement at school. The fact that he has now faced this guilt lightens his conscience before he finally commits suicide. Willy’s retreat into the past serves as a way for him to cope with the bleak, grim surroundings that reality has assigned him to, in a number of ways.
Firstly, each time Willy makes a retreat into the past; his mood seems to lift considerably. When he is transported back to reality, he carries his lifted mood with him. Secondly, he is able to disregard temporarily, the pain he experiences each time he is forced to face his failure. Finally, as mentioned previously, it provides a much more positive environment than the one allocated to him by reality.
We all know how strong the want to succeed can be, some more than others. As human beings, some say we are pre-programmed with a deep desire to succeed even before we are born.The knowledge that you have succeeded in life can perhaps produce the most heightened feelings of elation and extreme satisfaction. Failure on the other hand is a most horrid business.
It can produce negative, unsavory, feelings of degradation and humiliation. Coupled with this genetically based desire to succeed is the fact that Willy lived in the knowledge that his brother Ben had been very successful, this in effect, doubling the pressure on him to succeed. When one considers the obvious pressure Willy must have been under, it is understandable why he felt he could not cope with the situation.The most tragic aspect of this play however, must be Willy’s inability to acknowledge where his real failure lies.
In truth, Willy has in fact succeeded in his life only he cannot see it. What he has failed to do however is to realise that although he may not have been successful materialistically, he can live happily in the knowledge that he has done everything within his power to provide for his family. He also fails to acknowledge the things he should be thankful for. He not only has a devoted and loving wife, but two strong, healthy sons.
Willy’s mistake is not uncommon. The ‘American Dream’ seems to have replaced the importance of the old traditional values such as love, friendship, health and happiness. Such values these days seem to come second place to a nice house with an equally nice car. Although Willy may be forgiven for being caught up in the American dream, it is sad to think that society’s influence on placing such great significance on material items has driven such individuals as Willy to the brink of despair.