Characterization in Miller's Death of Thesis

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The drama is tragic but what makes it more tragic is how the father passes down the doomed dreaming legacy to his sons. Robert Spiller observes that Willy Loman is Miller's "most beautifully conceived character" (Spiller 1450), who dies at the end of the play, "still believing in the American success myth that killed him and infected his sons" (1450). The man is to be admired because of his humanity but reviled because of his irresponsibility. Willy once tells Biff that one summer, he will take him and his brother on the road with him and together they will look at all of the towns across America. He claims that the country is "full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England... I have friends." (Miller 1044). This is an outright lie and while we know that part of Willy's motivation is impressing his son, we must also realize that another reason why Willy tells such lies is because he wants to believe these things about himself. In addition, he tells Happy that one of the most important things in life is being well liked and he goes on to say that he is well liked because he never has to wait for a buyer. His tall tales also include grandiose feats in the selling world, such as knocking them "cold in Providence" (1045) and slaughtering them in "Boston" (1045). It seems that Willy cannot help himself and while his lies may not appear to be doing any damage, they are and the best example of this can be seen in Biff's life, who grew up believing the lies that his father told him. He thought that things would come easily for him and, as a result, he never applied himself to anything seriously. His life was going down a path of disappointment and Willy was culpable. The saddest aspect of this circumstance is how Willy refused to accept his responsibility in the matter becoming angry when Bernard suggested that Willy might be at least partially responsible for Biff's attitude.Willy is a man plagued with denial. He becomes a modern-day tragic hero because he cannot accept certain truths about his life and allows himself and his family to suffer because of it. We can relate to Willy perhaps all too well, which is Miller's goal in Death of a Salesman. If we see the error of his ways, maybe we will not fall victim in the same way that he did. Society plays a significant role in Willy's life in that it portrays the achievement of the American Dream as easy as painting a white picket fence. The reality of that dream is that it is not as easy as it seems and when we foolishly chase after dreams that will never come true, we turn the dream into a nightmare. Willy has a character flaw in that he cannot see the truth or worse, he refuses to do anything about it. Regardless, he does nothing to improve his life and, as a result, his family suffers. Willy lies to be happy; he lies to look good. In the end, his life is nothing but lies and as he comes to realize this, he would rather die than face the truth. Willy is too human and this is why it is becomes difficult to look at him sometimes. His crime is subscribing to the notion of the American Dream. Miller paints the perfect portrait with Willy; he is a character we can visualize almost too perfectly and that is why the play is such a success. Through Willy, we not only see, but understand the theme of the failed dream.

Works Cited

Barringer, Missy. Understanding Plays. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 1990.

Gassner, John. Modern American Literature. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. 1969.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. An Introduction to Literature. Sylvan Barnet, ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1985. pp. 1030-1114.

Rovere, Robert. Modern American Literature. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. 1969.

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