Arthur Miller, a Jewish –American playwright, in his masterpiece Death of a salesman, presents a little man---Willy Loman's slice of life realistically in modern capitalistic America. Throughout this tragic story, the Loman family cannot discern between reality and illusion, particularly the protagonist, Willy. Characters and ways of narrating the plot are interesting to pay attention to.
Willy Loman is such a coward that he is afraid of confronting with the reality .He lingers with untouchable illusion and unrealistic values. Although he is already over sixty, Willy believes that he is a brilliant salesman but is seen by the people around him, and the audience, as an ordinary man. “‘In 1928 I had a big year. I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions.” He remains in his illusion that he was successful. Moreover, he fails others' respect. Not only cheating himself, Willy also lies to his wife about his income when he is really borrowing money from his brother Charley to pay his bills. This causes Charley to lose respect for his own brother. The people that Willy works with, including his boss (Howard) do not respect Willy. Willy comes to Howard to ask for a job where he does not have to travel as much, but Howard does not take Willy seriously and tells him that he has to see other people and then leaves. This shows a great lack of respect towards Willy.
As a father, however, he is childish to hold the motto that "the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead." His brother Charley asks Willy, "When the hell are you going to grow up?" Likewise, Willy refuses to acknowledge the fact that he is a fine carpenter, and continues to live a life of lies, memories, and dreams as a smothered businessman. All the above foreshadows his pathetic denouement of his fate.
Biff Loman who is Willy's elder son, is influenced by Willy's philosophy, that is, success is based on appearance and popularity without mentioning hard work. On experiencing several events, Biff realizes his father's idea contrasts the reality. For instance, according to Willy, men like Bernard would not be successful, because he is "only liked, not well-liked," and being well-liked is the cornerstone of success. Nonetheless, later in the play we see that Bernard has become very successful, underscoring one of the messages in the play, that success is not just a result of popularity but hard working. Furthermore, attractive and popular as Biff is, he cannot find even a steady job. Lastly, Biff catches unfaithful Willy in a hotel room with another woman Step by step, his heroic father's image collapses as well as his value. Therefore, Biff is the only person who wants to put his father’s problem on the table. Biff and Willy never get along.
Willy's younger son, Happy Loman has grown up to be a well-adjusted man of society. Throughout his childhood, Happy always had to settle for second fiddle. Happy's insecurity stems from Willy‘s constant focus towards Biff.
Therefore, Happy was always trying live up to his expectations and please him. He would repeat such comments as "I'm losing weight, you notice, Pop?" Living in Biff's shadow, Happy is always following the opinions of other people. When Willy asks Biff if Oliver gave him a good welcome, Happy intrudes, crying "Sure, pop, sure." When Happy and Biff come home after deserting their father at the restaurant, Happy attempts to cool his mom's anger by saying "But, Mom, he had a great time with us..." By telling people what they want to hear, Happy thinks he will be well liked and accepted. This indicates that Happy is also affected by his father’s life value.
Linda Loman, The very first lines and the last lines of this play belong to the hostess of this house. As heart of the Loman family, she is wise, warm, and sympathetic. She knows her husband's faults and her son's characters. Still, she loves them, despite all of his difficulties. However, not willing to accept the cruel truth of her husband and her sons, she does not take measures to save her family. Linda is an indirect murderer of Willy. Not written in linear plots,
Death of a salesman is not in chronological order. A big portion of the story is presented though the use of flashback. Willy often lapses into a flashback and appears to be reliving conversations and events that occurred years ago. Hence, Miller depicted two settings ----Yonkers, New York (present) and New England (back flashes).These non-linear plots serve the purpose of displaying the theme, that is, Willy Loman's inability to see reality .Willy never tries to help the circumstances, he only flees to his great memories of the better days. He uses this evasion tool as though it were an addictive narcotic. Death of a Salesman is not simply a sad story; something may be worth to digesting from those figures. First, follow your heart. Do not let the unrealistic desire to block you. Second, know your strengths and weaknesses. Men should choose a career based on skills and interests, not on false perceptions and the opinions of others. Last but not the least; hard work is what pays off. There is no permanent thing like “reaping without sowing”. Without devotion, no matter how attractive and popular a person is, he would end up with failure and misery.