Arthur Miller, “Death of a Salesman”

1949

Willy Loman is an aging salesman, married to Linda. He is starting to lose his mind, talking to himself and losing control of his vehicle on trips. Biff and Happy, the couples’ two sons,  live at home with their parents. Biff, the older son, was a promising athlete, and Willy cannot let go of his obsession that the boys, especially Biff, will have success. Happy is an assistant manager who cheats his time to make extra money for the family and is always overlooked as Linda and Willy focus on Biff. Despite Biff’s efforts to tell Willy otherwise, his father resolutely tries to get Biff a job at an office so he will no longer be a farmhand. Biff fails to secure the job, but Willy refuses to even hear his son when he tells him of this failure at a restaurant that night. Willy repeatedly rails against the walls and limits of the house, as well as the smells of the surroundings. (Compare this with Look Back in Anger, whose male characters also feel “boxed into” domestic space.)

In his final confrontation with his father, Biff insists that after failing to get the job and pointlessly stealing a fountain pen, he looked at the pen in his hand and then out the window at the office and realized everything he loved was outside – the simple pleasures of food and farming – so why was he trying to be something else? “I’m a dime a dozen and so are you!” he shouts at his father. “No I’m not! I’m Willy Loman and you’re Biff Loman!” Biff shakes his head. “I just am what I am… Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something else happens?” Biff embraces Willy and tells his father he loves him, and his father picks up as he believes his son has forgiven him and will now try to go into business. Willy continues an imaginary conversation with himself as his family goes up to bed, then sneaks out and purposefully crashes his car to get the insurance money so Biff can be a businessman. Biff, however, decides to go away, while Happy will follow his father: “I’m gonna show everyone that Willy Loman did not die in vain.” Linda says, “I made the last payment on the house today… today dear! And there’ll be nobody home. We’re free and clear. We’re free. Free.”

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