Character of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller

In his plays, Arthur Miller seeks to portray the life and world of the common man. In the second decade of the twentieth century changing economic and political scenarios had begun to affect the ordinary family’s life and create a sense of insecurity in it. Willy Loman’s is considered to be a pun on Low-man. He represents an average employee, grown old, and conscious of his dwindling abilities, falling victim to social neglect as his employer finds him a liability. The humiliating desertion and the feeling of being an unwanted person create in him a sense of loneliness. The general problem of unemployment leaves his elder son jobless while his second son is moderately employed. Willy is very much attached to his family and is ready to make any sacrifices for keeping it together. He is haunted day and night by fear, develops the habit of talking to himself and is wrapped in illusion. He feels two things most acutely: Firstly, his own being set aside because it strips him of his sense of importance in his own eyes; and secondly, loss of his dignity without which he thinks a person has no existence. But the new business ethics has neither time for these values nor does it give any importance to it. He doesn’t understand why a man who has given three decades of his life to the firm be simply brushed aside”… but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed.” The clash of values of two different worlds creates the necessary dramatic tension and psychological dilemma in Loman. Beyond business stretches man’s life, he thinks. Life, its spiritual and material expenses cannot entirely be allowed to be dominated by commercial, money-oriented consideration. Life for him is larger than this. But he belongs to a generation which finds communicating these things difficult. Ben comes out in his mind, preaching the testament of monetary profit and sacrificing all for its acquisition. Howard, his former boss’s son gives him a lecture on it. Happy and Biff are preoccupied with their own success dreams. Willy Loman’s problem is that he cannot change to suit other’s will; he desires others to see his point of view and change accordingly. Like Shakespeare’s King lear, Loman is unbending, sticks to his stand, becomes mentally disoriented and finally dies, having come to a dead-end. Miller appears to point out through him the frightfully arid society that the new, rich and prosperous America is forging. Its growth is tilted toward blind worship of capitalism which knows only to exploit man and then discard him when he most needs a sympathetic treatment. Charles Dickens similarly ripped apart the systems thriving on and promoting greed and avarice for reducing human beings to mere cogs in the larger wheel of factory culture. “I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life if need be, to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful position in his society”, says Miller. Man is expected to be a wage-slave in a system that is essentially structured on injustice and which defines the worker’s self-fulfillment; it is well as long as he is subservient to that system. Loman holds up his dignity against such degrading arrangement, fighting it to the end. He argues against it with Howard, and Ben and refuses the proffered job from Charley, though in the eyes of the practical-minded he proves to be a foolish old babbling dreamer. In him, Miller challenges the legitimacy of modern society’s unequal, imbalanced perception of human worth, and its uncharitable treatment of old and deprived generation. Since the present is full of unrelieved anxiety, Loman seeks refuge in the illusions and bygone days. His love for trees and plants and a devoted attitude to nature can also be seen as an escape from the present. In his mind gardening and nature, in general, provide a feeling of rootedness combined with pastoral bliss. Dr. Pradhan observes, “An escape into the beauty of nature becomes one of his impossible dreams. This interest in the pastoral becomes a recurrent aspect of Willy’s character and provides him with an escape from his immediate environment”. It also becomes a symbol of the far-off, unattainable happiness that Willy dreams of all his life. When his life fails to guarantee the security of his family, we know that his debts are a cause of great worry to him; Loman decides that his death must ensure it. There is great dignity in this gesture; he kills himself preserving the only precious thing he possesses, his self-respect. Linda is disconsolate with pain, and questions his coffin repeatedly. But the total impact is one of enormous grief and tacit admiration for the character of Willy Loman.