A 3 Essay, Research Paper
Death of salesman
It is important to note that much of the play’s action takes place in Willy’s home. In the past, the home was located in a semi-rural area outside New York City. There was space within the neighborhood for expansion. When Willy and Linda purchased it, it represented the expression of Willy’s hopes for the future. In the present, the house is hemmed in by apartment buildings on all sides, and sunlight barely reaches into their yard. It has come to represent the reduction of Willy’s hopes. Just as the house is besieged by apartment buildings, Willy’s ego is besieged by doubts and mounting evidence that he will not enjoy the fame and fortune promised by the American dream.
In the past, the home was the site of hopeful departure and triumphant return. Willy would leave each week full of hopes that he would make a killing and bring back a big paycheck. He returned to a happy home with a loving wife and worshipful sons. He whispered his hopes to open his own business in the eager ears of Biff and Happy. He returned with surprise gifts to their delight. When the play opens, Willy returns from a business trip he could not even complete. The house is not full of eagerly waiting family members. In other words, he returns home as a defeated man. Moreover, when he set out in the morning, he left behind an unresolved argument with Biff. The home has become the site of frustrated hopes and dreams.
Willy’s reality profoundly conflicts with his hopes. Throughout his life, he has constructed elaborate fantasies to deny the mounting evidence of his failure to fulfill his hopes. By the time the play opens, Willy suffers from a crippling self-delusion. His consciousness is split so soundly that he cannot even maintain a consistent fantasy. In one moment, he calls Biff a lazy bum. In the next moment, he says that Biff is anything but lazy. Naming Biff as a lazy bum deflects Linda’s criticism of Willy’s harangue against Biff’s lack of material success. Saying that Biff is not lazy allows Willy to hold onto the hope that Biff will fulfill his hopes. Depending on the psychological need of the moment, Willy changes his interpretation of reality.
One of the most interesting aspects of Death of a Salesman is its fluid treatment of time; past and present flow into one another. It is important to remember that the idyllic past Willy recalls is a past imagined by Willy. Therefore, it is not possible to take it entirely as truth. In many ways, the idyllic past functions as an escape from the present reality. It could be heavily influenced by Willy’s habit of constructing elaborate fantasies to cope with facts he wishes to deny.
The idyllic past to which Willy retreats demonstrates that he cannot completely deny his real situation. He retreats to it in order to escape from the present, but he examines it in order to find the mistake he made that frustrated his hopes for fame and fortune. Willy often treats his life as a story to be edited and re-written. He also treats it as a story that has gone wrong. He tries to examine the prolonged plot of his life to discover the reason that led the story astray. He wants to know what happened to his all American family. In the past his sons respected and adored him. His family had a promising future.
It is important to examine the evolution of Willy’s relationship with his family because the family is one of the most prominent elements of the American dream. In the present, his relationship with his family is fraught with tension. In his memories, his family was happy and secure. If we examine Willy’s memories of the past, it becomes clear that it was not as idyllic as it seems on the surface. Even Willy’s fantasy of his past reveals his split consciousness. No matter how much he wants to remember it as an all-American paradise, Willy cannot completely erase the evidence that it was not.
Willy wants to remember Biff as the bright hope for the future. However, in the midst of his memories, we find that Willy did nothing to discourage Biff’s thieving habit. In fact, he subtly encouraged it by laughing indulgently at Biff’s theft of the football. As an adult, Biff has never held a steady job because he is continually stealing from his employers. In the present, Biff and Willy suffer from a mutual antagonism. Willy is unable to let go of his commitment to the American dream and he places tremendous pressure on Biff to fulfill it for him. Biff feels a deep sense of inadequacy because Willy wants him to pursue a career than conflicts with his natural inclinations. He does not want to enter business and make a fortune. He would rather work in the open air on a ranch.
Willy’s relationship with Happy is also of his past. In Willy’s reconstructed past, it is clear that Willy favors Biff over Happy. Happy tries several times to gain Willy’s attention and approval. The course of Happy’s adult life clearly bears the marks of this favoritism. It is not that Happy ever expresses resentment towards Biff. He emulates the behavior of the high school-aged Biff. In the past Willy expressed admiration for Biff’s success with the girls and his ability to get away with theft. As an adult, Happy competes with more successful men by sleeping with their girlfriends and fiancees. In a way, he performs “theft” and achieves sexual prowess within the same practice. Moreover, he practices bad business ethics because he takes bribes. Like Willy, Happy constructs fantasies in order to make himself seem more successful than he is.