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Death of a Salesman (analysis and Personal Reaction)

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Death of Salesman is a a very deep play written by Arthur Miller about a salesman struggling to keep his grip on reality and his family. This play is a memory play, switching from present to past and vice versa whenever Willy, the salesman and father of the family, has a moment of insanity and returns to times gone by. Being memory, it allows for music to announce emotions and characters, and well as exaggerations and/or omissions. As Tom says in Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie: "Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music.", and although this describes The Glass Menagerie, it also applies to Death of Salesman. The fact that it's a memory play allows the story to be partial to the one recounting it, and Willy's flashbacks show us his memories the way he perceived them, giving the illusion of golden times gone by, though it may not have been such a care-free time after all. Along with memory, the play deals with several major themes, such as reality versus illusion, social critique, the power of money, the American dream, insanity, and perhaps even a bit responsibility, or lack thereof.

Illusions are all over the book, from beginning to the final unveiling at the end. As Biff says in the end: "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house! (pg 1625)". Happy is a perfect example of a character living a lie, an illusion. He keeps bragging about being rich assistant buyer in his company, saying he's just waiting for the merchant manager to die to get promoted, when it is later revealed that he is only one of two assistants to the assistant buyer... basically nothing. He also gets girls by weaving illusions around them. For example, in the restaurant, when he acts like he owns a brand of Champaign, and then goes on to pretend Biff is the quarterback to the New York Giants, even pausing before his lie to ask if she knew about football before proceeding. And before he even tricks the girls, he tells his friend at the restaurant that Biff is a big cattle man out West. Another great example would be Happy's supposed love for his father. He says "I'm nervous about him. (pg 1552)" but then says "I don't know what to do about him, it's getting embarrassing. (pg 1556)", showing that he is more concerned about the appearances than with his father's well being. Happy also tries to get Biff to convince Willy that he's got a good shot of getting a loan, even though there was no chance, to keep him happy for the next few years, though never revealing the truth or gaining any money. Happy finally shows he is consumed by the illusion, partially due to his father, of making it big. He even says at the end: "All right, boy. I'm gonna show you and everyone else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have --- to come out number-one man. He fought it out here and this is where I'm gonna win it for him. (pg 1630)", even admitting it's a dream, but not able to distinguish the illusionary dreams with reality.

Another character wrapped in illusions is Biff. Until the very end, and even still a bit then, Biff lives a life of lies and illusions as well. For example, he plays along with Happy, pretending to be the quarterback in the restaurant. He also said he had been without an address for 3 months because he was out on a ranch, when, at the end we finally figure out it was because he simply went to jail for stealing a suit. He, like Willy and Happy, also feels he is more important than others, at least unil the end. We can see this during one of Willy's flashbacks Happy and Bernard are arguing over who gets to carry Biff's football helmet into the stadium, making him seem and most likely feel like a star, or, in another flashback, when Willy says to Biff: "Bernard can get the best marks in school, y'understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y'understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. (pg 1560-1561)", which is not only false, but makes Biff feel superior, and gives the kid a bad idea of what life is really like, though he figures that out the hard way.

This leads us right into Willy's character. Willy is entirely consumed by illusions. He says in the beginning of the play "If old man Wagner was alive I'd be in charge of New York now! That man was a prince, he was a masterful man. But that boy of his, that Howard, he don't appreciate. When I went north the first time, the Wagner Company didn't know where New England was!", making it seem like he's a big business man, although we later find out he's only working for commission, no longer even having a salary and being forced to borrow money from a neighbor to pay for all he owes, until he finally gets fired, though even then he pretends to be an important business man, even bragging to his boss (Howard) as he's getting fired, in an attempt to get what he wants: "in 1928 I had a big year. I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions (pg 1592)" to which Howard replies: "Now, Willy, you never averaged---" then Willy interrupts him to restate the preposterous lie. When his boss suggests that he ask his sons for help, to which he quite falsely replies: "They're working on a very big deal.", still doggedly clinging to his pride and the illusion of importance. To make matters worse (at least for his wounded pride), he is confronted by a modest Bernard and Charley on his way out, and Charley informs Willy that Bernard will be presenting a case in front of the Supreme Court later that week, and after Bernard leaves, an amazed Willy comments that he never mentioned being on such an important case, to which Charley replies: "He don't have to --- he's gonna do it." implying that its no use bragging about reality. You do it and you reap the rewards, quite unlike Willy who cultivates illusions, bragging about non-existent deals and affairs. Charley then offers Willy a job, though he firmly refuses to admit he even got fired at first, and when he finally does is too proud and jealous of Charley to take him up on the offer. He has a small discussion with Charley about the what counts in life, or at least in business, claiming indignantly after getting fired: "That snotnose. Imagine that? I named him. I named him Howard. (pg 1602)" to which Charley wisely responds "Willy, when're you gonna to realize that them things don't mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can't sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that your a salesman, and you don't know that." In one of his flashbacks he also accentuates Biff's

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