“Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done, … but how could that be, when I did everything properly?”
I can hear it now, Willy Loman uttering those words as he flips through the pages of his life. In the play, Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, we witness the deterioration and death of a very well intentioned man. The quote above from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych, could not possibly better echo the situation developed in Arthur Miller’s play. The play becomes Willy Loman’s life trial in which he and his family undergo an intense review of their lives. Willy through his confessions searches to find out what went wrong in his life. However, he dies without ever grasping the truth of it all.
Willy Loman is a traveling salesman in his sixties. As we first find him, he is in the beginning of an emotional crisis. His past, recurring to him in realistic flashbacks, is interfering with the present. Each episode draws forth another problem that Willy has to face in his present situation. The problem for Willy was the question that he was asking himself. It is a question that many older individuals ask themselves, “Did I succeed in life, was it all worth it?” Poor Willy is beginning to realize that he has lived his entire life for the wrong reasons.
Willy raised his two sons in all the wrong ways. He encouraged cheating and mocked hard work and true success. Everything in his life was a false standard. Willy’s view of an individual’s success was how well that individual was, “liked.” He instilled in his children all the wrong values and encouraged all the wrong things. This poor moral installment is typified in this conversation between Willy and his son Biff.
BIFF: I flunked math dad……. Would you talk to him? He’d like you Pop. You know the way you could talk.
WIILY: You’re on. We’ll drive right back
BIFF: Oh, Dad, good work! I’m sure he’ll change it for you!. See, the reason he hates me, Pop-one day he was late for class so I got up at the blackboard and imitated him. I crossed my eyes and talked with a lithp.
WILLY: laughing: You did? The kids like it?
I really found this conversation to show the exact problem that Willy had. He had instilled the worst values in his children and then never sought to correct them. In that there lies a reason for his continued lack of reform. He never really saw a problem with how he had led his life. Until the day he died he always thought that he had been the best father he could have been. Maybe it was all that Willy Loman was capable of. He was hanging on to the possibility that he had actually succeeded with Biff, and in Willy’s mind, led him to be a “success.” Willy’s definition of success however was quite different from most people’s. He envisioned his funeral where everyone he had ever met would be mourning his death.
To be well liked was all Willy ever needed. It took a wake up call from Biff to almost snap the deteriorating Willy out of his trance. “I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them!….Pop, I’m nothing! I’m nothing, Pop. Can’t you understand that? There’s no spite in it anymore. I’m just what I am, that’s all.” It was with this statement that Willy Loman decided he had to try one last time to provide for his son and family. He took his life for the $20,000’s worth of life insurance to give to them. That would be Willy’s legacy.
Willy was a man who would never settle for half the pot of gold. He always wanted to whole thing. He lived his life in the best way he thought he could. We cannot blame the man for his terrible values and ridiculous teachings. He ended his life thinking that he had done everything properly, the way it was supposed to be done. When nothing he had accomplished was of any real value. Willy’s many flashbacks throughout the play made him realize that maybe things hadn’t worked out the way he had planned, but that all went up in smoke with his final legacy left for Biff. In the end of the play Biff sums everything up at his fathers funeral. “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.”