Willy Loman is a liar. He lies about nearly everything in his life. He lies to himself, his wife, his kids, neighbors, and anyone else who will listen to his bragging. He teaches his kids to lie, cheat, brag, and to get ahead through popularity. Though awkwardly written, Death of a Salesman is a timeless drama of how not to raise your kids. Seeing it onstage will help enlighten you about the real message behind this play.
Willy Loman is scared. Scared that someone will find out he is just a common man, like everyone else. He brags to his wife and sons about how he is so highly regarded in the towns he travels to that he can “park his car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own.”(2122; act 1). He wants desperately to be idolized by others and passes this desire to his children, telling them that they are “Adonises” and that the way to get ahead is to “be liked and you will never want.” (2123; act 1).
Willy Loman is a cheater. Being well liked is the only skill he thinks will profit him. (2123; act 1). He encourages his kids, Happy and Biff, to cheat on academics. He teaches his kids that “it’s not what you do…It’s who you know and the smile on your face! It’s contacts” that get you ahead. (2148; act 2). He threatens his neighbor’s son, Bernard, Biff’s friend, to “give him the answers” (2126; act 1) on an important test so Biff can graduate. Ironically, he denigrates Bernard and teaches them that being smart is weak, and will count against a person being well liked. Yet later when Bernard turns into a successful lawyer, Willy begs for “the secret” (2152; act 2) to his success. Bernard nails it when he reminds Willy that Biff “never trained himself for anything.”(2152; act 2). Willy has only trained his sons to cheat.
Willy Loman is an adulterer. He must to have someone around flattering him and feeding his ego, so he has a honey on the road. In a sort of odd reverse sexual favor, the woman promises to “put him right through to the buyers.” (2126; act 1). Biff finds out about the woman and it devastates his relationship with his father afterwards. Biff can not succeed in any situation with his father now.
Willy Loman feels small. Willy confesses to his wife that he is lonely and gets “the feeling [he’ll] never sell anything again.” (2125; act 1). Anytime someone gets close to his fear of being small he instantly becomes defensive and hostile, reverting to name-calling and chest-puffing brags. Whenever he has a conversation with Biff he feels his guilt and feels constantly threatened by everything Biff says. He can’t stand to be around Biff anymore.
Finally, after years of wandering and trouble, Biff understands what he has become and what has been happening in his family. He proclaims, “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!” (2172; act 2). He blows the myth that Willy Loman is uncommon with the realization that “I’m a dime a dozen and so are you!” (2172; act 2) Biff cries out to his father, “You blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! “ (2172; act 2). Willy Loman can’t stand being average, ordinary, even deviant hot air and kills himself. While Biff discovers that being ordinary is really a happy relief.
Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume C 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed.
: W.W. Norton & Company. 2003. 2111- 2176. New York