Alex ask Ben, “How’d ya do it?” referring
English Composition II
3 December 2017
of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” written in 1948, performed in 1949, has been called arguably the
best American play of the twentieth century (Treanor). After reading it and watching
it, I’d have to agree. Many who’ve watched or read it can either relate, or know
someone that relates to the struggles portrayed in this story. This play is
about Willy Loman, a traveling salesman who wants nothing more than to live the
perfect “American Dream”. He longs to be well-liked by everyone, to have the ideal
family, and to be financially successful. I chose to do a character study for
this essay because each character has a different, unique past life and there’s
so many situations that lead up to how they are in the present in the play.
first character I chose is, of course, Willy Loman. We see in Act I that Willy
has some sort mental and/or emotional problems. He has conversations with himself
and generates conversations with his late brother, Ben. He would ask Ben, “How’d
ya do it?” referring to his success of his diamond mining in the jungle. He
wasn’t jealous of his brother and his success, but admired his success and would
wonder each day how he came about his riches. He would also stir up conversations
with an imaginary Biff, his son. Willy’s recollections and recreations of these
memories represents his character. He has a hard time accepting the “now” of
things and how he’s simply failing at his job and chooses to focus on the past,
imagining when things were better and easier for him. Willy also tends to
embellish on his life to make him seem more interesting and less depressing.
though Willy cannot accept the fact he’s not a successful business man like his
brother, leaving him insecure, the real reason he started to have these
nostalgic flashbacks is because of his son, Biff. He was once so admired by
Biff until he took a trip to Boston and learned his father was having an affair
fifteen years prior to the present day in the play. Biff and Willy are both devastated,
and this is when the start of Willy’s erratic behavior begins. They both adored
each other before Biff found out about the affair. In result, Willy starts to
have these flashbacks of Hallmark moments with his son to remember the good times.
For instance, one of the flashbacks shows Biff promising a touchdown devoted to
Willy at one of his football games. All he can do now is criticize his son and
the end of Act II is when Willy starts to perceive himself as a no-good
salesman. He ends up getting fired from his job he’s worked for over thirty
years for. His affair leaves him with remorse and Biff’s misperception of his
father leaves Willy hopeless. He can no longer deal with his averageness of a
salesman. This takes a toll on Willy, in result of him killing himself due to
crashing his own car. He finds that his life insurance policy will be the solution
to his family having the success he’s always desired.
next character is Biff, Willy’s thirty-four-year-old son. Biff was well-liked
in high-school, being an all-star football player hoping to receive an athletic
scholarship. This was the time Willy admired his son the most, even if he would
cause some mischief. Willy would actually encourage him rather than punish him,
for example, stealing a football from the school. Although he was a good athlete,
he couldn’t seem to balance his academics, leading him to fail his math class.
He fled to Boston to tell inform father and that’s when he discovered the
affair. He was able to retake the class in order to graduate, but to spite his
father, he didn’t.
then, Biff has never looked at his father the same and Willy’s actions creates
the motivation of Biff’s present character. His father never motivated him in
school and he thought it was okay and praised him when he did the wrong thing.
Biff’s life began to spiral. The stealing continued, and wasn’t able to hold a job
because of it, eventually landing him in jail. He even tells his father his
life is his fault during an argument.
Willy, Biff wants an easy, nothing to extravagant, life. He was back and forth
to Texas working on a ranch before he had to come back home because of course,
getting fired because of stealing. He’d rather be seen for who he is and comfortable
financially, rather than having whole shebang of the “American Dream”. Even
though Biff may seem to be lost in life, his character had tremendous growth
and self-realization. Despite the stealing, Biff has become a better person as a
whole. I’d say he’s learned from Willy’s mistakes and aspires to be nothing
like his father and his lies he sees right through.
is Willy’s other son, also in his thirties. It seems that Biff was his only son
but, that’s how much Happy seemed to be left out during the play. Since Happy was
pretty much second-place to Biff, he yearned for his attention even more. For
example, Happy would try to get his father’s attention by insinuating that he’s
been losing weight when Willy was concentrated on Biff. It’s ironic because
Happy has several personal traits of his father. He tends to embellish on the truth
about his job position, saying it’s higher than what it actually is, also on
his life in general. Happy isn’t happy. He has no idea what he’s doing with his
life and how and when it’s going to get better, just like Willy. He’s a typical
“womanizer”. He brags about being with three of the executive’s fiancés and even
goes to their weddings. It seems that he thrives on this power of pursuing
these unavailable women, who he would also be dishonest with. “The Loman men are
con-artists.” (Metz), which I can agree to be true.
Loman is Willy’ wife and the mother of Biff and Happy. Despite the way Willy treats
her, she still adores him. Linda Loman may be the definition of loyal. Linda
doesn’t have an actual occupation, but her job in the play was to please,
protect, and defend Willy to the fullest. She’s very oblivious when it comes to
Willy’s job or money, and even the affair. When she learns of Willy’s mental state
and the fact he’s tried to kill himself several times, she begins to make
excuses for his actions by telling her sons that he’s just “exhausted”. She then
exposes this news to Biff and Happy and their reactions cause Linda to defend
her husband’s actions even more.
in all, Linda just truly loves her husband. But, it’s more of desperation than
love. She’s treated so poorly by Willy yet, still accepts him and all his
flaws. She’d rather be with Willy and all his baggage than to not be with him at
all. I wish Miller would’ve included more to Linda’s backstory as to why she is
so desperate for love and fearful of being alone.
conclusion, Miller did an amazing job portraying these characters. “For anyone
who’s ever felt inadequate or adrift, or who’s ever broken a family
relationship in a way that feels like it can never be fixed, the story’s
resonance is gut-wrenching.” (Hurwitt). I’d have to agree with this statement.
related this play to many struggles families face every day and how it affects
their behaviors, hopefully not the killing yourself part though. He made sure every
character was different and had different personalities and behaviors, all
being motivated by one character: Willy.
Metz, Nina. “Review: In
‘Death of a Salesman,’ Arthur Miller’s words take on a new edge.”
Chicagotribune.com, 14 Feb. 2017, www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/reviews/ct-death-salesman-redtwist-review-ott-0217-20170214-story.html.
Sam. “Review: A terrific new take on classic ‘Death of a Salesman’ in Oakland.”
The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 20 Mar. 2017,
Treanor, Tim, “Death of a
Salesman review.” DC Theatre Scene, 3 Oct. 2017,