Discuss the conflict that Willy Loman faces in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Willy Loman is a flawed character.  He is becoming obsolete in his job. His thought processes are being invaded by memories of the past and hallucinations involving his son.  Losing touch with reality keeps Willy from relating to his boss or even his sons.  Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller tells the reader that someone will not make it to the end of the drama.

Something is happening to Willy because he is coming in and out of reality. The predominant emotion in the play is nostalgia.  Looking back at the past is Willy’s saving grace.  Even his views of business do not sound so out of touch when he describes them as a young man.

As the story develops, the reader has to be wary of what is reliable information based on the mental stability of Willy.  His lapses back and forth from the past to the present demonstrate that the poor man probably should have been under the close care of a doctor.

The characters of the play should grow and change as they face the conflicts in their lives.  Unfortunately, the Loman family does not face reality well.  Willy does not change because of his unfortunate mental problems, his stubborness, and pride.  Happy still does not understand his father or even himself.  Biff is the only character that shows some indication that he might make a move toward a job and respectability.

The primary conflict in the story is the failure of Willy in all aspects of his life.  His off kilter ideas about business have prevented him from being realistic. He is in conflict with society, his family, and himself. Materialism has been Willy’s bane.  He comes up short because he has not been able to provide his family with the things that he wanted them to have. 

Everything that Willy owns is old, in bad shape, or does not work at all.  Society has been weighed Willy down.  He has failed in all of his relationships, particularly with his son Biff. Foolishly, Willy instills all of his ideas about success in his sons. Now, Biff is a loser who had many opportunities that he has blown.

Unfortunately, Willy has given up, and his inner conflicts will win.   In his struggle to compete in a materialistic America, he comes up short; consequently, society beats him down. It is most obvious when he fired by Howard:

Willy: Howard, you gotta let me go to Boston.

Howard: …pull yourself together and then go home, will ya? I need the office, Willy.  Oh Yeah.  Whenever you can this week, stop by and drop off the samples.  You’ll feel better, Willy, and then come back and we’ll talk. 

Willy repeats his philosophy about success over and again in the play.  In his value system, Willy believes strongly that businessmen must be well-liked, rather than merely liked, and his business strategy is based entirely on the idea of personality.

Accomplishments are okay, but it is who a person knows and how he treats him that gets a person ahead in the world. This poor man cannot see that this has been his problem his entire life.   This is what has put Willy Loman on the road to failure. 


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