Willy Loman is the main character and protagonist of the Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. For thirty-four years, he has been a traveling salesman. Never successful in sales, Willy has earned a meager income. Everything he owns is old, used up and falling apart.
The love of his family is his one redeeming quality of Willy Loman. The audience does not hate Willy for his misdeeds because his motivation is to escape his life.
A character analysis must include certain facets of the character’s life:
Examine the character’s ethics.
Willy tries to make himself feel better by lying to himself and his family. He has deceived himself his entire adult life. Lying to himself and others has become a way of life for Willy. The one belief that stuck with Willy has always been wrong. He believes that if a person is attractive and well-liked, he would be successful.
Consider the effects of the character’s behavior on other characters.
Biff uncovers Willy's lies when he finds out that Willy has been cheating on his mother. Even though he loves his wife, Willy wants to prove to himself that he is well liked. Willy attracts the young woman by offering to purchase her a pair of silk stockings. When Biff discovers his father in the hotel room with the woman, he recognizes Willy for what he is: a liar and a fake.
Willy has nagged his sons about his life principle: if a man is handsome, liked by his workers and customers, doors would open, and money would roll in. Luck and people liking someone becomes Willy’s life philosophy. His sons follow their father’s lead.
What is the character’s motivation?
Willy would like to be Dave Singleman,a popular salesman. When Dave dies, people came in droves to his funeral. This reinforces that idea that to be successful one has to be well-liked and attractive.
Willy also lives in a world of illusions about his two sons. They are both losers. Happy has a job, an apartment and a car. Like his father, Happy lives in a delusional world. In reality, he is lonely and unhappy.
Biff is attractive, athletic, yet compulsive thief. His ability to keep a job is impossible because he steals. Willy will not admit that his son is a failure.
WILLY: That’s just what I mean. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.
How does the protagonist solve his conflict?
With the final realization that life is not going to improve, Willy risks alienating his son. Descending downward, Willy refuses to see the truth about Biff, even when the son tries to tell him. To perform the final heroic act of his life, Willy commits suicide so that Biff will have his life insurance money. He is certain that Biff can make something of himself with twenty thousand dollars.
As a representative of the common man, Willy Loman is a tragic figure. Few people come to his funeral, and no one really cares that he dies. He is a flawed man, who had fears and hopes for a better life. His death does not provide the life that he wanted for his son, nor the business as he hoped. However, the audience can look at Willy and see themselves in his life. He loved his family, wanted a better life for them, and did not know how to accomplish either of those goals.