Death of a Salesman is rife with characters apt for psychoanalysis, from Willy's inability to cope with reality to Happy's philandering. Analyze how the play centers on the individual family members' psychological troubles and their effect on the family as a whole.

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Willy's psychological problems are at the heart of his family's dysfunction. Three psychological defense mechanisms Willy uses (and you can apply some these to other family members too) are denial, dissociation, and acting out.

Willy expends a great deal of energy trying to deny that his situation is as bad...

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Willy's psychological problems are at the heart of his family's dysfunction. Three psychological defense mechanisms Willy uses (and you can apply some these to other family members too) are denial, dissociation, and acting out.

Willy expends a great deal of energy trying to deny that his situation is as bad as it is. He doesn't want to admit his dream of sitting in a hotel room in velvet slippers as the easy money from sales rolls in has been a complete failure. Although getting old and tired, he convinces himself he is a valuable enough asset that he can make demands on his boss: a denial of reality that ends up backfiring on him. He never admits that he should have gone into another line of work or developed expertise instead of relying on his personality.

Linda also lives in denial, enabling Willy and not accepting how badly he treats her, denying it for instance when Biff states:

He always, always wiped the floor with you. Never had an ounce of respect for you.

Biff is overstating the case, but there is truth in what he says that Linda refuses to accept.

Frequently in the play, as his world crumbles, Willy dissociates from reality and enters into a fantasy world more in line with what he wants to believe. This is easier than facing reality. He enters into imaginary talks with his brother Ben that include fantasies about their father and about how huge and impressive Willy's funeral will be (in fact, almost nobody comes):

Ben, that funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates—that boy [Biff] will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized—I am known!

Acting out is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person takes an extreme action, often destructive, rather than deal with a problem in a more rational way. At the end of the play, Willy acts out when he takes the extremely self-destructive step of committing suicide so he can go out with a blaze that aligns with his fantasy self image. Biff, we learn, acts out in high school when he drops out of summer school as a self-destructive response to father's affair.

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