In Death of a Salesman, how does Miller use tension in the family to underscore Willy's character?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Miller is able to construct a domestic situation full of tension and discord to underscore Willy's failure in the personal realm, as well as in the professional realm.  If Willy's family was happy and if he were to be a good father and husband, then he would have a realm into which he could retreat.  At the same time, it would give him a sense of balance from a personal point of view.  One of Miller's strongest elements of characterization is to show Willy as connecting to the modern individual in that he features a lack of balance.  His instability comes from the fact that he has failed to achieve anything in his dreams or his ideal, something that is rooted in a lack of balance.  For Willy, the presence of tension and discord in the family is reflective of yet again another realm in which he is a "zero."  Miller's use of developing this in the characters of the family helps to substantiate these feelings within Willy, and feed the desire to commit suicide as a way of becoming "something."  The use of tension and challenges within the family are ways in which Willy's character is developed.  The construction of a subjective world where there is tension helps to illuminate the total scope of shortcoming that confronts Willy.  Willy's own lack of reflection and rumination in this realm helps to substantiate this.

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