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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What are the main themes to talk about when writing an essay psychoanalyzing Willy and his contribution to his family's dysfunction?

From a psychoanalytical perspective, the theme of Willy Loman's self-delusion and unrealistic expectations of the American Dream for himself and his sons contribute to familial dysfunction. Willy is preoccupied with his past success and unable to accept that he is a mediocre salesman. Consequently, he places pressure on Biff and Happy to achieve the success that he never had; combined with his own perceived failure, this results in Willy's suicide rationalized by his desire to care for his family.

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The concept of the American Dream revolves around the belief that anyone, regardless of their background and social class, can accomplish their ambitions and experience upward progress. This dream is attained through self-sacrifice, venturousness, and hard work. While Willy undoubtedly sacrifices time with his family and dedicates his life to sales, he is preoccupied with his past achievements and places too much faith on the idealism that is the American Dream.

Willy frequently reminisces about his past, in which he achieved moderate gains as a salesman, rather than focusing on his abilities in the present—he overly values appearances and likability and instills these priorities in his sons. Due to Biff's popularity in high school, during which he was a football star, Biff believes that he will attain his goals if he is "well-liked." As a result, he is unable to hold a job in the present. Similar to Willy and Biff, Happy is unable to see the truth of his circumstances; he refers to himself as an Assistant Buyer, when in reality, he is an assistant to the assistant.

Throughout his career, Willy assumes the same mentality, one that will never amount to the American Dream. He eventually believes that he is a failure as a husband and father for being unable to provide for his family. As the play nears its conclusion, he rationalizes that the best action that he can take is to end his life, which would provide life insurance money to his family.

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