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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What are Willy's suicide attempts in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller?

In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman has attempted suicide several times by purposely wrecking his car. Linda also discovers a rubber hose in the cellar with a new nipple attached to the water heater, which suggests that Willy plans on committing suicide by inhaling gas. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Willy attempted to asphyxiate himself. Willy's final suicide attempt is another car accident, which tragically ends his life.

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In Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is portrayed as a delusional, unsuccessful salesman who struggles to cope with his failures and form meaningful relationships with his sons. Willy recognizes that he has done nothing significant in his life and acknowledges that he is destined to leave an empty legacy to his sons. He has also failed to attain the American Dream and can no longer endure the hardships as a struggling salesman, which motivates him to commit suicide.

In act 1, Linda explains to Biff that Willy is dying and elaborates on his earlier suicide attempt when he purposely drove his car off a bridge and landed in shallow water. According to Linda, the insurance inspector claimed that it wasn't an accident after speaking to an eyewitness, who watched Willy casually drive off the bridge. Linda also alludes to Willy being in several other car accidents, which seem to be previous suicide attempts.

In addition to attempting to die in a car accident, Willy has also planned on inhaling gas from the water heater to asphyxiate himself. Linda tells Biff that she found a rubber hose behind the fuse box in the cellar and noticed that the water heater had a new nipple attached to it. Although Linda discovers the rubber hose, it is unclear if Willy ever attempted to commit suicide by inhaling the gas. At the end of the play, Willy ends up committing suicide by purposely wrecking his car in hopes that his family will receive the insurance money and respect his sacrifice. Tragically, his family resents his suicide and it is unclear if the insurance company will pay the Loman family. Overall, Willy Loman planned on asphyxiating himself but has engaged in several suicide attempts by purposely wrecking his car.

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At the beginning of the play when Biff returns home, he and Linda have a conversation about Willy's deteriorating mental/emotional condition. Linda tells Biff, "He's dying." But what she really means is that he has been attempting to kill himself. Linda asks Biff to remember that she wrote to tell him about a car accident Willy had in February. That was one of a series of accidents that Willy had been in over the previous year. An insurance inspector investigated the accidents and interviewed a woman who had witnessed one of them. The woman reported that Willy seemed to deliberately smash into the railing of "that little bridge." The only reason Willy didn't die in the accident was that the water under the bridge was shallow. The insurance inspector believes the crashes were not accidents.

Linda next reports that she discovered "a length of rubber pipe" in the cellar behind the fuse box. The pipe had "a little attachment on the end of it," presumably where Willy could insert it into or over his nose. She also discovered that the gas pipe leading to the water heater had a "new little nipple" on it. These are pieces of evidence that show Willy has been planning another way to commit suicide besides the car crashes, namely by asphyxiation by natural gas. There is no evidence that Willy has made an attempt to asphyxiate himself yet, but the method is in place.

Near the end of the play, Biff confronts Willy with the rubber tube, but Willy denies knowing anything about it. However, when the rest of the family goes to bed, Willy gets in the car and speeds away. He crashes and dies in the "accident."

The two ways Willy has planned to end his life are by auto accident and by asphyxiation by natural gas. The only way he actually attempted, as far as we know, was by deliberate car accidents, and that is how he eventually takes his life.

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In Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman the character of Willy Loman feels that he has nothing "anchored", nor "planted" to leave as a legacy for his children, Biff and Happy. For this reason, he has no other choice than to offer the only thing he does possess: A life insurance. Therefore, in a tragic way, Willy Loman gives his life on behalf of his children.

The character of Willy Loman represents the quest for prosperity and for a good life. That is Willy's personal version of "The American Dream". Erroneously, Willy chooses to get it the easy way: By following other people's plans. One of the men whose dreams he follows is his brother Ben, who becomes a rich man once he leaves for the jungle. He also once asks Willy to move with him to Alaska to get into business, but Linda (Willy's wife) refuses to. The other man whom Willy wants to emulate is salesman David Singleman who is legendary for having become rich from his hotel room.

The problem with Willy is that he does not realize that these are the dreams of other men, their passions, and their destiny. Instead of finding his own passions and using his own talents, Willy feels the need to follow (as Biff says himself) the "wrong dreams" all along. For this reason, Willy ends his life with nothing that he can show for. His only legacy is all the bad advice he gives his two boys as they grow old. As a result, they too have ended up nowhere.

Hence, Willy has done several attempts to commit suicide. The first is by driving his car off a bridge, and by crashing his car. He also tries to suffocate himself by hooking up a part of the basement's gas heater tube so that the gas might get him. In his final moment, Willy dies by finally crashing his car for good. He confesses to his neighbor and only true friend, Charley, who tells him

Nobody's worth nothing dead.

But Willy does not listen. Unfortunately for Willy, his "American Dream" is focused on money, and it is only money what gives value to life (in his mind). Therefore, when he has his last hallucination he sees his brother, Ben, urging Willy once again to come with him to the jungle, to make it rich. Similarly, Willy pays his last adieu to his family, and leaves the home to strike it rich- to kill himself for his 20,000 dollar insurance.

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