What did Willy Loman think was necessary for success in Death of a Salesman? I am writing an essay on Willy Loman’s twisted idea of what it means to be successful and how because of it Biff is a...

What did Willy Loman think was necessary for success in Death of a Salesman?

I am writing an essay on Willy Loman’s twisted idea of what it means to be successful and how because of it Biff is a failure. I am trying to find ways that Willy's ideas of what it means to be successful corrupted Biff. I don't mean just the ways he brought up Biff (that's another one of my points) but his general ideas of what it means to be successful.

3 Answers

rareynolds's profile pic

rareynolds | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

Willy says over and over that the secret to his "success" is that he is "well liked." This term is a cover, however, a placeholder for the truth Willy cannot explain about his life -- that the "American dream" he has so venerated has actually destroyed his life. The hard work that got Willy whatever success he had has not led to enduring happiness. He's depressed, and his life is a sham. Willy is not "well liked" -- he is pitied (by his neighbor Charley) or endured (by his boss Howard).

This is a problem for Biff because, although Willy has marked him as "well liked" too,  he has his own issues around his likability and his need to find meaningful work. His kleptomania can be seen as a kind of unconscious attempt to compensate for all the other things (education, opportunity) he lacks. Biff both hates and reveres his father, but what he learns over the course of the play is that he cannot allow himself to suffer the same fate as Willy, whose pursuit of the American dream led ultimately to his destruction. 

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Willy believes that a person must be "well-liked" to achieve true success. Wealth and riches are only part of success, for Willy. The other part of success is related to stature, respect, and reputation. 

Willy repeats his ideas about personal charm and charisma like a mantra through the play, reiterating the notion that one must be "well-liked" to get ahead. Willy makes claims that he is well-liked in certain corners of New England and he also says that his neighbor Charley is "liked, but not well-liked". 

True success comes from personal qualities and these qualities naturally lead to wealth, according to Willy's vision.

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khoeg's profile pic

khoeg | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

It's definitely an intriguing question. First and foremost, I believe Willy's terms for success stem around happiness....but, of course, for Willy to be happy, he needs to be successful. It is truly a double-edged sword. You have to remember that Willy loses all sense of self-respect as he keeps getting demoted and releasing parts of his work reign. Quite clearly, then, isn't Willy's sense of successful a direct link to how often he is being used by his company. Willy wants to compare well to others and to stack up nicely next to the competition. Biff has seen all of this in his father and ends up moving in the same direction.