What does Linda think the trouble is with Willy's life in Death of a Salesman?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Linda has a confidential talk about Willy with their two sons, she tells them with characteristic feminine simplicity what is the plain truth.

No, a lot of people think he's lost his--balance. But you don't have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is exhausted....A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away.

Arthur Miller obviously intended Willy Loman to symbolize the truth about capitalism. It uses up people's lives and shows no mercy when they grow old. Biff tells Willy the same truth when he finally sees it in both himself and his father after his humiliating rejection by Bill Oliver.

I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them!

Linda and Biff are both creations of Arthur Miller speaking to the theater audience through their lips. There are always ambitious, energetic young people looking for jobs. They push the older people out. Willy's age is twice specified as sixty-three in the dialogue. His boss Howard calls him "the New England man," not "a New England man." Willy has to cover that whole enormous territory stretching all the way to Maine. He drives seven hundred miles to get to Maine with his heavy sample cases and seven hundred miles to get back home by the end of the week. When Willy appears at home after having failed to make it farther than Yonkers, just north of Manhattan, the introductory description includes the following:

Even as he crosses the stage to the doorway of the house, his exhaustion is apparent. He unlocks the door, comes into the kitchen, and thankfully lets his burden down, feeling the soreness of his palms.

Willy talks about a man named David Singleman who was still an active and successful salesman at the age of eighty-four. Singleman was an inspiration, and it would appear that Willy did not give much thought to the future because he thought he could keep on selling through his seventies and into his eighties. Singleman, according to Willy, had made so many friends and had so many good contacts that his job was easy, and Willy must have had the illusion that as he grew older his own job would become easier because he would have made so many valuable contacts all over New England. But what actually was happening was that the friends and acquaintances were either dying or retiring, and he was having to deal with a bunch of strangers who belonged to a younger generation.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In her essay in the 1991 compilation Willy Loman, critic Kay Stanton observes of Linda Loman from Death of a Salesman

... is the foundation that has allowed the Loman men to build themselves up, if only in dreams, and she is the support that enables them to continue despite their failures.... She represents human dignity and values: co-operative, moral, human behavior as opposed to lawless assertion of self over all others through assumed superiority."

Linda is well aware of Willy's idiosyncrasies, his exaggerated dreams, his adulteries and cruelties, and his temper, but she always tries to be supportive. In Act One, for instance, when the overwrought Willy returns home, stressed and exhausted, she tells him with resignation,

LINDA:Well, you'll just have to take a rest, Willy, you can't continue this way.
WILLY: I just got back from Florida.
LINDA: But you didn't rest your mind. Your mind is over-active, and the mind is what counts, dear.

After suggesting that he take an aspirin, Linda suggests that her husband ask to have a job right there in New York and not have to be on the road anymore. For, she is convince that Willy is tired and unable to keep the pace that he did when younger. However, she does not understand why Willy feels unfulfilled and evaluates himself against his success as a salesman. When he is successful in sales, he can cover his emotional instability. But, she is unrealistic in her optimism; for, she does not understand that Willy's entire identity was as a salesman; when he ceases to be a man who could sell, when he becomes insignificant, he despairs of life and hopes the insurance money will help the family.

LINDA: I keep expecting you, Willy.....Why did you do it? I search and search....and I can't understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today.

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rosheka's profile pic

rosheka | eNotes Newbie

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During Happy's and Biff's visit in Act one, they saw first hand the terrible condition of their father. He was suffering from an apparent severe  personality disorder. Linda, in her frustration expressed her fair of her husband killing himself and told his boys what she thought the problem was. She explained to them that she believed that he was worried about the potential fact that he though that the boys( especially Biff) whom he tried so hard to train in the right way, have turned their backs on him. They never hardly visit and when they do, though he is happy to see them, he is extremely crestfallen that Biff who peaked in high school, whom he had his hopes set on could fail him so terribly.

One other problem that Linda though was troubling Willy was his Job.During this time period, it was the norm for a man to work his for all his life at one job and at the end of his working, retire to a life of comfort. Willy is 63 years old and while everyone else around him is retired, he is struggling.He is now being put on commission. This means that at the age where he should be getting ready to retire, he doesn't have a set job. Linda even made mention of Willy having to borrow money from a friend due to the fact that he is making no money for himself. Also, Willy have to live with the fact that he might just be the outcast of his family. He often made mention of Ben his brother who was rich and his dad who was also a very successful salesman. Willy however, shows no sign of success in his field of work and he is pressured with the fact that he seem to be worse than others around him though he is trying just as hard, maybe even harder.

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