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Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is a failure in many ways. Past his prime as a salesman, he goes on the road to meet clients but is unable to sell anything. The world has moved on, so to speak, and salesmen like Willy are no longer needed. Because Willy is not able to earn enough money to support his family, he is feeling “boxed in” and anxious about his ability to carry on the charade of being successful. His wife, Linda, and his children, Happy and Biff, look up to Willy in many ways. If he fails, he feels he will no longer have their respect and love. Frantic to appear that he still has a job and is earning money, Willy lies about his success and prowess as a salesman. He also has an affair when he is traveling to see clients.
Willy is worn out, used up, and is getting deeper and deeper into his lies. His ego and “big talk” have carried him for many years, and now he can no longer keep up a front for his family. When Biff, Willy’s favorite son, discovers Willy’s affair, all respect is lost. Willy has also failed as a husband and a father. Willy is like a trapped animal, and he can’t escape the inevitable downfall that will come. In desperation and to give his family a meager life insurance policy, Willy kills himself in an automobile accident.
Willy is “boxed in” by his own lies and failures. He is unable to take responsibility for them and dies a sad and flawed man.
(The movie with Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman really shows this boxed in effect visually. You often see Willy framed in windows and doors. The back yard is claustrophobic and surrounded by buildings. And, of course, his coffin becomes the final symbol of being “boxed in.” Check it out, it’s a great portrayal of the play!)
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