Willy Loman is a tired old man. The stage directions at the opening of the play tell us a great deal about Willy –
He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly…his exhaustion is apparent.
Miller also details some of Willy’s emotional characteristics here to give us a deeper view of him –
…his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties.
His early words are weighty and tinged with foreboding and his forth line in the play could be his epitaph –
WILLY: I am tired to the death…I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
Willy is clearly suffering from mental exhaustion as we see him slip in and out of the past and present, and hear him speculate on a possible imagined future as directed by his brother, Ben. He replays events in a bid to absolve himself of the responsibility of his mistakes and weaknesses, and his anger at his own failure is palpable.
His interactions with Charley and Linda illustrate the mercurial nature Miller hinted at. His change of temperament is one of the traits that will have made him less and less successful. When he tells Linda that he overheard another salesman calling him a ‘walrus’ he had responded by hitting the man. Willy’s fragile mental state causes him to draw people close to him and then push them away.
We see that he is physically ‘foolish’, stubborn, proud and riddled with guilt for the brief affair, which tainted his marriage and destroyed his relationship with his eldest son.
In short his main characteristics are: Mentally exhausted, easy to anger and stubborn