In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, what are three flaws that lead to Willy Loman's death?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Act I of Death of a Salesman begins, and we watch and listen to the careworn Willy Loman, we become painfully aware of his multi-faceted hamartia, or tragic flaws. They include three of the following: First, as the audience gradually shifts with him into his past - an imaginary golden age of success in sales and a son, Biff, shining with promise - we become aware that he is mentally deranged; he is being crushed by the weight of routine and failure. Second, as he confesses to Linda that he is not liked; or pleads with Ben, his brother, to show him the way to success; or begs his employer, Howard, to give him a desk job for which he is not qualified we become aware that he is burdened by self-doubt. So burdened, in fact, that he constantly lies about his actions, talents, and abilities.  Third, habitual lying has brought him to a delusional state. For example, not admitting that Biff is failing math leads Willy into a delusion he shares with his son - that the math teacher, Mr. Birnbaum, has something against him. This, in turn, leads Willy to take a few moments to enjoy Biff's mocking of the math teacher's mannerisms. It is during this time that Willy's mistress reveals both herself, and therefore to us the delusion in which father and son are immersed. For Biff, by the conclusion of the play, the escape from delusion is a hard-won self-awareness; for Willy, the escape is death.  

susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another way to view Willy's flaws might be to examine his male roles: husband, father, provider.  In each of these roles, Willy is a miserable failure.  As a husband, he is not faithful to Linda, neither is he respectful toward her.  As a father, he failed to instill a firm set of morals for his sons, "filling them so full of hot air," that Biff and Happy were delusional about the extent of their talents and their impact on others.  As a provider, Willy is also a failure.  If we read carefully the passages regarding Willy's past, we see that he never really was a successful salesman, that he never had the respect of those he worked with.  He barely made enough money to pay the bills.  On all three fronts, Willy is deeply flawed.

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Death of a Salesman

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