What is Willy's philosophy in "Death of a Salesman"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miller creates the character of Willy as the embodiment of the failure within the American Dream.  Willy is presented as a prototypical American male of the post World War II era who was taught that if he works hard, plays by the rules, and believes in the authenticity of his dreams, success will be evident.  The reality is that this is not the case in that there are obstacles that inhibit the realization of a dream where monetary and financial success represent the ultimate payoff. Willy's philosophy is to believe in his dreams and within this notion of "big dreams," he will succeed.  The reality is far different because of the matrix of inhibitions that prevent this dream from becoming a reality.  Willy's philosophy of dreams involve "making it big," which is a strictly economic notion of the good.  This challenges him to find success in a vision where the finality of money determines success or failure.   The constant denial of the realization of this conception of dreams compel him to commit suicide for a monetary payoff.  In this philosophy of life, one's value is directly tied to money.  Miller creates this in a deliberate manner in his desire to provide a more complex notion of the "American Dream" philosophy that enveloped so much of American society.

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While it is true that a major component of Willy Loman's philosophy in life revolves around the idea of financial success, what is even more important to him is social status, specifically the concept of being "well liked." Willy openly mocks his neighbor Charley and Charley's son Bernard, even as going as far as calling Bernard an "anemic" (which presumably is supposed to imply that he is weak). Willy does this in front of his own two sons and constantly reinforces the idea that Charley and Bernard are not well liked, but that he and his boys are and that is the key to success. This obsession with being liked probably started when Willy's own father abandoned him when he was very young.

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Death of a Salesman

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