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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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How does Willy Loman's memories and dreams shape his present life and contribute to the family dysfunction in Death of a Salesman?

Quick answer:

Miller’s play is about a family in which the father, Willy Loman, suffers from mental health problems. The diagnostic issues that may be relevant include dementia and depression.

Expert Answers

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As Arthur Miller’s play progresses, the audience can see that Willy Loman is experiencing numerous mental health problems. While some of those problems may be long-standing, Miller provides inadequate information about Willy’s childhood and upbringing that would enable an analyst to determine when his difficulties originated.

One current problem that Willy has is hallucinations. As he converses with his neighbor, Willy imagines that his brother, Ben, is visiting him. Even when Charly asks about this conversation, Willy seems unable to discern that Ben is not actually there. These hallucinations and the blackouts he refers to may indicate senile dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is clear from several imagined conversations that Willy envies his brother, whom he believes has been far more successful than Willy is. At other times, Willy speaks of other successful men in terms of their likability. Willy’s constant emphasis on competition and his harsh evaluation of his own failures points to low self-esteem and an inferiority complex. His overall behavior indicates that he struggles with depression. One might conclude that depression leads to his suicide or that he has suffered a psychotic break.

Willy has instilled the obsession with competition in his sons, neither of whom has a career or a family. Willy could be held responsible for the dysfunction in the family, but one must also consider Linda’s role—whether as an enabler or from suffering psychological abuse.

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