Death of a Salesman: Willy Loman’s Failure as a FatherGet Your
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Willy Loman: Failing Fatherhood Willy Loman, the main character in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, has a powerful father role in the lives of his two sons, Biff and Happy. Willy, a man in his mid sixties, has not only strived to become a successful salesman, but also acts the successful father role, something that was lacked in his own childhood. Willy’s own actions and mistakes in his everyday lifestyle, influence Biff to believe that he has become a failure at the age of thirty-four.
Happy, the younger of the two siblings has found that he has a growing obsession with women, similar to his father’s own affair. The diminishing level of confidence the boys have towards their father has created a terrible fate for the two sons. Willy Loman being unable to realize his mistakes and correct them as well as not changing his morals has set up his sons’ for failure. Biff Loman’s future looked bright when he was in high school- being the star football player with three major scholarships to colleges looked pretty promising- but yet returns home when he is much older claiming that he is “finding himself.
After flunking math his senior year, Biff looked to his father for help, only to catch him in the midst of an affair. The affair changed Biff’s views on his father, someone who he used to greatly admire then questions his father’s hopes for Biff. Biff’s dream is to move out west and live out on a cattle ranch while his father wants him to follow his footsteps to become a salesman: the job that Willy feels is the ultimate dream. When home, Biff tries everything in his power to attempt the path Willy has set out for him, even meeting with a possible job employer to create a new business.
Biff confides in Happy and says, “And then he gave me one look and- I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been” (Miller 104). After the failure of this interview, Biff is left to feel as though his father is the one at fault and the reason that Biff is unsettled at his age, especially when Willy will not listen to Biff when he tries to explain his failure. Growing up, Willy taught Biff that appearance is what determined your status in life which led to Biff striving for success in sports and popularity in an attempt to feel prideful.
Being unsuccessful and seen as lazy through his father’s eyes makes Biff feel as though it is not his fault. Biff was good at sports and such, but was not living up to other’s expectations, such as keeping passing grades in order to go to college. However, Biff risked future self-happiness in order to fall under his father’s beliefs of success. After failing in comparison to Bernard, who becomes a successful lawyer, Biff feels justified to blame it all on his father because of Willy’s actions.
Willy acts as though he is perfect , when talking to his sons he says, ”And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends” (31). Willy is convinced that selling has made him a respected and successful man . In reality, his “perfect life” is shadowed by the affair. Willy lives a life of illusion; believing success at the cost of losing his family if his lies catch up with him. Having a lying failure of a father leaves Biff to believe his own failure is because of his father.
On the contrary, Happy Loman, the younger of the two Loman siblings, has always felt less favored than his brother Biff. Growing up, Happy would constantly aim to please his father and make Willy proud of him. In a flashback to high school, Happy repeatedly asks his father, “I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop? ” (33). When it seems that all the attention is on Biff and his scholarships for football, Happy is left feeling unappreciated from the man he admires the most and sets out to prove himself. Now older, Happy has become a womanizer.
However, he is dissatisfied because he feels as though he is a higher rank and a better person than his coworkers. Happy tries to prove this believed rank to himself by sleeping with the girlfriends of fellow employees and then going to their weddings. As a distraction from the fact that Happy is not the most successful businessman, the job he pursued to impress his father by following in his footsteps, Happy turns to women. When in the restaurant, Happy lies to the two women about his job and lifestyle, “I sell champagne” (101), “At West Point(… )” (102).
Similarly to Willy and his affair, Happy is looking for a way out of an unsuccessful lifestyle. Willy has the desire to escape business and his insecurities and finds the ego-boost in The Woman. Happy similarly believes that these rendezvous with many women will make him feel accomplished and worth something. This can again be traced back to Willy. Had Willy given more attention to Happy and feed his ego, Happy would not feel the need to prove something. After Willy failed to give Happy the sense of pride that was needed led Happy to gain an obsession with women and a negative shaping of personality.
The fate for Biff and Happy Loman are very different, but both can thank their father’s actions. For Biff, the audience is left in hopes that he will finally pursue his dream of moving out west. Had Willy not constantly pushed Biff into selling, Biff would not have a dawn of realization. Once Biff found out about Willy’s affair, Biff realized the bead affect Willy had on his life. Along with the constant arguments, Biff realizes the lying life Willy had lived and is determined to not fall in his footsteps.
Had Willy not begun lying, Biff would not gain a new view on his father and set out to change his own personality and stop aiming to please Willy. Happy on the other hand believes that replicating his father is the only way to get respect from Willy. After growing up underappreciated, Happy is determined to make his parents proud, even being desperate enough to follow along with his father’s illusions and wandering mind; as long as it keeps Willy happy. In the end of the play Happy declares, “I’m getting married, Pop, don’t forget it. I’m changing everything” (133).
After hearing Willy constantly argue with Biff, Happy tries to make positive attention fall on him. Determined to seek pride, Happy is destined to fail just as his father did. In the requiem, Happy says, “I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have- to come out number-one man. He fought it out here , and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (139). Happy sees his future identical to his father and tries to become the successful businessman that Willy always dreamed of becoming.
Happy believes that Willy is still admirable and has the upmost respect for him. If Happy had not always felt underappreciated and second to his brother, he would not feel as desperate to become his father. This last hope seems impossible and has become an unhappy fate for Happy. Had Willy not been caught in his affair and taught the wrong morals to Biff as well as give equal attention to both sons, Biff and Happy’s fate would be less grim. Altogether, Willy Loman’s character as a father set up his sons’ destinies without even knowing it.
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The negative relationship that had become between the three was determined due to Willy’s actions and decisions. Willy’s failure to be truthful and teach the ways to success left Biff feeling justified to blame his own failure on his father. Willy’s favoritism towards Biff left Happy insecure and opened the gate to Happy’s obsession for women and the search for pride. Willy’s mistakes and failure as a salesman and a father created a negative fate for both Biff and Happy. The poor choices and actions Willy made shaped his children’s identity in a poor way.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Death of a Salesman: Willy Loman’s Failure as a Father
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Unlike Willy and Happy, Biff feels compelled to seek the truth about himself. While his father and brother are unable to accept the miserable reality of their respective lives, Biff acknowledges his failure and eventually manages to confront it. Even the difference between his name and theirs reflects this polarity: whereas Willy and Happy willfully and happily delude themselves, Biff bristles stiffly at self-deception. Biff’s discovery that Willy has a mistress strips him of his faith in Willy and Willy’s ambitions for him. Consequently, Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, while Biff sees himself as trapped in Willy’s grandiose fantasies. After his epiphany in Bill Oliver’s office, Biff determines to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to come to realistic terms with his own life. Intent on revealing the simple and humble truth behind Willy’s fantasy, Biff longs for the territory (the symbolically free West) obscured by his father’s blind faith in a skewed, materialist version of the American Dream. Biff’s identity crisis is a function of his and his father’s disillusionment, which, in order to reclaim his identity, he must expose.
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