So this was a very good question put to me by a friend, Zooey Z;
“So last night, while I should have been reading Federalist No. 10, I was reading the “Death of a Salesman” entry on the Wiki, and the main question I came away with was this: Why do you call yourself “Willy Loman?””
and this is the best I could come up with as an answer;
“Well, that’s an interesting question.
There is a page that defines some of what I feel Willy is about on the site.
But that doesn’t really answer your question, now does it?
Perhaps a less materialistic view of the meaning of “Death…” is necessary to understand my choice. Wiki, though a great source, isn’t always…well…right.
First of all, Willy is not just fired by a man (Howard) young enough to be his son, he is his God Son, and Willy helped pick his name, with Howard’s father.
The “age of entitlement” is best represented by Howard than it is by Biff and Happy (Willy’s sons); because he inherits the company that Willy helped create and then won’t even give him a desk job to keep him off the road when Willy begs in his office.
Second of all, Happy is very much like the woman in my “Apostles…” story. He believes whole heartedly in this new economic American dream, and keeps professing he will “make it” and thus make his father proud. But Happy is limited, mentally, and will never be more than “an assistant to the assistant Buyer”. He will never realize the American Dream, as he pictures it. But will always push for it, and measure himself by it; and in that way, he is like his father.
The John Malkovitch part, Biff, is probably the second most complicated part in the play. He has all the capacity to “make it” and has even held several jobs and positions that had serious promise…but he keeps “stealing his way out of them”. Over and over he gets jobs based on his youth and ability and likeability, but sooner or later, he self-destructs. He can’t figure out why, till this great scene right before Willy goes out to the car to “go for a drive”. Biff comes to understand that the whole time, he has been following “the wrong dream” and he begs his father to understand… to give up on the “dream” and to see things, in this world, for what they are and to accept them as the true nature of life, rather than chasing after some delusion of greatness based on an artificial measuring stick.
Were this story only about Willy’s inability to let go of the American Dream, it could very well end with this. But that is not what this story, and by extension, willyloman, is about.
Willy; Ah, Willy. He is probably the most misunderstood contemporary character of our time.
You will notice that even Wiki mentions his “tragic flaw”. That is because Willy is a Tragic Hero in the classic Greek Tragedy mold. The formula is that a Hero must fall from some position of honor and respect due to his “tragic flaw” after a prolonged struggle with the world in which the play is set, and in so doing, he is destroyed by it, but only after coming to a new understanding of the world.
Often times, many of those around the Hero, plead with them to just “let it go” but what makes them Heroic, is that they cannot no matter how hard they try, “let it go”. They see the world, in some ways, as it should be, though they try as hard as they can, they cannot make it so. This is very important to the formula of the “tragic hero”.
The tragic hero must have many viable opportunities to step off the inevitable course of self destruction thru-out the development of the play. Biff does, in the end, come to that realization and does step outside of himself long enough to see what is really important in life. And he pleads with Willy to do the same. But the play isn’t about Biff any more than Biff is heroic in our eyes.
The real problem with people’s perception of the play is that people don’t think Biff reaches Willy in the final scene where he tries to tell him to burn that “phony dream”.
Biff does reach him. So much so, Willy happily goes off to do what he must. The general public will reject the notion of the play for the most part because they don’t like its message, which can really be summed up quite nicely by what the two of you (and Wayne) wrote the other night.
It is the flawed system that crushes the nature of the man and doesn’t serve him but enslaves him with the fantasy of the American Dream. The third “Noble Lie”.
willyloman comes to know and see the true greatness of his son, but the reason the play is about Willy and not Biff, is because willyloman also sees the world for which it is and that his ability to provide for his children has come to an end, save his one last contract.
He comes to understand it is the wrong dream. But he also knows his children must survive and thrive within it and that it is his duty to provide for them. It is his last measure of devotion to his family; to his sons. He goes off happily to meet his end, knowing that with “20,000 behind them…they will be great”.
He struggles with his tragic flaw, comes to a deeper understanding of the world, and in the end he is destroyed by it.
I would love to sign all my work with my real name, and Goggle myself from time to time, because that is, after all, the “new measure” of our blogging worth.
But this isn’t about me, I’m not even sure it is me anymore.
I don’t mean to lecture you about the play anymore than I mean to lecture about the stuff I write. I just love the play, and what it means and I hope more people understand what Mr. Miller was driving at and why they gave him a Pulitzer Prize for it at a time when this new “American Dream” was being sold to our nation.”