Isolation in Death of a Salesman


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Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman is the story of a man, Willy Loman, gone deaf to the outside world. Though many try to help him, he shuts them out and creates his own reality in which he is successful and loved by everyone. In Death of a Salesman, Willy has many influences both good and bad attempting to direct his life; it is his refusal to choose the helpful advice that will ultimately lead to his downfall.

One negative influence in Willy's life is the inability of his friends to confront him about his problems. It is Willy's wife that causes him the most harm. In her vain attempt to protect Willy, she actually allows his eventual death. The first sign of her negligence comes in one of Willy's flashbacks. Willy brags, "I did five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston"(35). But as Linda begins calculating his commission, the value rapidly diminishes to "roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip"(35). Linda sees what is going on but does not confront him. A very similar situation occurs later in their life when she finds out that Willy is no longer on salary, but borrows money every week from Charley. Again she will not confront him. By not confronting Willy in either of these instances, Linda allows him to sink further into his false reality. But Linda makes an even worse mistake that allows for Willy's suicide. She acknowledges his suicidal tendencies when she says, "He's been trying to kill himself"(58). She tells the boys that she has found the rubber hose in the basement, but she still will not confront Willy. Another character who is unable to be straight with Willy is Willy's boss Howard Wagner. Howard allows Willy to keep his job, but does not pay him. If he had just fired him right out it would of forced Willy to find a new job. By stringing him along, Howard allows Willy to maintain his fantasy world unchallenged. These are examples of the most negative influences in Willy's life simply because they have the ability to help but choose not to.

It seems that the only people who want to help Willy, are those who he least listens to. In fact the two best influences on Willy come from the same family. Bernard grew up with Biff and Happy but chose a much different path. At a key time in Biff's life, Bernard warns "I he doesn't buckle down he'll flunk"(40). In this scene Bernard is trying to tell Willy that he is instilling the wrong values in his sons who are destined for failure. Willy however does not want to listen to Bernard because he has the most popular and athletic son in town. But even later when Willy sees Bernard's success he will not listen. Bernard sees that Willy is still holding on to a job that is not working for him and tells him "sometimes, Willy, it's just better for a man to walk away"(95). Willy can only respond by asking "But if you can't walk away?"(95). Charley, Bernard's father, even takes trying to help Willy a step farther. Charley sees early on that Willy's job is not working out and begins offering him a job. Charley continues to offer this job until the end. And even though Willy refuses to take a job from Charley, Charley continues to loan Willy the money he needs every week knowing he will never get paid back. In this play Charley and Bernard are the only characters from the beginning to the end that truly do everything they can to help Willy; yet still Willy refuses to listen to them.

Because Willy does not want to listen to the outside world, he is forced to create his own sources of guidance. This guidance comes in the form of Ben his brother and Dave Singleman. Ben appears to the audience in the form of Willy's flashbacks. He excites Willy with tales of self-made fortune. Willy uses Ben as a scapegoat in order to explain his own failures. He makes himself believe that if he had gone with Ben, he too would be rich. By doing this he avoids facing his own failures as a salesmen. Though we never see Dave Singleman, he is the single most powerful influence on Willy. He is Willy's personification of the perfect salesman. Willy hopes to gain the respect and success that Dave Singleman had. But in reality Dave represents the superficiality, which Willy bases his life on. All of the good qualities that Dave Singleman possessed were superficial. Nothing is said about his family life or character. Willy needs to realize that it is the inner qualities that count.

By creating a mold of the ideal man in his head, Willy sets himself up for disappointment. When he is unable to be the ideal man he wants to be, he looses his will to live and deems himself as a failure. But because he has shut himself off from those around him, no one is able to reach him before it is too late.

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