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Conflict is an essential element in all pieces of literature. In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, every character in the play deals with conflict at one point or another. However, Willy Loman is confronted with a large amount of conflicts throughout the play. None of Willy’s conflicts, Willy versus Biff, Willy versus himself, and Willy versus society, are resolved by the end of the play.
Willy faces a father-son conflict with Biff throughout the play. When Biff returns home, Willy senses it as a failure. He returns home to find out who he is. Willy desperately wants Biff to succeed in every way possible. However, Willy and Biff have conflicting views of what the American Dream is. Willy believes that selling is the greatest job a man can have. On the contrary, Biff feels that the best job a man can have is working outdoors with his hands. When these two dreams collide, Willy becomes frustrated because he believes he is correct and his way is the only way. This contrast between their beliefs builds up throughout the play up to their final argument near the close of Act II. Biff is the only Loman that is able to see past Willy’s illusions about life. “Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?” (133) He is the only one able to see reality. Willy is in a dream world where he believes he is on the verge of success whereas Biff is able to see the harsh reality and recognizes that both he and his father are failures. Young Biff had the same beliefs and views as his father, but after discovering his father’s infidelity, these beliefs changed. He realized he didn’t want to become like his father and changed his beliefs. By the end of the play, Willy’s conflict is not resolved. “He had all the wrong dreams.” (138) Willy and Biff’s beliefs are still opposite of each other’s. Although Biff has found out who he is, it is not the person his father had hoped for. He is not the leader of men and successful salesman his father wanted him to be, he is an ordinary man who plans to go out West. As Willy faced continuing conflict with his son, he also endured conflicts with himself.
Willy faces conflicts with his inner self throughout the play. Willy refuses to accept who he is and his self pride is too important to him. Willy Loman refuses to admit that he is an ordinary man. He must be the successful American businessman that is a leader among men. He is in a dream world where he is on the verge of success. Throughout the play, he is at odds with who he perceives himself to be and who he is in reality. He seems to ignore the talent and appreciation he has for carpentry. He believes that if he purses carpentry, he would be beneath himself. Willy struggles with the fact that he will never be able to achieve his perception of who he wants to be. This conflict goes on until his death. He continues to believe he can be on top of the world, but in reality, he is a normal human being. Willy has a strong sense of self pride in him, one that may be too strong. He is afraid to show a lack of it to Charley or his family. When Willy meets Charley at his office in Act II, he offers him a job to help him. However, Willy is too proud of himself and will not work for Charley. He still believes he can survive without Charley’s job offer. He doesn’t understand that reality that he is a failure. He also considers himself superior to Charley. He believes Charley is not well-liked and is not the ideal character one should be. He knows that accepting a job offer from someone below him would be an insult to his self pride. Willy is also afraid to admit he is done and can not survive anymore to his family. “I can’t throw myself on my sons.” (84) He is also afraid to show any weakness to his sons. Willy dies a man extremely proud of himself. However, he still has not faced the reality of who he truly is. He did not admit he needed help like an ordinary man would, a man just like him. As Willy’s conflict with himself grew, so did his conflict with his society.
Willy is in conflict with society like the majority of American men in the last century. Willy struggles with his selling as he ages. The young Willy was able to make sales easily, but now he is older, and has more difficulty selling. Willy is constantly trying to find the key to success in selling. He constantly worries about other people’s perception of him and blames his lack of success on his physical traits such as his weight and clothing. Willy believes these are the reasons why he has difficulty selling, while in reality, it is the fact that he does not see himself and the world as they really are. When he first started selling, buyers may have been interested in charismatic salesman. However, as time changed, the business world looked for knowledgeable salesman to promote products. Willy is always worried about his appearance up to his death and still has difficulty understanding why he is never accepted as a talented businessman. When Willy talks to Howard about possibly staying in New York to sell, Willy feels like he is being thrown away by society. “A man is not a piece of fruit!” (82) Willy claims a man is not an orange where you eat the orange and throw away the peal. He is referring to himself when he says this. Willy has worked for this business for 34 years and after all his work for the company, he is worth nothing to it. In society, a man is often measured by his income and skills that can be used in society. However, Willy lacks both of these and society deems him as useless. Therefore, Howard fires him from a business standpoint. Willy’s conflict with society is not resolved. At his funeral, no one comes except for his family and Charley and Bernard. Society found him useless and threw him away.
None of Willy Loman’s conflicts with Biff, himself, and society are resolved by the end of the play. In his conflict with Biff, he is never able to nurture Biff into the man he wanted him to become. In his conflict with himself, he is never able to see the reality. Finally, in his conflict with society, he is a victim of America’s capitalistic and materialistic environment. However, the main cause of all his conflicts is his inability to see the reality in life. Perhaps that is why he was unable to solve any of his conflicts. However, Willy Loman was a troubled man from the beginning of the play to his death. He was much more than a man who had plenty of conflicts, he was a man who attempted to live the American Dream, but ultimately, his conflicts stopped him.
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