Death of a Salesman is a play that is based on the happenings in Boston and New York. The action starts in Willy Loman’s home. This is an aging salesman who arrives home from a long trip. Willy experiences difficulties in distinguishing between the current events from his past memories. His wife asks him to look for a job in New York instead. This leads to an argument about their two children Biff and Happy. After a while, the two brothers overhear their father talking to himself (Breitkopf 3).
The two brothers also discuss about their lives and jobs. Both of them are not satisfied with their jobs and consider buying a ranch, so that they can work together. The play, then, moves to the present time where a neighbor by the name Charley comes to play the game of cards. However, old memories are triggered when Uncle Ben enters the house and Willy remembers a conversation they had in the past. Generally, the play shifts time, forth and backwards and it’s all about the events that take place in most households. There are some arguments as well as happy times (Breitkopf 6). Therefore, this paper seeks to contextualize the play in the modern time and providing additional information to make the play relevant to the audience in the modern time. The paper picks on a number of issues that happened in the past and tries to apply them into today’s world.
The play addresses the issue of loss of identity where a man cannot accept change both in himself and the society. It is full of dreams, memories, arguments, and confrontations. The same applies to the modern world. For instance, in many families, confrontations are bound to happen. Sometimes parents enter into arguments about various issues. In the most cases, they always try to settle their differences away from their children. However, sometimes children are bound to overhear their parents’ arguments and, therefore, understand what the problem might be. Similarly, fathers always want to associate themselves with the success of their children, but blame the failures to the mothers. In addition, sometimes people do not want to own up their mistakes and always find excuses to justify their actions.
There are three main themes in the play: contradiction, denial, and disorder versus order. Every member of Willy’s family lives in denial in one way or the other. For instance, Willy cannot accept the fact that he is not a good salesman (Miller 1301). As the father, he wants to be the best at whatever he does. He is forced to deny the reality and strive for his dream of success. Instead of accepting that, he is not good in salesmanship, Willy retreats to the past memories and tries to give stories of the success he achieved in the past. In a way, he knows that none of his family members was present in the past and, therefore, no one could refute his claims. The same applies to the current times. People will always want to justify their failures by pointing out instances where they perceived to be successful.
Similarly, the most parents want to take up credit for the success of their children. For instance, Willy remembers a day when his son Biff vowed to make a touchdown in a football game for him (Miller 1302). Apparently, he seems to remember the good experiences of the past and does not recall the bad experiences. To some extent, you would say that it is human nature to be associated with success. Therefore, Willy is eager to tell his buyers about this story. In the modern context, not very many people can afford to pursue medical courses, because of the high financial resources needed as well as the high stakes in academic qualification. Therefore, medical courses are considered to be very lucrative and associated with the bright people. Additionally, they are hands-on and would require perseverance unlike other causes where you only seat next to a computer from morning to evening. Many parents are happy when their children enroll of such course and they would always want to tell friends and neighbors about it.
In addition, children are likely to pick up their parents’ character since character is learned based on the environment in which one is raised. Other than picking the parents’ genes, children also tend to behave like their parents. There is no doubt that Willy’s sons adopt the character of denial from their father although it proves to be detrimental to them. On several occasions, you find that parents want at least one of their children to pursue a similar profession to their. For instance, if a father is a business man or a musician, he would wish for one of his children to pursue the same. In addition, it is very unlikely that a child would see anything wrong in his parent and point it out because of respect. The same applies to Biff in the play. He only admitted that he was as phony as his father towards the end of the play. This is an indication that he came to realize that his father’s character was not the best, but he could not tell him and instead wanted to be like him. Only the outsiders would see such problems, but even they find it difficult to say.
In the play, only Linda recognizes that Willy’s family was living in denial (Miller 1307). However, she plays along with Willy’s ideas for the sake of preserving the fragile mental state. Similarly, doctors will always want to put themselves in the levels of the patients to make it look like they are equals. It would be detrimental to a patient if the doctor out rightly showed him that he was sick or had some mental problem. The first step should be for the doctors to come down to the patient’s level to understand and make him feel that people care about him.
Another theme that comes out in the play is contradiction. On numerous occasions, there are inconsistencies in Willy’s behavior. As a matter of fact, inconsistency is the only constant thing about Willy. From the first scene of the play, Willy contradicts himself when he refers to his son Biff as a “lazy bum” (Miller 1301), and later, when he turns around to allege that Biff was “hard worker” (Miller 1301). These claims confuse the audience in the beginning. However, as the play goes on, the audience realizes that this was Willy’s character. The inconsistency that plays out in Willy’s character is as a result of his attempt to run away from the reality by manipulating the past to try and escape from the present. For instance, Willy tries to deny the fact that Biff does not respect him because of the affair he had with another women when he was dating Biff’s mother. Instead of admitting to the fact that their relationship was not as good as it used to be, he prefers to retreat to some past memory when Biff respected and admired him. As Willy’s problems become bigger to deal with, he retreats more and more into the past trying to find some comfort. Unfortunately, the reality still remains that he was not respected by the son.
In most occasions, sons are usually very close to their mothers. Therefore, they would hate anyone who disrespects their mother. This is mainly, because sons would want to protect their mothers, because they are perceived to weak unlike fathers who can take care of themselves. Similarly, most sons are raised by single mothers or they spend most of their time with the mothers as the fathers spend most of their time away from the families. As the sons watch the problems their mothers go through, their bond grows stronger.
The third theme in the play is order versus disorder. This results from the fact that Willy always retreats to the past every time he is confronted with an unpleasant experience. Therefore, he does so as a way of denying the present. In fact, he spends the most of his time in the past to try and reestablish himself. As reality becomes more disastrous and fragmented, Willy creates a different reality by going back to the past experiences. For instance, when Willy is fired, he confides in Ben that nothing was working out and he did not know exactly what to do (Miller 1360). However, when he was offered a job, he refused and remained convinced that he would one day become a reputable sales man like Dave Singleman. Similarly, most people would want to put their feet in the shoes of the most successful people in the world or people they look up to. Even when it is difficult to make a career in medicine, some people will always convince themselves that they were in the right profession and that one day things will be okay.
In conclusion, this is a play that the audience can relate to emotions because of self failure, denial, and regrets are issues that people experience in their daily lives. Therefore, Willy’s character is not unique. The mistakes he made affected his relationship, which friends and family members. The same happens in modern time.