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A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman

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Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman is story of the American Dream and how it is a prime example humanity misinterpreting what a perfect life is. Miller uses Willy as an example of a tragic hero doesn’t have to be perfect or the good life, when in fact it can be just a common man trying to make a living. This makes the story of Willy and his sad downfall more real towards the viewer, when they could almost compare the job and the sort of lifestyle to that era in the United States. Often people cover up their mistakes with lies and deceit yet expect to achieve their goals without any problems. Throughout the story the reader can follow the unfortunate demise of both the salesman and his son. These two characters exhibit flaws that become apparent throughout the play as Biff grows into an adult. Whether his personality traits developed as a result of his own nature or as a product of Willy’s parenting has been a point of contention for many audiences.

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It is crucial to understand Arthur Miller Life and upbringing to clearly view his perspective in his plays. Born in 1915 in New York City, as a child Miller knew not that much about delinquency. In the streets of New York in 1957 would spend his time talking to sociologist, and psychiatrists hoping to write about juvenile delinquency as he states in an interview done with Richard Evans. Miller’s research on Juvenile delinquency can pay a great role in his creation of the character Biff, who is a delinquent himself as a child. It can also be mentioned that Miller had a son with down syndrome, this can be a connection to willy that Miller had. His understanding of parenting an autistic child gave him an understanding on parenting, and a perspective on mental health. The Death of a Salesman is a story that splices the play in the present and past, focusing on main character Willy Loman. Willy Loman, a salesman who just returned from a business trip is surprised to see that his sons came to visit him from out of town. It is very important to note that Willy has been having trouble with driving correctly and is starting to talk to himself more often than usual. Willy recently was just demoted from his job, with all the stress he begins to hallucinate, about his past. In the hallucination he talks to his deceased brother Ben, about how he got his fortune in the diamond mining industry. Throughout the story Biff can be seen looking distraught about his father ending up the way he did. While Happy, Biffs brother, always knew that his father talked to himself but not to an extent that Willy has taken it. By the end of the story the two sons leave their father at the restaurant by himself.

A careful reading can show that it is the one part of Willy, Biff’s father, and his poor parenting that leads to Biff’s poor character traits as shown in his Flashbacks depicted throughout the play. Miller’s purpose for including the flashbacks was to show that his family meant a lot to him, also using the flashbacks for character development. It added towards representing Willy’s sanity and showing the overall disillusionment he was going through. One of Willie’s flashbacks in Scene three act two is very important because it takes place in the past completely. This scene pays homage to the overall theme of pride with his children absolutely worshiping him, the viewer can tell that Willie holds this memory close to his heart. Willy believes in this memory that he is living the American Dream, everything he says in this memory is perfect. In his Biff and Happy’s eyes hero, Biff says towards the end of the scene “This Saturday, Pop, this Saturday -just for you, I’m going to breakthrough a touchdown.” This type of behavior of constantly having constant episodes in him reliving his past, or his rapid outbursts that randomly happen.

An important scene to note in this play can be seen during an incident that happens in one of Willy’s flashbacks. Scene ten begins in a hotel room and Willy can be seen with another woman and is caught by Biff, who calls Willy a “liar” and “phony little fake”. This event can be considered the moment that Biff loses all respect for his father, all of Biffs thought of his father being perfect is sent right downhill. This plays a major role in the hatred that Biff holds against his father, who throughout the play constantly uses his wife as a sort of punching bag. It should be known that Arthur Miller left his first wife whom he had two children with, this could play a role in his character development for Willy.

Another key moment in this play is during thirteen, in an interaction both Willy and Biff break. As an argument commences as Biff attempts to leave his Fathers residence, as Biff leans in for a hand shake Willy refuses and exclaims “May you rot in hell if you leave this house!”, pushing Biff to confront Willy and his attempt at suicide. (Biff is worn out from constantly feeding his father’s disorder, bringing out a rubber hose that his father tried using to commit suicide. Biff bring the rubber hose not only faces Willy with reality of his intention that he is hiding but crushing his dream of Willy’s suicide to redeem himself for what he has done.

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In conclusion, by finally ending his life Willy faces the truth that all of what he dreamed and hoped for was for nothing. Giving the viewer a scary reality of how following a false hope or an American dream, the outcome may be scarier than the thoughts. During the requiem Willy’s funeral is held, but there is nobody there for him only his wife and sons. It was Willy in the end who found out that not everybody wins in the game of life. Even if all the odds are stacked against you, there is no such thing as hope in reality.

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A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s the Death of a Salesman. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
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