The Changes of Willy Loman’s Character in Death of a Salesman

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About this sample


Words: 2845 |

Pages: 6|

15 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 2845|Pages: 6|15 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Every person in the world has a split persona, their public persona can be way different from their private persona. Willy Loman in the tragedy play Death of a Salesman, written by an American Playwright, Arthur Miller, functions as a complex character. Throughout the course of the play Willy Loman’s changes throughout the story, there are many times where the play explains several of his memories which take place in the past and present, this reveals the idea that Willy could no longer tell the difference between his past and present. Arthur Miller uses Willy Loman’s complex character traits to help the reader understand that the American Dream is many people’s main goal but not many people achieve it.

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In the play Death of a Salesman Willy has many flaws which are shown through his dialogue and actions in most of the play, Willy Loman has shown many insecurities which describes a character of insecurity. His insecurities were created when he was small, at a young age his father left his brother Ben and Willy when he was a baby as stated by Willy when he was having unreal conversation with Ben “Willy: Can’t you stay a few days?... dad left when i was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him…”. The sentence shows that growing up Willy never got the chance to speak with his father or really anyone, he wanted Ben to stay there longer because he was all he needed. Willy also stated that he felt “kind of temporary” about himself since he never had a father figure that he could talk to when he needed a shoulder to lean on. The dialogue between Willy and the illusion of Ben talking about being abandoned is what describes one of the reasons why Willy has several insecurities. Willy failing so many times has made him extremely insecure about himself. He wants to get things done so he will be able to be successful and leave things for his wife Linda and his two sons, Biff and Happy. While he was talking to Stanley he mentioned he needed some seeds to plant, “Willy: I’ve got to get some seeds...right away... Nothing’s planted. I don't have a thing on the ground.” When Willy mentions the seeds he was basically saying that he didn’t have anything to leave his family, such as money or his salesman legacy which basically symbolized all of his failure. Not being able to leave any money for his wife and his two sons made him very doubtful most of the time. Willy had failed so many times to the point that he doesn't really have any proof of any work that he has ever done which was why he wanted to leave a garden which would give his family legacy and money when Willy was gone. Due to the fact that Willy was very insecure about himself and got him nowhere near any of his goals, he was never able to achieve many of the goals he always dreamed of.

Willy always lied about many things to his wife Linda, and his two sons, he would lie to cover up for all his failures so they could think he was a productive salesman. All of Willy’s lies contributed to him being portrayed as a dishonest character. The lies began when Willy had first arrived at his house and Linda had asked why he was back so early. Willy intentionally lied to Linda, “Willy: I suddenly couldn’t drive anymore. The car kept going onto the shoulder…”. He lied to her about why he had returned which he said he couldn't drive anymore “Linda: ...Maybe it was the coffee.” (Miller, pg. 1236) he blamed the coffee for him returning but in reality he went back because he almost ran over someone in Yonkers, where he had reached. Not only did he lie about him returning but he also lied to Linda about the company in New York. Linda was a kind and supportive wife, but Willy would constantly lie to her so he would feel better about himself. Another time when he lied to her was when she had asked him if he had sold anything and he told her he did “Willy: I did five hundred gross… and seven hundred gross in Boston.” A few minutes later everything comes out, it comes to the conclusion that Willy lied, first he had said he had made five hundred and seven hundred gross and after a while he mentions he only made about a hundred and eighty gross. The reader can tell that Willy was lying about how much he had made, while Linda just ignores what he had said by telling him he had done good. There were several delusional lies, in Act I, Willy cheats on the love of his life, Linda. He has an affair with one of the clients' workers. “Willy: ‘Cause I get so lonely- especially when business is bad and there’s nobody to talk to…” (Miller, pg.1249) The affair that Willy had with the other women is an example of his dishonesty to his supportive wife. Throughout the play there are many lies which cover up many things, many of the lies are unrealistic while there are some that are in fact intentional. Willy as well as his two sons, happy and biff lie to each other several times. Not only did they lie to each other but also to themselves. Willy being dishonest most of the time never helped him accomplish the “American Dream” his lies didn’t help because no one knew the actual truth of him failing many times, so no one was able to help him in conflicts he may have had.

Throughout the play Willy Loman had many memories in which he would remember and in some he would relive them. He also had many problems which would cause him to not work a lot. There were some points where he couldn’t tell if they were real or delusional. Willy being unstable due to his mental health was one of the reasons why he was never to accomplish many things. At the beginning of Act I he tells Linda that he came back because he couldn’t drive anymore, “Willy: ...Suddenly I realize i'm goin’ sixty miles an hour and I don't remember the last five minutes...I can’t seem to keep my mind to it.” Willy’s mental state were reasons why he wasn’t able to work anymore he wasn’t able to continue his path to wherever he was going. There was a time where he almost killed someone because he couldn’t remember. Linda being supportive always tried to backup whatever Willy said but in reality his mental health affected him. The play consists of many memories that Willy had as well as many recreations of the past. The memories and recreations both happen in the present, as mentioned before Willy also relieves most of his memories. There was a time when Willy was having a conversation with Charley, his neighbor, and he called him his brother's name, Ben. “Willy: I’m getting awfully tired, Ben.” Willy would have delusional memories, he thought he was speaking to his dead brother when in reality he was having a conversation with his neighbor. While having and recreating that memory Willy had Ben as well and was “talking” to him in his memory “Ben: I only have a few minutes.” Willy had mental problems because he would talk to people who were dead, Ben, in his past memories where he would recreate them in the present. Due to the fact that Willy Loman had many memories caused him to not be able to tell the difference between his memories in the past and the present. Willy saw himself as a failure and what caused it was that he wasn’t able to tell between his past and present, so he wasn’t able to accomplish his dream.

Willy always said things before thinking about what he was saying, he didn't think if his words were going to affect someone else's feelings. He was inconsiderate, he would always think about achieving his goal and being a successful salesman. Linda was always a supportive and caring wife to Willy, she always tried to make him feel better about himself. Willy being uncaring was always really negative about many things. In the beginning of Act I, Willy raises his voice at linda “Willy: (with casual irritation) I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me?).  Linda was simply asking him a question on why he had returned, although Willy had a reason to be somewhat mad he didn’t have to raise his voice at her. Even after he raised his voice at her he still lied to her a little after that by saying that he came back because he couldn’t drive anymore. After he told her the truth and even screamed at her she still backed him up on why he had returned by saying that he should find a job closer to there. Most of the time he’s always saying negative and unnecessary comments about his son Biff. “Willy: The trouble is he’s lazy, goddammit.” “Biff is a lazy bum.” (Miller, pg. 1237) Willy and his sons did have a difficult relationship, but that wasn’t a reason to always be saying negative comments about Biff. The reason why Willy would always call Biff lazy was because he wanted his sons to be someone they aren’t, he wants them to be successful and have a better job. Whenever Willy had an affair with “The Women” he didn’t think about Linda’s feelings he just thoughtlessly hurt her by being with the other women. “Willy: ‘Cause I get so lonely-especially when business is bad and there’s nobody to talk to…”  By saying that Willy didn’t care about his Wife, he had an affair with the women so he would do good in his job, but he never realized he was actually hurting Linda as well as his family because he was cheating on Linda with The Women. Linda was always loyal and supportive and Willy paid her back by having an affair with another woman. There were several times in the play where Willy was rude and uncaring to Linda, he would always raise his voice and her but she was always there for him. “Willy: Shut up! … Linda: All the mothers- … Willy: Shut up.” Linda as mentioned before would always support Willy but he never really took that into consideration and always only thought about himself. He never treated his family correctly, he always said negative comments which all of that brought his family even more down as well as his failures. Willy always being inconsiderate could have been one of the main reasons why he was never able to have a successful job, money, or accomplish the “American Dream.”

Willy Loman’s actions and thoughts are what lead to him having different types of traits throughout the play, all of his character traits are what made him a complex character. Many of those traits help the reader visualize how many people dream about the “American Dream” but as hard as they try to achieve it they fail at it, Willy Loman being one of those people. Willy dreamed about the American dream all his life, as much as he tried to accomplish it he never did, he failed so many times. Him trying so hard for the American Dream is what made Willy Loman commit suicide.

Historical/ Cultural context

Arthur Miller was the middle child, he had an older brother and a younger sister. He grew up in New York City where his father, Isidore Miller, was a businessman as a way of living. His father stopped being a businessman when the “Crash of 1929” happened. After the crash Miller and his family suffered through the “Depression.” While Miller saw everything from the Depression of the 1930’s such as people begging for money and work in the streets was what affected him the most. Rosefeldt explained that Miller saw the Depression as a failure of a capitalist system of government and how many people blamed this failure of the Depression on themselves. During the time of the Depression was when Miller doubted himself, society, and all his family as well, that really affected Miller. Not only did he have a feeling of himself but it was also an important part in many of his stories, dramas, and essays. Growing up Miller was a poor student, they didn’t have enough money most of the time. Bigspy mentioned that Death of a Salesman is not about Arthur Miller’s father, but when they suffered through the Depression his father had to borrow money from Hisson. Although his father wasn’t that stable and didn’t have enough money he still wanted Miller to follow in his footsteps. As mentioned by Rollyson, Carl, and Price, Miller was inspired by Fyodor Dosoevski’s questionings in The Brothers Karamazov and that helped him persuade the University of Michigan to admit him. (Rollyson, Carl, and Price, 2003) While Miller was explaining to his father about his plans for College his father considered it as betrayal. Arthur Miller was able to obtain many awards with all of his achievements. He was announced as one of the most well known American dramatists ever since, Eugene O’ Neill, modern father of American drama. Arthur Miller had begun writing ideas for the play Death of a Salesman ever since he was a teenager, where he also wrote a story about a Jewish Salesman.

Published Literary Criticism

There are many experts that mention in their articles that Death of a Salesman examines the nature of the American Dream and its promise of success as well as many unfulfilled dreams. Many people’s goal is the American Dream, their main goal is to accomplish it. The reason they want to accomplish it would be to have a better life, to have success. The play Death of a Salesman deeply examines it throughout all the play, as Willy Loman is one of the characters whose main goal is the American Dream, he tried his best to accomplish it. He dreamed of it because he knew once he achieved everything he would finally be successful and have a good job without having to lie to his family and the rest of the people. Even though he failed many times he still wanted to achieve it, he wanted to be someone in life. He was desperate to have in mind that he was “well liked” by people as a salesman, to be a good example for his two sons, and lastly have in mind that he had succeeded. Another thing that experts mention is that Willy Loman wasn’t categorized in the play, he is both a simple and complex character. Willy Loman had several character traits throughout the whole play. I in fact agree with what all these experts say, Willy Loman was a complex character. As mentioned in the critical analysis of Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman has several character traits which is what makes him a complex character. He dramatically changes throughout the story, from being delusional to being dishonest and insecure. There are a number of character traits that Willy could be classified as due to the fact that in the story he’s a different person at different times. I as well agree on how they mentioned that Death of a Salesman examines the American Dream, as reading the play it really describes how Willy Loman’s goal was to achieve the American Dream. Sadly, he never did, he failed many times which may have cause him not to be successful and that could’ve been the reason on why he committed suicide. Willy Loman wanted to accomplish his goals so he could be a “well liked” salesman and to have a good job. There are several experts that mention that the play wasn't about Arthur Miller’s father since their story is similar, I totally agree with them, Miller could’ve just been going through a hard time when he wrote this play.

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The play Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller deeply describes how back in the days the American Dream was people’s main goal. They always dreamed about achieving it so they could be able to have a better life, as seen on the play, Willy Loman wanted to achieve his goals to be a successful salesman. There are several articles which explain the time when it was written, it's seen that Arthur Miller could’ve based this play on how he saw society, not just his family in general. There are in fact several scholars who are correct about Willy Loman. Many of them describe how he is seen as a complex character. After reading and analyzing Willy Loman he is a complex character and how many people describe him, he has many character traits which lead to the conclusion that he’s a complex character. Due to Willy having many of those traits is what could’ve caused him not to achieve his goals.  

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The Changes Of Willy Loman’s Character In Death Of A Salesman. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from
“The Changes Of Willy Loman’s Character In Death Of A Salesman.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
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