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Happiness is a thing individuals spend their entire lives in pursuit of. In countless shapes and forms, while the feeling is universally understood, it is unique to each individual and cannot be shared or imposed upon others no matter how hard one tries. So the dreams of someone else cannot bring about one’s own happiness. Willy Loman, in the novel “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, is trying to find happiness vicariously and unrealistically. Rather than understanding the things unique to him that bring him joy and striving to attain it, he creates a reality for himself in which he pretends to be happy and wears the accolades of others as his own. By neglecting to acknowledge one’s personal and realistic dreams, individuals will never truly be content with their lives no matter the trials and tribulations they may overcome.
Willy Loman is an eccentric, family man with grand dreams and plans, often unrealistic, which lead him to failure and unhappiness. As a child, abandoned by his father, Willy was launched into a world of uncertainty where he created expectations that his father might have had for his future. He was also prompted to adopt some sort of father figure and, seeing his older brother Ben at the age of 21 “walked out of the jungle” rich, Willy is naturally drawn to him as a sort of mentor for success. creates a world in his mind where he is well liked and successful as a compensation for his barren childhood and searches constantly for how to fill the void in his heart labelled parental attention and affection. He chooses a career as a salesman after an encounter with a Mr. Dave Singleman who he is in awe of instantly; Dave could “pick up the phone and be remembered and loved by so many different people.” Willy unconsciously compromises his personal pursuit of happiness in order align his life more with Ben Loman and Dave Singleman as he decides this combo was his father’s dream for him. He is convinced that popularity and success, the ideas exposed to him at an influential age, are the only options when trying to find happiness. Willy pretends he is a star employee, regularly boasting about his talent and notoriety as a salesman, and states his earnings confidently. In reality sadly, none of this is true and Willy’s lack of sales and companions cause him to be unhappy and reclude into his fantasy world. Instead of developing his own talents and accepting them, he determines that one’s friends alone equal happiness. According to Willy, having a lot of people like you and being hugely popular was the ultimate goal in life and achieving that would mean you would have made it. He is perpetually recounting his tales of excellence as a salesman to his sons and promises them he is going to be “better than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is liked but not well-liked.”
Willy’s fantasy start to interfere with his real life as his frequent inner monologues are actualized to the point where “it’s getting embarrassing.” He starts to meld real life and his haunting memories together and sees vivid scenes that he is unable to distinguish from reality which dissociate him from even those closest to him. His ultimate success is to die a happy death as a salesman surrounded by all his loved ones and companions. However at the funeral his delusion is fully exposed by the embarrassing turnout. With no ambition or desire to proudly call his own, Willy is lead to take his own life in a deluded attempt to once again to help out his family while avoiding his problems and not facing or fixing his path to true contentment. Growing up, Biff Loman was always under the influence of his fathers vision for his future and adopted it wholeheartedly; Willy was his hero and gave him all the attention in the world growing up. Because of this, he never got a chance to discover his own ambitions. To Willy, Biff was everything he wished he could’ve been when he was young and guiding Biff to success was a way to fulfill his dreams and be happy in ways he could not. Biff is clearly treated as the favourite between Happy; Willy’s younger son, and is given constant praise and admiration from Willy which Biff takes right to heart. Lessons that Willy teaches his sons like “personal attractiveness” and leadership skills take men further than book smarts and grinding all promote an unsustainable sense of happiness because while “the man that creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead”, hard work and ambition are the true tools that bring about success. Biff is sent mixed messages when he steals a football by Willy who does not tell him what the proper etiquette is and how men do not steal, but he is almost praised as “if anyone else took that ball, there’d be an uproar.” He takes this to mean it is alright to steal and is not able to develop core values and beliefs to guide his own life. Instead, he follows a path to happiness laid out for him by someone else who wishes their vision of happiness upon Biff. He attends university, plays football amazingly, and even decides to be a salesman in order to appease his father. Biff never gets to stop and think about what he wants to pursue for true happiness or his true dreams, compromising his real life for a life Willy has convinced him he wants; a cycle waiting to happen. Enrolled in an institute he has no passion for, Biff flunks math and heads to Boston to see his father. His hero. There he is shell shocked to find his father involved in an affair with “the woman,” Willy’s unnamed mistress. Biff has an epiphany and realizes that the countless stories his father told of his greatness were stone sold lies and that he is done trying to align his happiness with his fathers.
Through self-discovery Biff realizes that he needs to be his own person and stop compromising his needs for the ill bred needs of his father to develop his own ambitions and follow his dreams. He realizes that Willy’s empathetically bare way of life, of escape and ego won’t get him far, even though he “doesn’t know what he’s supposed to want.” Biff tries out “twenty or thirty jobs since he left home” but nothing he tries seems to excite or stick with him. His whole life had been filled with unrealistic expectations and superficial ideas of happiness and at this point in the game, he did not know where to begin to get on his track. When he reaches Bill Oliver’s office, he finally realizes what a “ridiculous lie” his whole life had been;his family was spouting stories of being extremely well-off and respected that weren’t true in the slightest. As his process of self discovery for contentment begins, Biff finds that he quite likes the outdoors. Specifically; ranching, and farming. Through reflection of his life of compromise, confusion and ego boosts, he comes to terms with the fact that he “could never stand taking orders from anybody.” He comes home and does his best trying to explain to Willy that he’s alright being “a dime a dozen” but Willy won’t listen. Biff would rather be happy living an authentic hardworking life doing what he truly cares about, than live in a twisted, fake world where success is inherent and everything comes easy. Willy starts crying and finally acknowledges how he feels. At Willy’s funeral, Biff realize that not all dreams are right, nor worth pursuing and manages to saves his own future from his predestined fate by pursuing his true dream and compromising hard work for nothing.
When one’s contentment is dependant on the compromise of their own dreams and ambitions for the appeasement of others, one cannot find happiness. Each person has their own life, their own journey to live and experience. Individuals must live in their own lives and be the best version of themselves they can be while on their respective pursuits of happiness and remember that dreams must be faced head on. FInding the courage to compromise when necessary but stand tall for what one believes in will lead the individual to real happiness.
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