In “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, Willy Loman is the father of two, Biff and Happy, who is at the twilight of his career life as a traveling salesman. He is sixty years old and mulling on retirement but his present career does not permit him. He has been recently demoted to a strictly commissions salesman, a position he holds at the start of his career as a young man.
Due to his predicament, he looks back at his past life to answer the questions which baffled him. How did he come to this? Where did he go wrong? His brains rack back and forth as he searches for answers.
He realized that he has not been exactly the ideal salesman. Willy always thought that being popular is the key to attaining success. It is not what you know but whom you know that matters to him. He shuns hard work and frowns on integrity – things which every morally upright salesman should strive for.
As the end draws near for him, he realizes his errors. He looks back with regret on how he was deaf to the advices his brother Ben once showered on him. Ben is wealthy at the age of twenty-one.
Willy tries to show his sons the how-to’s in attaining success. Early on, he prepares Biff, the eldest, for success and excellence in the business world. In his desire to teach them, he creates a make-believe world where he appears to be respected, admired and successful businessman. Willy wants to earn the love and respect of his family by creating a web of deception. To some extent, Willy is trying to salvage some remnants of respect for himself. He even believes his own deception and is convinced of his own importance just as he convinces his boys. When the stark reality confronts him however and his illusions are contradicted, his life slowly crumbles.
The truth strikes him like a blow and wakes him up to harsh realities. He knows he is a dismal failure. And his greatest failure is turning his sons into copies of him. He taught his sons the wrong way. Biff becomes a bum who cannot stay in a job and ends up as a farmhand in the West. Happy, on the other hand, is the assistant’s assistant who has a blown-up concept of self-importance. Willy knew that he brought them up in the wrong way hence the reason for their mediocre lives.
When Biff was younger, he was close to Willy. Things changed though when growing up Willy felt disappointed in Biff for not coming up to his expectations. Given the situation he was in, it was hard for Biff to achieve anything without the proper guidance. Willy instead encourages Biff to strive for popularity. Biff was taught not to work hard or to take orders from anyone. Willy also encourages his boys to steal. Consequently, Biff fails immensely in his jobs. Worse, he often gets into trouble due to stealing. He jumps from one job to another. When Biff goes home, he realizes that he is not as important as he thinks himself to be. That he is just an ordinary guy who cannot survive the business world.
He further learns that he is at his element when he is honest to himself. This serves as an impetus for Biff to be on the path towards self-discovery. The values which he learns from Willy become useless and he needs to embark on a drastic and painful transition. Biff wants to reveal the lies Willy taught them for years. Willy of course is adamant. His pride is at stake. After several arguments, Biff chooses to leave his father for good. He realizes that he will never come up to his father’s expectations nor will he persuade Willy to face reality.
Willy becomes unemployed and wearied by life’s struggles. He has aged not only in appearance but more so in spirit. He wants to prove to Biff that he was not an utter failure after all. His disillusionment reaches a notch higher when he decides that he will achieve the much sought-after redemption if he kills himself so Biff can use the insurance
money to start a business. He likes to believe that because of what he believes as his heroic and unselfish act, Biff will regard him as a hero and learns to appreciate his father. That his success is real and his funeral will be grand, attended by many of his customers in New England.
But things are not meant to work out for Willy in life more so in death. The insurance that he hoped to give to Biff does not include suicide. The grand funeral he wished for is attended only by his family and two neighbors. The legacy Willy left, in the end, is a broken spirit characterized by dismal failure.