Paper #4. wait in line to see a buyer. Willy Loman is here! That s all they have to know, and I go right

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1 Netherton 1 Madison Netherton Robert Habich English April 2013 Paper #4 Willy: Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. Willy Loman is here! That s all they have to know, and I go right through (Death of a Salesman 33). Being well liked might be just what makes Willy Loman tick. He sees himself as a highlight to the New England sales world, a man that means something for a while anyways. As Willy gets older, his identity is shifting, evolving. What exactly it is evolving around is based upon two different concepts claimed by two very different scholars. Does Willy Loman find his identity through his family, or through his own dreams or beliefs? Irving Jacobson believes the first, whereas Theodore E. Zorn strongly believes the second. Families are supposed to be units that think similarly and share their values, so it would make sense to believe that this is what drives Willy Loman s choices and makes him who he is. Jacobson claims that Willy lives through the values his family relied on in the past (248). On the other hand, many scholars claim that Willy Loman finds his identity solely through himself and his dreams and beliefs. Zorn argues this idea, making several points about Willy s belief in personal appearance being the cause of success. I believe there is another contributing factor that creates Willy Loman s identity society. Society has created these dreams within Willy Loman, and it is important to understand the effect the ideals of the American dream on American

2 Netherton 2 citizens during this time. There is validity between each argument, but society merges the other two together, creating Willy Loman s identity from his family, himself, and the rest of the world. Jacobson argues that what Willy Loman wants, and what success means in Death of a Salesman, is intimately related to his own, and the playwright s, sense of family (248). It is claimed that the family and their values are the ultimate influence on Willy Loman, and that is what makes him, him. One of the factors that influence the family as a whole is prominence. It is important to the family that one reaches a state of prominence within society. Willy saw men having large, known names as being successful, but the most compelling images of success were Ben, Dave Singleman, and Biff (Jacobson 249). This proves that success comes in a variety of ways, but having prominence within this family is very important. Willy Loman strives to become as successful as his older brother Ben, and the affluent Dave Singleman. Willy will never reach the success his brother and the famous salesman have. The author of the play, Arthur Miller, has said that Loman has tremendously powerful ideas but he does not live by them as much as he desires them (Jacobson ). Although they have a large influence on Willy and his ideals, he tends to neglect the supportive elements within his own family (Jacobson 254). Each member of the Loman family tries to instill upon one another the beliefs they feel will create success. Biff simply wants to be a happy man out west on a farm. Willy will not listen to this, and creates his idea of happiness apart from the ideas he cannot understand, like going out west. Although it is not mentioned much in the play, it is known that Willy Loman s family as a boy was dysfunctional. His father left him when he was young, and soon after his brother, the only father figure left, also abandoned him. This could be one reason why it is difficult for Willy to accept the opinions of his family as he tries to find himself in the world. It is almost as if

3 Netherton 3 Willy Loman takes his family members opinions and chooses to believe just the opposite. Linda can play no significant role in her husband s dreams (Jacobson 257) because she cannot keep the family together the way Willy wants and needs. This allows Willy to become quite a dictator within his family, and he finds himself to be all- powerful, which causes him problems with everyone else. Other scholars, like Zorn, argue that Willy Loman has his own set of beliefs that lead him to be the man he is. It is important for Willy to become successful through his appearance and other personal characteristics. Being well liked, according to Willy Loman, is the only way one can become a successful man in the world during this time. According to Zorn, Willy s dominant organizing principle seems to be that the world is divided into two groups those who are liked and those who are disliked and he strives to be grouped with the former (220). The evidence points to these factors as the most prominent influence on Loman s identity because as soon as he realizes that the identity he strived to create is crumbling in the face of a son who despises him, customers who do not know him, and a boss who considers him a nuisance and an embarrassment (Zorn 221) he becomes completely absorbed in the idea that these are what make a life successful. All Willy Loman wants is to be successful and remembered. Willy Loman believes that the only way he can achieve success is through himself and being well-liked. He does not believe that just being successful through his loved ones eyes is enough. At times it is clear that Willy thinks highly of his loved ones, which then leads us to believe that he thinks highly of himself. His dreams clearly affect everything he does, and they have created the man he has become. But what have created the dreams that make Willy, Willy? I propose that the defining factor of Willy Loman s identity is society, not just his family and dreams. Willy s dreams stem from society, and that is what makes him tick. Society is what

4 Netherton 4 drives each of the Loman family members (except perhaps Biff) to do what they do. They are living during a time of attaining the American Dream, and strive for success in regards to that. Merriam-Webster defines the American dream as, An American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity. Linda wants to be able to pay all of her bills, Happy wants to be successful with plenty of women and money, and Willy Loman wants everyone in his family to be successful because they are all well liked. These are all characteristics instilled by the American Dream. Society has plastered this way of thinking into the Loman family s mind and they cannot escape it. Willy Loman is a product of society. Because he thinks that success is a product of attractiveness, being well liked, and wealth, the effect society has had on Willy is great. Willy might take into account the thoughts of his family and what he thinks are his own beliefs, but in reality it is just the influence society has had on him. He might not even know that the beliefs he has are not his own. Willy Loman gets trapped in the same boat that many get trapped in, looking for perfection that does not exist. Society has instilled within Americans this idea of perfection that is hardly attainable. Willy falls under this category striving for the death of a salesman, one where everyone and anyone attends his funeral. This is equated to success and happiness is Willy s mind, which is clearly an outcome of society s impact on him. Trying to understand Willy Loman s identity in The Death of a Salesman creates a shift in what we pay attention to as readers. He has trouble sorting out what his identity is, but there are definitely factors within the play that create it. Towards the end of the play Willy says, Ben, that funeral will be massive! They ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates that boy will be thunder-struck, Ben, because he never realized I am known! (The Death of a Salesman 126). Clearly Willy is

5 Netherton 5 still reaching for his dreams, even after being fired and realizing his sons are not as prominent as he hoped. By accepting that the play is about an identity crisis of sorts, the reader understands more of Willy s motives for what he does. People in general are always searching for their identity, and it adds a deeper level of connection with the text. A shift in the readers attention from a play about a grumpy old man who takes everyone he loves for granted quickly turns into a play about a man who is lost lost from himself, his family, and society.

6 Netherton 6 Works Cited Jacobson, Irving. "Family Dreams in Death of a Salesman." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 47.2 (1975): Print. Zorn, Theodore E.. "Willy Loman's Lesson: Teaching Identity Management with Death of a Salesman."Communication Education 40 (1991): Print.

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