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March 17, 2004

Recipe for The Death of a Salesman

Contradiction often proves to be a starting point in many arguements, and Arthur Miller's The Death of a Salesman is no exception.

So frequently does Willy Loman contradict himself that he cannot recall what his intention for speaking truly is. Take for instance these few examples:

(page 16)
Linda: He's finding himself, Willy. (about Biff)
Willy: Not finding yourself at the age of thirty four is a disgrace!
Linda: Shh!
Willy: The trouble is he's lazy, goddammit!
Linda: Willy, please!
Willy: Biff is a lazy bum!
Linda: They're sleeping. Get something to eat. Go on down.
Willy: Why did he come home? I would like to know what brought him home.
Linda: I don't know. I think he's still lost, Willy. I think he's very lost.
Willy: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world, a young man wuth such--personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There's one thing about Biff--he's not lazy.
(page 65)
Willy: And don't say "Gee." "Gee" is a boy's word. A man walking in for fifteen thousand dollars does not say "Gee!"
(page 69)
Willy: Gee, look at the moon moving between the buildings!

What has got to be the worst part of the entire predicament enveloping the Loman family lies within the future: the two Loman sons, Biff and Happy. Neither of them was truly raised to take responsibility, to respect others, to be truthful, or to even form their own identities. Their misdemeanors and petty crimes of the past, philandering with women, and inability to mature by any definition of the word leaves readers with a vast sense of wonder, producing questions that address parenting (or the lack thereof), self-identity, and self-worth.

There is no love in the Loman family, as far as one can infer. Perhaps there is a strong like and camaraderie within the small, struggling nuclear family, but no love, no evidence of trust, and certainly no truth in their communications with one another. From the smallest things in life to the dependancy of a family upon an income that isn't incoming, for the Lomans, there is a lie to be told.

All the lies tying fate together, bound and gagged each member of the family so that truth was the most unavailable instinct. Happy is the finest example of this:

(page 105)
Biff: Hap, he's got to understand that I'm not the man somebody lends that kind of money to. He thinks I've been spiting him all these years and it's eating him up.
Happy: That's just it. You tell him something nice.
Biff: I can't.
Happy: Say you got a lunch date with Oliver tomorrow.
Biff: So what do I do tomorrow?
Happy: You leave the house tomorrow and come back at night and say Oliver is thinking it over. And he thinks it over for a couple of weeks, and gradually it fades away and nobody's the worse.
Biff: But it'll goon forever!
Happy: Dad is never so happy as when he's looking forward to something!

Happy can't help but continue the lies; it's all he's known all his life.

Contradiction. Lies. Suicide.
None of it fading--all of it real, all of it recipe for the death of the salesman, Willy Loman.

Posted by KarissaKilgore at March 17, 2004 9:31 PM


Hmm...Interesting way of putting it. I love the fact that you made a recipe out of it....


Posted by: Tiffany at March 17, 2004 10:35 PM

Great approach to the text... what critical technique would you say you are using?

My favorite contradiction is the fact that Willy wants his boys to be liked, but even in his hallucinatory flashback, when things were apparently much better for him, he is an irritable "walrus" who punches his associates (and, of course, cheats on his wife).

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 17, 2004 11:31 PM

Even the fact that Willy insists that he is not -just- liked, but -well-liked really makes his character artificial. I have a quote that explains that a little more (it's my signature in my email :)

"Knowing who you are and knowing what you're made of are two different things. The former is difficult, and sometimes never happens. The latter we often understand, but rarely realize its purpose and strength."

I should be a philosopher.

Posted by: Karissa at March 18, 2004 8:39 AM


Posted by: John at June 12, 2009 9:41 AM

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