i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

What Is A "Man"?

March 31, 2005

What is a man?

Manhood according to Willy Loman

As I was reading Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" I noticed all the definitions within of what a man is and isn't.

A) A man must be attractive to women:

Willy: "In the greatest country in the world a young man with such -- personal attractiveness gets lost."

Willy: "That's why I thank Almighty God you're both built like Adonises."

B) Additionally, that man has to be popular with the ladies:

Happy: "About five hundred women would like to know what was said in this room."

C) Only men make promises:

Willy "Just wanna be careful with those girl, Biff, that's all. Don't make any promises. No promises of any kind. Because a girl, y'know, they always believe what you tell 'em, and you're very young, Biff, you're too young to be talking seriously to girls."

D) A man gets married to one of these ladies:

Biff: "Maybe that's my trouble. I'm like a boy. I'm not married, I'm not in business, I just -- I'm like a boy."

E) A man must be good with tools:

Willy: "A man who can't handle tools is not a man."

F) A man looks out for his own interests:

Ben: "Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way."


The men in "Death of a Salesman" are trapped by a image of masculinity that none of them can match. Happy is great with the women, has a decent job, and yet struggles with loneliness. Biff feels great when he's working in the rugged outdoors, filling an image of masculinity that just doesn't satisfy his father - he's not making enough money to really be a man. Willy is growing older and softer; his image of himself as a man is being threatened up to the very end. There seems to be a decent amount of sibling rivalry in the play - each brother wishes to have what the other possesses as well as misplaced dreams - Willy places his hopes and dreams in the hands of his sons who can only let him down.

I leave you with a final quote to ponder:

Linda: "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid."

Moira at 01:42 PM :: Comments (0) :: ::
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