Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Analysis of Chunk 1

Willy is a man who is lost in the past and his mind is constantly tormented with the hopes and dreams he had years ago that have since fallen through. He wants Biff to be successful, and yet he is lost. Willy tells Linda, "In the greatest country in the world a young man with such - personal attractiveness, gets lost." Willy believes that all it takes to become successful is to be well liked, and is evidenced by this quote and others like it.

Willy talks about how the neighborhood has been boxed in and, "…you can't raise a carrot in the backyard." The idea of planting a garden, of leaving something behind, is a major motif of the play. He yearns desperately to make a difference in his life, but he has failed. All that is left to Willy is his self-importance. He says, "I'm the New England man. I'm vital in New England." It is possible that Willy was once a vital salesman, but he is not anymore. The only way Willy can live with himself is to live in a world of illusion. He has immersed himself and his family in a false sense of reality.

The Loman family is wrought with dysfunction, stemming from these false dreams and hopes Willy has imbued in his sons. Biff and Hap have always been shown that a business career is the only way to achieve success. Yet, Hap has taken this course, and through the boys' dialogue we see that he his not happy, nor is he successful. Biff asks Hap, "You're a success, aren't you? Are you content?" Hap replies, "Hell no! … But then, it's what I've always wanted. My own apartment, a car, plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I'm lonely." Willy's definition of success, similar to the life Hap lives, is not really valid. Hap doesn't understand or realize this, though.

Biff, on the other hand, rejects this materialistic sense of success. He has been living in the West on a cattle ranch, enjoying a leisurely life. Nonetheless, this sub-conscious drive to become something bigger than most men has brought him home. He says, "[When spring comes out West] I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I'm not getting anywhere! I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future." The conflict between what Biff really enjoys, and this vision of success will remain an internal struggle for Biff until the end of the play.

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