Arthur Millers play Death of a Salesman tells the story of Willy Loman
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Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” tells the story of Willy Loman, a door-to-door salesman, and his family. The play is set in New York during the 1940s. Willy’s two sons, Happy and Biff, live at home with their father and Linda, their mother. Willy and Biff are both extremely unstable characters. Willy has attempted to kill himself on numerous occasions so that his sons can collect his life insurance. Willy believes that he is worth more to his family dead than alive. Biff is not capable of holding a job and has often found himself coming home for a place to stay after many failed business attempts. Happy leads a normal life, meeting many women, and holds a mediocre job. Throughout the play Miller depicts many significant symbols that the audience can easily recognize. Two examples of the symbols repeated by Miller are the funerals of Dave Singleman and Willy himself. These two funerals are symbolic of the fact that Willy and his family are not true to themselves when determining the worth of Willy’s life.
Dave Singleman’s funeral may or may not be fact, but is believed to be absolute truth by Willy, so it is still extremely symbolic to Willy. During Willy’s conversation with Howard in Act II, Willy brings up the death of Dave Singleman, a renowned salesman:
“His name was Dave Singleman. And he was eighty-four years old, and he’d drummed merchandise in thirty-one states. And old Dave, he’d go up to his room... pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room... he made his living... Do you know? when he died-and he died the death of a salesman-... hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.”
Willy describes Singleman as one of the greatest salesman ever, and it is evident that Willy believes this salesman was greatly respected, stating that “hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral”. Willy’s perception of this man’s funeral symbolizes how Willy believes the “death of a salesman” ought to be; everyone you ever dealt with or met comes to your funeral and remembers you as though you were family.
The second funeral is Willy’s own funeral. Later, in a conversation with Ben (Act II), Willy compares the funeral he beleives he will have to Dave Singleman’s funeral:
“...Ben that funeral is going to be massive! They’ll come from Laine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old timers with the strang license plates-that boy will be thunder-struck, Ben, because he never realized-I am known, Ben, and he’ll see it with his own eyes once and for all. He’ll see what I am, Ben! He’s in for a shock, that boy!“
Willy believes that he is as greatly respected by his buyers and fellow salesman as Dave Singleman was. If we look ahead to the requiem of Miller’s play it is obvious that no one other than Charley, Biff, Linda and Happy was at Willy’s funeral. Linda asks, “Why didn’t anyone come?” But the audience knows the answer. Willy’s false comparison of his funeral to Dave Singleman’s funeral shows that Willy does not even know who he is. Linda’s question shows that she also didn’t know who Willy really was.
The two funerals of this play differ greatly in substance, but are linked to each other symbolically to show how false Willy is to himself. Through time the scale and size of a funeral has come to show the worth of the deceased. Dave Singleman’s funeral symbolizes Willy’s “death of a salesman”, while Willy’s funeral shows how little Willy and his family know about his worth. Willy’s funeral is symbolic of his life; it is perceived in a utopian manner, but in reality it is empty of meaning and poeple.
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