"Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done, … But how could that be, when I did everything properly." These words from Leo Tolstoy’s "Ivan Ilych" define the character of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. He devoted his life to his family as society beseeched him to do, yet at the same time it was his tragic flaw.
Willy Loman’s life revolved around his family and his means to support his family. His pride and joy were his two sons, Biff and Happy, whom he had planned such great futures for. Biff the eldest, was going to attend the University of Virginia on a football scholarship. Willy had an ever present role throughout Biff’s life. He could always provide the encouragement Biff so desperately needed. In Willy’s eyes, Biff could do no wrong. Willy did everything for Biff, which in the end cost Willy his life.
Willy thought himself to be the ideal parent, always involved in his children’s life, and always available to his sons. Willy felt as though, by doing this, his sons would grow up and be successful and happy. However, Willy was wrong. His constant appraisals to his son, Biff, caused him to be very egotistical and could not stand the thought of being wrong or being someone else’s worker and not his own boss. Biff did not graduate from high school because he had failed math and did not make it up in summer school. When Biff told Willy about his failure, Willy assured him that he would speak to Biff’s math teacher and tell him to pass Biff. This was not to happen. Biff realized that his father was a fake, who cheated on his wife. Willy was caught with another woman in his hotel room while doing business in Boston. Biff had a falling out because of the affair and the relationship with his father deteriorated. This tore Biff up and because of the affair and the argument, Biff’s life was essentially ruined. At one point in the play, Biff tells Willy "I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! (p.131)" This went on for seven years, where Biff would find a job and then quit. Since Biff never could stand the thought of taking orders from other people, he would steal, and because of that he went to jail for three months. Willy wanted to rectify his son’s problems and decided to help Biff out by killing himself and leaving him the twenty thousand dollars he would receive from his life insurance. Willy felt as though that were the only way he would help out his son, and indeed he took his own life by crashing the car he was in.
Throughout Willy’s life he felt as though he was raising his children properly by always encouraging them and telling them that they were the best. However, in the end, Willy lost the respect of his sons and his life.