Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York City and he was one of the greatest American playwrights. His most famous work is “Death of a Salesman”, a play which tells the story of Willy Loman, a travelling salesman. One of the main themes that can be found in many of his works is the theme of family, especially the father-son relationship. This theme is a key element in “Death of Salesman”.
The play focuses on the relationship between Willy and his two sons, Biff and Happy. According to Kavita (2017), the father-son relationship can be divided into three developing stages: the childhood stage, the youth stage and the mature stage. The childhood stage is showing us that Biff is Willy’s favourite son. Because he is the second-best son, Happy is always trying to get his father’s attention and to please him. Willy believed that Biff would be successful in life and that he would achieve what his father couldn’t. Biff is also considered to be an alter ego of Willy.
They both had a love for manual labour, for working outside and enjoyed being surrounded by natural sceneries. Willy never realised his real talents, so he chose the wrong profession and never succeeded in life (Kavita, 2017, p.369). During the stage of childhood, the relationship between Willy and his sons was a good one.
Biff even considered Willy to be his “hero”. Happy and Biff loved Willy and believed in his success, but everything is going to change on the next stage. This quote from the book represents the first stage that describes the father-son relationship: “Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer.
“Willy Loman is here!” That’s all they have to know and I go right through.” (Miller, 1949, p.25-26). We can see that Willy is giving his sons the wrong idea about how to be successful in life.
He thinks that being attractive, being liked by people and having a good personality is more important than working hard and having a good education. I think that this was Willy’s biggest mistake, teaching his sons the wrong morals. As a father, he should have been more careful with his children’s education.
The relationship between him and his sons was not the only thing affected by his mistakes, also his mental health. In the end, Willy commits suicide because he thought he was a failure and couldn’t achieve what he wanted to. The second stage is the youth stage. During this stage, the father-son relationship is changed completely.
Biff will lose his father’s trust after he catches him cheating on his mother on a trip to Boston. After this event, Biff is starting to lose interest in his career and also his studies. He kept changing jobs because he wasn’t happy doing it (Kavita, 2017, p.370). Biff didn’t tell his mother about his father cheating but he started arguing and disrespecting his father. Willy never apologized although he was feeling guilty.
He knew he was the reason behind Biff’s failures but tried to blame Biff’s personality instead of accepting the truth. During the stage, the father-son relationship suffered a lot of changes, like the lack of communication compared to the first stage (Kavita, 2017, p.371). The following quote shows us what Biff thinks about success in a conversation with his brother: “Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up.
Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella.
And still—that’s how you build a future.” (Miller, 1949, p.16).
During this scene, Biff is talking to his brother about the fact that he tried a lot of jobs, but gave up. According to him, it would be better to have a job where he can work outside even though he can not make a lot of money. I think that the most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing, not the amount of money you can receive. Biff should have listened to his heart, not to his father. He was struggling between making his own wishes come true or his father’s desires.
Willy was not a good role model to this sons and told them wrong things about succeeding in life. If Biff had chosen to work as a farmer instead, he would have been happier. Being happy with your job but not getting a lot of money is better than nothing.
The final stage corresponds to the last day of Willy Loman’s life. Before turning thirty-four, Biff made a journey in order to find himself. He realized that the creative manual labour is his real talent. The irony is that Willy was unsuccessful in doing so while Biff made a journey to self-realization.
Unfortunately, this destroyed the father-son relationship. Willy lost his mental peace and stability. Because of his father’s mental state, Biff thinks that the only solution is accepting the truth and facing the reality.
Willy was indeed a good father who wanted his sons to be successful but the tragedy was that he didn’t realize his own loss of self-identity. Willy was a man of fields, not a salesman one. He tried to become what he was not (Kavita, 2017, p.372).
The following quote represents the last stage of the relationship between them: “Biff: Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you! Willy: I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman!” (Miller, 1949, p.105). “Dime a dozen” refers to something that has no value, something worthless. We can see that Biff is tired of lying and he wants to show his father the actual reality.
He still loves father, even after everything that happened between them. Willy is still living in his own world and does not want to face the reality. He tells Biff that they are not worthless, they are “Willy Loman and Biff Loman”, two successful men. But the truth is that he knows they both failed in life.
Willy’s suicide is a sacrifice for his sons’ success. He commits suicide so that Biff may get the insurance money and go into the business world. Willy loses his life in order to make a home for his sons. As a result, the family bond is broken (Aarti, 2015). In conclusion, the relationship between Willy Loman and his sons played an important role in this story. Although they had a complicated relationship, they still loved each other.
Willy only wanted his sons’ love and respect, and he finally gets it at the end of the book.