Willy Loman is one of the most tragic heroes in American drama today. He has a problem differentiating reality from fantasy. No one has a perfect life. Everyone has conflicts that they must face sooner or later. The ways in which people deal with these personal conflicts can differ as much as the people themselves. Some insist on ignoring the problem as long as possible, while some attack the problem to get it out of the way. In the case of Willy in Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman, the way he deals with his life as a general failure leads to very severe consequences.
Willy never really faced his problems in fact in stead of confronting them he just escapes into the past, whether intentionally or not, to those happier childhood times where problems were scarce. He uses this escape as if it were a narcotic, and as the play progresses, we learns that it can be as dangerous as a drug, because of its ability to addict Willy, and it’s deadliness. Willy is like an impetuous child who uses dilutions to escape his problems. The first time Willy is seen reminiscing is when he encounters Biff after arriving home from work.
The conversation between Willy and Linda reflects Willy’s disappointment in Biff, and what he has become, which is for the most part a bum. , Willy “Biff is a lazy bum”. After failing to deal adequately with his feelings, he hallucinates into a time when things were better for his family. It is not uncommon for one to think of better times at low points in their life. This is used as a defense mechanism so that they are able to deal with the problems they encounter, but Willy Loman takes it one step further.
His refusal to accept reality is so strong that in his mind he is transported back in time to relive some of the happier days of his life. He gets taken back to a time when no one argued, a time when Willy and Linda were younger, the financial situation was less of a burden, and Biff and Happy enthusiastically welcomed their father back home from a long road trip. Willy’s need for this “drug” is satiated and he is reassured that everything will turn out okay, unfortunately for the Loman family things are not that simple.
In many instances in the play Linda actually has to “snap” Willy out of it. The next flashback occurs during another discussion between Willy and Linda regarding the payments on the car. Willy is depressed about his inability to make enough money to support his family, his looks, his personality and the success of his friend and neighbor, Charley. “My God if business doesn’t pick up, I don’t know what I’m gonna do! ”, is the comment made by Willy after Linda figures the difference between the family’s income and their expenses.
Before Linda has a chance to offer any words of consolation Willy blurts out “I’m Fat. I’m very—foolish to look at, Linda”. Willy once again has managed to destroy his reality and is starting to come to terms with actual reality. His next dilution is he being visited by a woman with whom he is having an affair. He created this woman in his mind to boost his self esteem although very prevalent to Willy to the action in the play the woman does not exist. She raises his spirits by telling him how funny and loveable he is, saying, “You do make me laugh…. And I think you’re a wonderful man. ”.
When in his mind he is reassured of his attractiveness and competence, the woman disappears with a laugh, simultaneous to Linda’s laughing at what he said, her purpose being fulfilled. Once again the drug has come to the rescue, postponing Willy’s eminent collision course with reality. Willy’s next “trip” into the past is when he is fired from his job after requesting to be relocated. This is probably the most serious blow he takes in the entire play, because of his pride in his work. In fact this is such a big hit, that he is transported back to what was probably the happiest day of his life.
Biff was going to play in Ebbets field in the All-Scholastic Championship game in front of a crowd of thousands. At this point Willy couldn’t be more proud of his two sons who, at the time, had everything going for them. Both Biff and Happy seemed destined to live great, productive lives, much more so than the “liked, but not well liked” boy next door, Bernard. This instance is the major turning point in Willy’s quest for insanity in fact it is now quite eminent that it will happen. Like all vices in life, they are all destined to become a hindrance more than help.
This is true in the case of Willy this “drug” that he has been using finally got the best of him. You could say that this time around he had a “bad trip”, this could be a side effect of his overuse. This time he is brought back to one of the most disturbing moments in his life. It’s the day that Biff had discovered his father’s mistress. This happened while Willy on a sales trip. Biff came to visit him regarding his return to come back, and negotiate with his math teacher to give him the four points he needed to pass and graduate high school.
This is the first time we see the flashbacks go into a negative time in his life. This scene gives the reader a chance to fully understand the tension between Willy and Biff, and how Willy’s mind takes him off the straight path. He does not differentiate present from past anymore. Throughout the play, the present has been full of misfortune for the Loman family, while the opposite is true for the past. Through reading the plat we try to figure out the actual turning point in their lives.
What was the earth-shattering event that threw the entire Loman family into a state of such constant tension? Now that event it has been revealed, and Willy is out of good memories to return to we see that the play ha s climaxed and that Willy’s only driving force in life is all but gone. Without this escape “this drug” that he has been using to cope we see him, as he truly is, a failure. The comparison between Willy’s trips into the past and the use of a narcotic is so perceptible because of its verity.
Like in reality certain hallucinogenics cause illusions “flashbacks”, the same is true for Willy. “When he feeling down or life seems just too tedious and insignificant, or when things just aren’t going his way, why not take a hit of the old miracle drug, memories”. The way he overuses his vivid imagination is sad because the only thing it’s good for is enabling Willy to go through one more day of his piteous life. Full of bitterness, confusion, depression, false hopefulness, and a feeling of love which he is trying very hard to express to his sons who seem reluctant to accept it.
The only thing Willy ever wanted was to be a successful role model for his sons and that he was not. At least not in the practical, and that is exactly why the abstract can have a way of taking people to high’s that they could reach on their own. Charley said it best when he said to Willy, “ When the hell are you going to grow up”. Willy never did and that is why he is such a tragic hero, with mind of a child and soul of a father he was certainly headed for impending doom.