Daeth of a salesman
Michael NepplPage 1 June 17 1999
In the play, ” Death of a Salesman” , Arthur Miller depicts a typical dysfunctional family. This is Arthur Miller’s best-known and most important problem play. It is a symbolic and in part expressionistic, and it challenges the American values concerning success. Willy Loman is a salesman who after thirty-four years of being on the road, is slowly starting to deteriorate physically as well as mentally. Upon his being fired, Willy tries to understand why he has failed as a salesman, a father, and as a husband. The word “dysfunction” defined according to The American Heritage Dictionary is “abnormal or impaired functioning”. This definition paints a perfect picture of the daily goings on in the Loman household. It can be said that the Lomans are a dysfunctional family due to the lack of communication, respect, and values.
The basis for a good relationship is constant communication. Communication was something the Lomans did not practice often, and when they did, it usually ended in a shouting match. Willy has extremely poor listening skills, which is the key component in communication. He constatnly talks over people, and always interrupts whoever is speaking. When Willy went to talk to Howard about getting a job in New York, and not traveling anymore was a perfect
example of Willy’s poor communication skills. Whenever Howard would start to say anything that Willy didn’t think was in his favor, Willy would talk over Howard.
When Howard left Willy alone in the office to greet other people outside, Willy acknowledged this to himself, saying “What the hell did I say to him? My God, I was yelling at him! How could I ?” ( Miller 1285). This is a perfect example of Willy’s lack of communication skills. It’s well known that parents’ behavior influences their children. So it’s no surprise that Biff lacks communication skills also. Everyone in the family has a habit of interrupting one another as evidenced in this exchange between Biff and Linda talking about Willy’s car accidents:
Linda(simultaneously with Biff) ..and this woman..
Biff: Nothing. I just said what woman? (Miller 1272).
This is a typical conversation in the Loman household; interrupting each other, not listening to each other, and lack of interest in what one another are saying. Their lack of communication is again apparent when Willy is getting ready for bed with Linda, and he’s instructing Biff on his conduct in his meeting with Bill Oliver the next day. Linda cuts him off, and Willy responds “Will you let me talk?”,
cutting Linda off in return. Biff then tells Willy not to yell at Linda, which Willy responds to angrily and sarcastically ” I wasn’t talking, was I ?” ( Miller 1276). This is a common path conversation takes with any of the Lomans. All this points
to their lack of communication, which will breed dysfunction in any atmosphere, especially in a family.
Problems communicating and a lack of respect are direct influences on each other. Lack of respect for each other is another reason why the Lomans are a dysfunctional family. Willy’s lack of respect for his wife is obvious, due to the fact that he cheats on her during his business trips and thinks nothing of it. When he’s caught cheating on Linda by Biff, Willy explains it’s because he gets lonely, and tells Biff “when you grow up, you’ll understand about these things. You mustn’t overemphasize a thing like this.” (Miller 1306). Willy only cared that he was caught, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the cheating itself. Further, more convincing evidence of the lack of respect existing in the family occurred when Willy met Happy and Biff at the restaurant the day of Biff’s meeting with Bill Oliver. This was also the day Willy was fired by Howard. Willy strated having one of his dilusional episodes, and went into the bathroom. Biff and Happy got into an argument about Happy’s apparent disregard for Willy, and Biff stormed out of the restaurant. Happy leaves with the two women while Willy is still in the bathroom, in the middle of a flashback. When the woman asks him
about his father, happy replies, “No, that’s not my father. He’s just some guy.” (Miller 1303). This is evidence of the ultimate disrespect ; Happy’s not willing to admit that Willy is actually his father. Taking into account the state Willy is in
when Happy leaves, this shows total disregard for his own father’s well being. Biff shows the same disregard when he leaves before Happy does. Another example of disrespect in the family is the fact that they don’t even respect themselves. This is evidenced by Happy’s philanderous ways, and ultimately by Willy’s suicide. When an individual has no self-respect, it is impossible to respect others. When there is no respect for others in a household, this obviously is going to lead to a dysfunctional environment also.
The Lomans’ dysfunction is further proven in the lack of morals displayed throughout the family. Happy and Willy’s womanizing alone show a lack of morals, especially in Willy’s case, considering he is married. When Biff’s thievery is factored in to all this, the Lomans’ lack of moral value becomes undeniable. Even more alarming is the fact that Biff goes undisciplined for these acts by Willy, as well as Linda. In fact, the boys are encouraged at one point to steal. When Willy wanted to build the front porch, he tells his boys to “go over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand” (Miller 1267). What kind of parent encourages his children to steal? During the time Biff was playing football, he stole a football from the locker room at school. Not only did Willy laugh with
Biff about the theft, he made the excuse that “sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he?” and even goes so far to say “coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (Miller 1256). This is a blatant illustration of
the lack of morals contained in the Loman children, as well as the lack of morals taught by Willy himself. The lack of morals in the Loman boys is the result of never learning any morals from their parents. This is an obvious form of dysfunction in the Loman family. Willy never taught his sons right from wrong, only how to be philandering thieves.
The Lomans were a dysfunctional family due to their lack of communication, their lack of respect for each other, and their overall lack of moral value. The examples used to illustrate these points are undeniable evidence of their dysfunction. Their symptoms of dysfunction are not uncommon in today’s society. The Lomans dysfunction could have easily been avoided by a more attentive and respectful family relationship. The same holds true for today’s societal problems. All problems are created and curbed in the family environment. If more attention is paid to youth, the youth in turn, will pay attention.