Death of a Salesman
Betrayal and abandonment are themes that many have encountered within their lives; but nobody can perhaps relate as much to these themes as Willy Loman, the main character in Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. This play encompasses the life of Willy Loman, albeit not in any particular order when reviewing his younger years. The man’s memories are prompted by various seemingly insignificant moments in his life.
Willy is a failed salesman, clinging onto his fabric of lies he has built up throughout his life, and attempting to pull his broken family relationships back together, all while slipping in and out of trances within his life. The man invests everything into his sons, Biff and Happy, and is constantly wondering what went wrong with his life, and covering his failures with excuses and lies. Eventually, when the reality that his life is meaningless and his sons are worthless comes crashing down on him, he commits suicide in a desperate attempt to prove his worth to his sons and himself.
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Betrayal and abandonment are themes that have reoccurred through his life, from when his father abandoned him when he was young, to when his sons leave him in a restaurant, babbling like a maniac in the bathroom. His son, Biff, in his own eyes, ironically induces the final betrayal because Biff refuses to accept Willy’s fevered, dementia-driven dream for his son. Abandonment is one of the foremost figures in Willy’s life, from his current life and even when he was young. In his introduction, he describes his current status in his sales career. I know it when I walk in.
They seem to laugh at me…I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. ” (23) This describes his life currently; a man to be tossed aside in his old age and near uselessness. Here, he has not yet realized the uselessness of his current career and status; he continues his futile lies to his wife as to the income he currently makes and how much he is actually valued amongst his clients. The futile lies he continues to offer himself is also reflected within his flashback with Ben, as he remembers Biff’s childhood.
Can’t you stay a few days? You’re just what I need, Ben, because I—I have a fine position here, but I—well, Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel—kind of temporary about myself. ” (36) This is showing Willy’s final departure from his brother Ben, as he leaves him while Willy begs him to stay. This scene shows that Willy is not secure about himself at all, especially in his parenting, as the only men he viewed as reliable parents – Ben and his real father – abandoned him in his time of real need.
The final moment of abandonment occurs when he nears the end of his life, and by his very blood. “You invite him to dinner. He looks forward to it all day and then you desert him there. There’s no stranger you’d do that to! ” (97-98) This is Linda talking to Biff after he had abandoned his father at a restaurant that was arranged by his sons. Biff, after breaking the news to his father about his hopeless future in sales, and after his father breaks down in the bathroom, leaves him and goes off with a pair of women.
This abandonment by his own sons reflects the conditions of Willy’s life; one of broken promises, little commitment, and absolutely no respect, which eventually leads to his suicide in search for his son’s favor. But this condition of his life is a cause of betrayal, one theme that will be reviewed next. Betrayal is the other side of Willy’s life, and is the cause of the abandonment of him by his most important person in his life: his son, Biff.
One of the most significant betrayals of the entire play happens far before the point at where the book starts. You – You gave her Mama’s stockings! ” (95) This is when Biff was a child and comes to Willy in Boston to try and fix his grades, when he finds his father cheating on his mother. This event is so significant that it leads to Biff’s current hopelessness: the betrayal of the father is what leads to his son’s downfall. This betrayal is evident in Biff all throughout the book. “Spite, spite is the word of your undoing! And when you’re down and out remember what did it. When you’re rotting somewhere beside the railroad tracks, remember, and don’t you dare blame it on me! (103)
This is when Willy and Biff are arguing over Willy’s expectations for his son. Willy believes that Biff’s betrayal of his expectations is because of his infidelity; he seeks to separate himself from the responsibility of his son’s failure due to his infidelity. In fact, Willy’s expectations are another thing that have been betrayed. How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week! (5)
Willy is talking to Linda here about Biff, his son. He believes that all of his expectations of his son are betrayed, and that this betrayal is based off of him not being what Willy wants him to be. In fact, Biff’s dreams of freedom are strangely similar to what Willy muses about; it could be that this sense of betrayal stems from jealousy of his son. Betrayal and abandonment are not separate entities though; they can be tied together in various ways. Betrayal AND abandonment are very closely related, especially within the story of Willy Loman, and the tragedy that is his life.
One of the most tangible combinations of both themes is within his job. “Charley, I’m strapped. I’m strapped. I don’t know what to do. I was just fired. ” (75) Here is Willy talking to Charley about the betrayal of his beloved company he had worked for over 3 decades, and simply abandoned him by the side of the road. Strangely enough, within this scene, there is a path that Willy does not take (out of jealousy), which is when Charley offers him a job
In fact, within the same scene, is a statement that echoes the ideas of life, and contradicts the idealism that Willy holds. Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can’t sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that. ” (75) This is something that Charley tells Willy in an attempt to get Willy to open his eyes to the real world, and away from the dream that has abandoned him in the end. This is significant for something within that conversation sparks the only time he tells the truth within the entire play; that Charley is his only friend.
The final betrayal within the play occurs right before his death. “Ben! Ben, where do I? …Ben how do I? ” (108) This is Willy calling out to his imaginary brother, right before he commits suicide. At first glance, it does not seem like betrayal or abandonment, but it is what the quote implies. He is calling out to the big brother who abandoned him, final call in his last moments for some sort of advice or consolation, and in his final moments, abandons the family that loves him, despite their conflicts.
These are the final words of Willy Loman, right before he proves that he truly is worth more dead than he is alive. Betrayal and abandonment; they are themes that everyone have faced, or will face in the future. Death of a Salesman is perhaps one of the most realistic, if not a tad extreme, representations of the life of a failed and broken man. We can gather the grief within the story, the sense of tragedy with which it comes with, as well as perhaps a view of capitalism that is somewhat cynical in its own sense – it will make one man betray another, or it will make another man have everyone betray him.
Man itself can gather from this topic that betrayal itself is not “wrong”; or at least it can’t be driven out, for reality itself can be seen as betrayal. In fact, the ones you most love can deliver the betrayal itself. What could be the way to avoid such a fate? Only way this play seems to suggest is to become of value to others, one so indispensible that people would beg for you to come back.