Central to the play is the relationship between biff

This preview shows page 15 - 17 out of 30 pages.

thoughtfulness for others and hard work. Central to the play is the relationship between Biff and his father. As a young man, Biff idolized his father so much that on learning that Willy was not infallible, Biff's whole world was turned upside down. His struggle to be free of his father's expectations indirectly leads to the only way this could be possible, by his father's death. Unwittingly, Biff gives his father the one spur he needs to kill himself—not that his son spites him but that he loves him. Returning this love, Willy kills himself because this is the only way he can give his son the money that he sees him needing to be successful; this is the biggest gift that he knows to give him, however wrongheaded it might be. It is unimportant whether the insurance money is paid out or not because Biff does not even want it. What both he and his father really want is a return to a simpler time when they could just love each other without all of the external pressure to be successful. It is easy to be disturbed by the apparently passive female stereotypes that we find in Death of a Salesman —the good housewife, the call girl, the mousy secretary—but Miller wanted his play to be realistic, and in U.S. society of the late 1940s, this is how many women were viewed. Death of a Salesman is a profoundly masculine play, told from a man's point of view (Willy Loman's). The men take center stage in what is a male dominated world where men do business, play sports, go adventuring, and try carpentry. Although more than a third of its cast is women, the play centers on issues of male bonding and the relationships between fathers and sons. Women have been marginalized and appear as loyal wives, like Linda, or easy women, like The Woman, Miss Forsythe, and Letta; or they have been silenced and hardly are featured at all, such as Willy's mother, Ben's wife, or Charley's wife (the first two are given a brief mention; the latter no comment at all).
Although Willy calls Linda his "foundation and support," as indeed she is, he shows little respect or regard for her in the way that we see him treat her. He cheats on her and rudely tells her to shut up. What seems worse is that Linda accepts such treatment. She subordinates her life to Willy, shares his dreams, and appears to have none of her own. But Linda is not stupid or weak; she displays great perception and can be tough when necessary. She is the main reason why this family has managed to stay together, hence her depiction as a mender who tries to mend everything from stockings to people. She also knows what these repairs cost, and this knowledge gives her the strength to break the family apart, sending her sons away if they threaten her husband. In this light, Linda can be seen as working against the stereotype of the weak, maternal figure. She loves her husband and is prepared to sacrifice anything to make him happy. This is the way in which she has chosen to define her life, and it is not so unusual for the 1940s when women had less independent options. As a result, it is little wonder that she seems so lost at the close without him.

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture