To what extent are symbols used to convey the tragic death of Willy Loman?
Throughout “Death of a Salesman,” symbols are frequently used and referred to in an attempt to convey the death of Willy Loman, the frequent reference to the symbols reinitiates the reader with the level of Willy’s depression and the contributing factors to his tragic death. Ultimately all the symbols within the play link back to Willy’s main ambition – “The American Dream” Miller creates a sense that Willy believes wholeheartedly in what he considers the promise of the American Dream—that a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business will indubitably and deservedly acquire the material comforts offered by modern American life. Oddly, his fixation with the superficial qualities of attractiveness and likeability is at odds with a more gritty, more rewarding understanding of the American Dream that identifies hard work without complaint as the key to success. Willy’s blind faith in his stunted version of the American Dream leads to his rapid psychological decline when he is unable to accept the disparity between the Dream and his own life. Throughout the play the repeated symbols include: the car, seeds, the rubber hose, diamonds, Linda’s stockings and finally Alaska.
For Willy, the majority of “Death of a Salesman” takes place within the confined landscape of the Lomans’ home. This narrow and increasingly narrowing setting is contrasted with the vastness of Alaska. For the reader the Lomans’ home symbolizes restriction, both physical and mental, distant locations symbolize escape, freedom, and the possibility of something better. While Willy insists New York is a land of opportunity and abundant success, his idolization of his brother Ben’s adventures and forays into faraway lands shows that he is really not so convinced. Furthermore, Biff, Happy, and Ben repeatedly suggest that the Lomans are better suited to physical, hands-on kinds of work, an assertion supported by Willy’s failure as a salesman. Willy’s obsession with distant lands further proves that he might prefer a very different livelihood than the one he has. This repeated reference to Alaska suggests to the reader that this confined environment contributed to Willy’s tragic death- ultimately he was just trying to escape.