Willy’s love for his sons is heartfelt, but his ambitions for Biff seem to have little relation to his son’s needs and desires. His neglect springs directly from his dreams. As a salesman Willy lives by his ability to engage in people and make them believe in him, and this carries over into Willy’s private life. He even tells lies to his wife about the sales he has made to appear to be earning a great deal of money. Biff’s claim his father ‘never knew who he was’ and that he himself does suggests that he will move away from his father’s model for success.
Willy was inconsistent with his parenting. For a start he favoured Biff over Happy. Willy also tries to live through his sons by encouraging them to try and become the perfect salesman that he has always tried to be. As a result of Willy’s dream Biff has lost confidence, according to happy, and Willy is partly responsible for disparaging his farm work However this could also be down to the fact that Biff doesn’t know ‘what I’m supposed to want’. This could be one reason why Willy favours Biff over Happy because Happy oozes in confidence whereas Biff does not. Another reason why he favours Biff is because Biff is the only person who really knows about his father’s affair, so Willy is trying to keep Biff happy.
Willy’s favouring of Biff over Happy, makes Happy constantly try to be like his father in order to please him. However, Willy seems concerned at the way Happy treats women, so he advises him ‘the world is like and oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress!’ The phrase means that you have to work to succeed, but also implies that going to bed with people is not a means to economic and social success. Happy insists that he is going to show that and that he is going to ‘win it’ for Willy. Yet as Willy has lied to Happy about what he has been earning, Happy in unaware that competitiveness is ultimately fruitless, though it sustains the capitalist system.
Willy’s late brother Ben is seen by Willy as the personification of the American Dream. He started out with nothing and became rich through Diamond mines. From the way in which Willy speaks about Ben it is clear that he is in admiration of him, saying ‘That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate’ Willy regrets not going to Alaska with Ben commenting, ‘What a mistake! He begged me to go.’ A note of despair enters when Willy says ‘The woods are burning’. This poetic metaphor recalls both the elm trees which Willy loved and the jungle where Ben made his fortune. The implication seems to be that the very land of opportunity itself is going up in smoke. However there is an ambiguity as to whether or not Ben is directly responsible for this. If he is then it would seem that Willy’s admiration for his late brother would be somewhat misplaced.
Bernard has accepted the realities of school, life and he tries to encourage Biff to “start studyin’ maths”. Indeed it is likely that Biff would have joined Bernard if Willy had not told Biff that Bernard is ‘not well liked’ so therefore will not succeed in the business world. However Willy is proved wrong as Bernard becomes a successful lawyer with impressive credentials. He is to be applauded for his down to earth approach to life because he has disregarded what Willy has said about him and done things his own way and been rewarded with success. Bernard and Biff’s relationship parallels Charley and Willy’s. If Bernard is the character who tries to make Biff face the reality of school life, then Charley is the one who tries to make Willy face the reality of working life. Charley is Willy’s only friend and he indulges him. He offers him a job, only to have it thrown back into his face by an angry Willy. Charley can see that Willy could change his life if he wanted to: ‘I don’t see no sense in it. You don’t have to go on this way’. In reality the relationship between Charley and Willy is not that close. Charley sees Willy’s one major floor is that he is always boasting about what might have happened and dislikes the fact that he constantly has to mention the things that he will not eventually accomplish.
Linda and Willy have a strong marriage. Linda is a staunch defender of everything that Willy stands for yet she is also acutely aware of his nature: ‘I know he’s not easy to get along with – nobody knows him better than me-…’ Willy regularly confides his fears and weaknesses in Linda, such as when he tells Linda that he can see that other men who say fewer words –like charley- are better salesmen. Linda’s reassurance shows how fragile Willy’s self-respect is. He appears to depend on her support to survive and when she says that he is ‘idolized’ by his sons we as the audience know that this is not true, yet without this reassuring statement, Willy might not be able to face the next day.
Biff’s dream is to continue to work on the farm away from the competitive Capitalist society in the city. Willy’s dream on the other hand is to fulfil the American dream of going from rags to riches.
I believe that in the end Willy decided to commit suicide because he decided that it was time for him to quit as he had failed in his attempt to fulfil the American dream. I believe that he may have decided to take, and act upon, the advice given to him by Bernard earlier in the play. Here Bernard is philosophical about success and advises Willy that giving up may sometimes be the best option. If you can’t walk away he remarks, ‘that’s when it’s tough’. Willy may have decided that in his current predicament the best option would be to take the advice of walking away, and Willy may have taken this to mean committing suicide.
Based on the analysis above I believe that it would be fair to say that Willy’s dreams, were not necessarily wrong, but unrealistic and almost impossible for him to achieve because the Loman family were naturally suited to life in the countryside. So, Biff’s opinion of his father is somewhat indecisive. I believe that over ambition and expectation proved to be Willy’s downfall. Unfortunately Willy ended life believing that he had failed, when really he had not. He had just made the last mortgage payments on the house, and both of his sons were content in life. Willy attempted to keep to a set of moral and respectable principles in business, something which ultimately cost him dear. He did not believe in exploitation, rather he believed in common courtesy and decency. Had he not held close these principles then he would most likely have come closer to fulfilling the American dream. So in all it would seem that Willy was a tragic victim of society who was destroyed by the evils of capitalist society.