Willy Loman as a Father
Modern society would condemn the parenting skills of Willy Loman, the father in Arthur Miller’s A Death of a Salesman, who imposes his dreams upon his two sons and preaches the value of popularity over integrity.
As an unsuccessful salesman, Willy is unable to cope with his own shortcomings and valiantly attempts to find something to be hopeful for, and he finds this opportunity in his son Biff. Frail and well past his prime, Willy feels that he is incapable of ever getting back on his feet, and so he believes Biff has a better chance at success. However, Willy steps over the boundary, and he develops into a father attempting to control his own son’s life. In one instance, Biff comes home to recollect, and Willy vows, “I’ll see him in the morning. I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time” (6). These expectations, though, are contrary to Biff’s desires and dreams, since he aspires to work in the outdoors. For Biff, the job of becoming a salesman entails one “to suffer fifty weeks of the years for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off” (11). Thus the difference in desire between father and son leads to conflict, especially because Willy is stubborn and unwilling to yield to his son’s ingenuous ideas. Biff is first to realize that his own passions are not synonymous to his dad’s, and in a heated confrontation prior to Willy’s death, Biff shouts, “What am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!” (105). Willy’s ignorance of Biff’s enlightenment shows the full extent of his limitations and is also the reason for his own downfall. At the same time, by forcing his lofty ambitions onto Biff, Willy overlooks and neglects his other son, Happy. Willy is simply caught up in the plans and dreams for his older and more favorite son, and in order to be acknowledged by Willy, Happy become exactly like his father—attempting to acquire wealth and popularity over integrity and dignity. Convinced that this method is the best solution, Happy assimilates his father’s poor perspective on the world, and in the end he realizes that he is truly not happy. Happy lives his entire life in a way that he believes will bring him attention from his father, yet he becomes more miserable than before. In today’s age, seeing an older child favored over other siblings is common, but it fosters antagonism between the less favored son and his father. For example, at the restaurant, Happy refuses to recognize his father’s existence, noting to the girls he has picked up around, “No, that’s not my father. He's just a guy” (91). After his father's lifetime rejection of him, Happy is compelled to snub out his father from his own personal life. However, no pity should be given to Willy since he is an irresponsible father who disregards his duty to provide sound values and leadership for his sons equally. Similarly, parents today should not attempt to puppet their sons and daughters into lives as extensions of their own dreams.