Feelings influence the behavior of people every day of their lives. A person’s state of mind and emotional responses toward certain situations drive one’s life and create ambitions, which can occur as one’s best friend or the worst enemy. Moods and behaviors as a responsive mechanism produce an exceptional symphony, which influences one’s life for better or worse. These variables can be the greatest motivation or a restrain that keeps a person from recognizing their reality. As in the case of Willy Loman, the main character of ‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller, his emotional state spawned a wall of delusions and imaginary achievements. Moreover, regret and satisfaction created a deadly mixture that fueled his mental condition and resulted in his passing. The central theme of ‘Death of a Salesman’ is the downfall of a person’s mental state that resulted in his suicide.
The reoccurring theme at the beginning of the story is the memory loss of the main character. At the start of the novel, Willy Loman appears as a person who suffers from partial memory loss. In Act 1, Scene 1, he returns home completely exhausted, worrying about his recollection issues (Miller, 2016). He explains that while he was riding the car, sometimes he forgot that he was driving. However, this fact does not frighten or surprise his wife, Linda, as she calls the issue ‘mental fatigue. Willy seems dissatisfied with his elder son, Biff, because, as the main character describes him, Biff is a ‘lazy bum’, who has to make something of himself (Miller, 2016). The reader can also observe the early signs of Willy’s disconnection from the real world when he immediately contradicts his words and tells that Biff is not lazy, and instead he needs help in finding a suitable job. Then, at the end of Scene 1, the reader can observe how the main character goes to his happy place, the past (Miller, 2016). Immediately, his grim demeanor changes, as he experiences happiness and a certain kind of nostalgia.
The main theme of the conflict is between Biff and Willy, who seem to constantly disagree over the smallest and most insignificant things. The discord arises when Willy begins to confuse real characters with people from his past. For example, in Act 1, Scene 6, the main character starts talking to his wife Linda, explaining his confusing emotions and difficult mental state (Miller, 2016). As he describes the overwhelming loneliness and desperation that filled his body, he hears that it is not Linda, who answers him, but the Woman. The audience can link the events since as his mental health deteriorates, his emotions become more negative, and he starts to struggle in differentiating reality from delusions. In similar scenes, the reader can see the signs of dementia and possibly bipolar disorder more clearly.
Next, Act 1, Scene 8 is also an example of his difficult emotional state (Miller, 2016). In this particular scene, Charley, a friend of the main character, comes to play cards with him. However, Willy is not present at the moment, as he speaks with his passed brother Ben, which aggravates Charley. At this moment, Willy loses his composure and becomes visibly aggressive and dismissive. His emotional state deteriorates and his mind becomes vaguer. In Act 2, Scene 2, Willy struggles to understand that he is not his old self and now he is not as successful as he was before (Miller, 2016). This is why it is confusing to him why his boss decides to release him from the position. Willy was confident before the confrontation because he regarded himself as the most valuable worker. At this point, it becomes clear that remembering the ‘good old days’ and referencing them is the safety mechanism of the main character. When he cannot tolerate the present events, they are too painful, not ideal, aggravating, he reverses to the idealized past, when everything appeared in order.
Consequently, the relationships in the family diminish and the conflict escalates. Biff is constantly fighting with his father, calling him a fake, which Willy cannot understand. He remembers that in the past, his sons had a perfect relationship with each other, which is why he cannot accept the reality and denies it. The enabler of his illusions, his wife, banishes his sons from the house, escalating the conflict further. In Act 2, Scene 5, Willy is‘ genuinely shocked, pained, and happy’ that the son of his friend became more successful than his son (Miller, 2016). He compares the two children, which only hurts him more. Uncontrollably, Willy ‘edits out’ unsuitable memories to ease the pain he bears. This is why the conversation with Bernard is distressing to Willy because it provokes the memories he chose to deny. This revives aggression and denial, which become so vocal that Willy cannot hold them in. His emotional state deteriorates, as he looks at younger and older Biff as two different people with contrasting characters. His mind is tormented by lies, denial, fantasies, and delusions.
The final point and the ultimate theme of the climax are in Willy’s betrayal of the family, which happened to be the affair. Fundamentally, the mind of Willy Loman further collapsed into madness. In Act 2, Scene 9, Willy understands that he lost everything and that is why he immediately resorts to his comfort zone – to the past (Miller, 2016). The present failure of his elder son to finally become someone better made the main character remember Biff’s failure in high school. Willy cannot understand the exact reason for Biff’s failure, but he cannot help but feel responsible for it. At this point, Willy Loman completely loses his mind, which could not go unnoticed. His son Biff, to stabilize his father, deliberately lied to Willy, as he understood that it is the only way to keep his father from falling apart. Consequently, Willie is forced to confront his fears and remember the traumatic event of the past that made his son ‘unsuccessful’. He remembered the affair with the Woman, the one time when Biff had to question every word his father ever said to him. Willy is desperate and he is quick to blame his behavior on loneliness, but later he realizes that the affair was an act of betrayal of his principles and his family. Willy sees the vision of his deceased brother again, which seems twisted, schizophrenic hallucination. The phantom says that suicide is the only way to feel better, as it would help Willy to deny his past, provide his wife a stable financial future, and would make everyone around him respect him. He struggles to keep his emotional composure, the realization that he is just a mediocre nobody pains him too much, as it contradicts the beliefs he created about himself.
To conclude, the emotional state of Willy Loman was created by delusions, psychological trauma, and denial. The feelings of regret made him alter his memories, creating a wall of happy delusions. Therefore, when he dealt with unfair and unbearable reality, he tended to return to his happy place, his place of comfort and satisfaction. The downfall of Willy Loman is a great learning point for psychologists, and people, who tend to be in denial about certain traumatic events. It is the vile mixture of negative emotions that made Willy commit suicide and believe it was a better option for all. Feelings are often complex, and for situations as such, a person needs to find help instead of venturing deeper into their madness. Asking for help does not make one weak, instead, it proves their strength because not everybody can face problems, which they tend to deny.
Miller, A. (2016). Death of a salesman. Penguin Plays.