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The notion of success is one that is very hard to describe. It means a lot of different things to different people. This is the premise and cause of conflict between Willy Loman and Biff Loman.

The two are constantly in a state of conflict. As his life is coming to a close, Willy realizes his lack of accomplishment. He wishes his sons to follow his idea of success and become successful, respected men like his neighbor Charley (whom he is jealous of). He has delusions and flashbacks to the time when he felt respected in his profession as a salesman and when he was proud of his son, Biff. All of these indicate his discontent with his current life, and how he wishes Biff to be a respected, working man.

Willy would define success as being well known, being wealthy, and being respected. The purpose of his life is becoming someone who he defines as successful. Toward the end of the play, he tries to find alternate ways of becoming successful. One of those ways is having a son who is successful. As we find out that he has done for years, he berates his son, Biff, for not holding a job or making something of his life. I found that, through this play, Miller made a remarkable commentary on America’s obsession with material wealth. Miller does so by establishing a dichotomy of ideals within a family. Willy and his son, Happy, have fallen victim to the common social outlook on what to do with one’s life while Biff opposes them in believing one should follow their passions. In Biff’s early years of employment after high school, he steals from his employers and is consequentially fired from many of his jobs. I think he does so because it is the only way he can subvert common establishment: the objective of capitalism. Happy follows the ideals of his father and attempts to become a “successful” business man. However he, like his father, is caught in a job with only an illusion of success and all of his attempts to impress his father fail. Biff’s dream is to work and live out in the West and by doing so, I think, escape the metropolitan center of capitalism in which his father resides.

I believe Miller approaches this topic very candidly and gives a great insight into the true nature of the beloved “American dream” and the path many people set their lives on. Personally, I see this play as timeless as I’ve seen evidence of its relevance even today. In applying to colleges, I see the same divergence of interests and ideals that Miller saw six decades ago. Some students wish to pursue wealth and prestige, while others wish to pursue their true passions regardless of the societal norm. Some students aspire to be a doctor or a lawyer, perhaps not because it is what they truly wish to do but because it is what society has been whispering in their year all of their life. (This is very similar to “mother culture” in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.) This dichotomy is especially relevant to me because in some ways I feel as though this split exists within me; I feel the urge to purse prestige but I simultaneously desire to pursue strictly my passions. To be honest, I’m afraid of which side will win. Charley’s son, Bernard, is Willy’s archetype of success which makes Willy very jealous of Charley as he feels Charley has found success in both his life and his son’s life. In the past, Willy told his children that Bernard, although successful in school, would not know how to handle the real world once he entered it and that they were destined for success because they were well liked and “If you’re liked, you’ll never want” he told them. Just before the end of the play, Willy visits Charley for money and sees Bernard. This is particularly distressing to Willy as he finds out that Bernard is an incredibly successful lawyer and Willy wonders why his son, Biff, could not have become as successful as Bernard. To those he talks to about Biff, he makes it seem as though he has become very successful and that he’s proud but in reality he’s ashamed of Biff and throughout the entire play he desires to know what it was that caused Biff to be as unsuccessful as he is. In reality, Willy is in denial about the fact that it was he who brought this upon his son. In the end, Biff finally confronts Willy of this fact, but it seems as though Willy is still in denial. I think that it was the realization that Willy would neither be successful himself nor have a successful heir that led to his tragic suicide.