“Why willyloman”?

 So this was a very good question put to me by a friend, Zooey Z; 

 So last night, while I should have been reading Federalist No. 10, I was reading the “Death of a Salesman” entry on the Wiki, and the main question I came away with was this: Why do you call yourself “Willy Loman?””

and this is the best I could come up with as an answer;

“Well, that’s an interesting question.

There is a page that defines some of what I feel Willy is about on the site.

But that doesn’t really answer your question, now does it?

Perhaps a less materialistic view of the meaning of “Death…” is necessary to understand my choice. Wiki, though a great source, isn’t always…well…right.

First of all, Willy is not just fired by a man (Howard) young enough to be his son, he is his God Son, and Willy helped pick his name, with Howard’s father.

The “age of entitlement” is best represented by Howard than it is by Biff and Happy (Willy’s sons); because he inherits the company that Willy helped create and then won’t even give him a desk job to keep him off the road when Willy begs in his office.

Second of all, Happy is very much like the woman in my “Apostles…” story. He believes whole heartedly in this new economic American dream, and keeps professing he will “make it” and thus make his father proud. But Happy is limited, mentally, and will never be more than “an assistant to the assistant Buyer”. He will never realize the American Dream, as he pictures it. But will always push for it, and measure himself by it; and in that way, he is like his father.

The John Malkovitch part, Biff, is probably the second most complicated part in the play. He has all the capacity to “make it” and has even held several jobs and positions that had serious promise…but he keeps “stealing his way out of them”. Over and over he gets jobs based on his youth and ability and likeability, but sooner or later, he self-destructs. He can’t figure out why, till this great scene right before Willy goes out to the car to “go for a drive”. Biff comes to understand that the whole time, he has been following “the wrong dream” and he begs his father to understand… to give up on the “dream” and to see things, in this world, for what they are and to accept them as the true nature of life, rather than chasing after some delusion of greatness based on an artificial measuring stick.

Were this story only about Willy’s inability to let go of the American Dream, it could very well end with this. But that is not what this story, and by extension, willyloman, is about.

Willy; Ah, Willy. He is probably the most misunderstood contemporary character of our time.

You will notice that even Wiki mentions his “tragic flaw”. That is because Willy is a Tragic Hero in the classic Greek Tragedy mold. The formula is that a Hero must fall from some position of honor and respect due to his “tragic flaw” after a prolonged struggle with the world in which the play is set, and in so doing, he is destroyed by it, but only after coming to a new understanding of the world.

Often times, many of those around the Hero, plead with them to just “let it go” but what makes them Heroic, is that they cannot no matter how hard they try, “let it go”. They see the world, in some ways, as it should be, though they try as hard as they can, they cannot make it so. This is very important to the formula of the “tragic hero”.

The tragic hero must have many viable opportunities to step off the inevitable course of self destruction thru-out the development of the play. Biff does, in the end, come to that realization and does step outside of himself long enough to see what is really important in life. And he pleads with Willy to do the same. But the play isn’t about Biff any more than Biff is heroic in our eyes.

The real problem with people’s perception of the play is that people don’t think Biff reaches Willy in the final scene where he tries to tell him to burn that “phony dream”.

Biff does reach him. So much so, Willy happily goes off to do what he must. The general public will reject the notion of the play for the most part because they don’t like its message, which can really be summed up quite nicely by what the two of you (and Wayne) wrote the other night.

It is the flawed system that crushes the nature of the man and doesn’t serve him but enslaves him with the fantasy of the American Dream. The third “Noble Lie”.

willyloman comes to know and see the true greatness of his son, but the reason the play is about Willy and not Biff, is because willyloman also sees the world for which it is and that his ability to provide for his children has come to an end, save his one last contract.

He comes to understand it is the wrong dream. But he also knows his children must survive and thrive within it and that it is his duty to provide for them. It is his last measure of devotion to his family; to his sons. He goes off happily to meet his end, knowing that with “20,000 behind them…they will be great”.

He struggles with his tragic flaw, comes to a deeper understanding of the world, and in the end he is destroyed by it.

I would love to sign all my work with my real name, and Goggle myself from time to time, because that is, after all, the “new measure” of our blogging worth.

But this isn’t about me, I’m not even sure it is me anymore.

I don’t mean to lecture you about the play anymore than I mean to lecture about the stuff I write. I just love the play, and what it means and I hope more people understand what Mr. Miller was driving at and why they gave him a Pulitzer Prize for it at a time when this new “American Dream” was being sold to our nation.”

48 Responses

  1. Awww, Willy. 🙂

  2. Awesome. And thank you for the brief primer about the play. It is on my “Things To Read Before I’m Unable To Read” list (and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way, just a realistic one). And thanks for the mention.

    I’m becoming a fan of your writing style. I may try to “steal” it some day. 😉

  3. Hi Willy, Pax here. Did you see the curfew headline? You can read it here. Getting closer to complete martial law…

  4. You know, I did that Pax, but I hadn’t read it till just now.

    The Mayor says, I haven’t SEEN any evidence “that innocent citizen’s rights are being violated”. He hasn’t seen the evidence. nice huh?

    “There are going to be instances where innocent people are inconvenienced for the safety of the entire community,” Now isn’t THAT nice? He knows there are GOING to be people “inconvenienced” by his police state…

    “Police have stepped up their game,”“I want them to fix the problem, fix it legally and I want them to be aggressive,”

    Now when this blows up in his short-sighted face, and some 50 ear old spinster school marm gets shot by a 21 year old community college dropout SWAT team member, you think the City Council will hold this Mayor responcible or just chalk it up to “the war on terror”?

    Hey! Maybe they could blame it on bin Laden’s gardener or some “crazed loner” who once said “girls smell different” in 4th grade or something?

  5. You must forgive me if I’m out of touch–I haven’t read death of a salesman since high school. . . but this is not at all how I remember that character In fact, if I recall correctly, he was not at all a classic hero, but rather the quintessential modern hero–whiny, controlling, out of touch with reality, ultimately accomplishing almost nothing–certainly accomplishing no part of what he had intended to accomplish–an anti-hero.

    What causes you to read him so sympathetically?

    P.S. For the record I do love Arthur Miller.

  6. Hello Day;

    It’s a good question.

    You might ask the same thing of Hamlet. He was definitely “out of touch” and he accomplished next to nothing, except getting a bunch of people killed. All he did really was walk around talking to himself, and then once he did find out what happened, he argued with himself endlessly about what to do about it. All he had to do was kill the bastard and marry Ophelia, and he would be king. Now what is so tragic about him? He could have been king, and lived happily ever after.

    Willy Loman is an American “Everyman” figure trying to understand his place in what was then, a changing world. And he was unable to do so because it conflicted with his nature. In some ways, I think Death of a Salesman is Miller’s best example of social critique. We were a nation coming out of WWII, when social connection and shared commitment, were being cast off, for the me-first capitalist “consumer movement” of the 50s was taking shape.

    Our position as citizens went from collectivism to consumerism overnight. That was our new role to fill.

    Willy struggles with that transition. He keeps talking about his job having changed; no longer do people relate to him the same way. It’s not about a “handshake” anymore. It’s not about your reputation. His job is going to end, at a company that he helped it’s owner’s dad build. There is no loyalty anymore. It’s just about the numbers, and nothing else. He is fired by his god-son.

    In the dramatic scene between Biff and Willy, Biff begs him to see “a different dream”… he tells him “the dream is a lie. It’s the wrong dream” and that Willy has got to let it go before it kills him.

    And as close as Willy comes, after Biff goes to bed, Willy, left alone with just his thoughts, falls victim to the whispers of the American Dream again.

    The original play was to be called “Inside His Head” and the staging for the 1949 Broadway production opens as a huge skull on the stage… then it splits in half, and the house set is inside.

    The idea is that this commercialism is destructive to the American psychology. It works on us, under the surface, corrupting what we are, and what this nation was founded on. It may be more geared toward the overall human condition, than simply the American one, but in this case, it was specifically targeting a era in American history.

    I choose this as the theme of this site, because IMO, we haven’t learned a damn thing since then.

    “Why 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! Why can’t I say that, Willy?” Biff…

    It’s a good question. What makes tragic heros tragic, is that they can’t move off the course set for them. A course steered by their tragic flaw.

    Willy Loman is refered to as a “prince’ several times in the play, and his tragic flaw, is the New American Dream.

    I am very sympathetic to his character, as I sympathetic to Hamlet. The problem is, most communities don’t really like the notion that an American literary classic is based on a scathing indictment of this capitalist dogma.

  7. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour

  8. Bloody excellent site:-)
    and thanks for the detail, I knew I knew the name from somewhere…duh!
    did,nt “do” Arthur Miller in our school:-( , mores the pity!
    In 70,s Aus about 10 of the 30 in my Class could’nt read or write fluently, From what I see now, 30 years on, is closer to 10 can, others can’t, and the class now hold 40!
    Seems like jump cuts and sound bites, are the time frame available for attention.
    I will be hours checking this all out:-)
    treasure trove:-) indeed, well done:-)

  9. psycho

    • If anyone wants to know who the “psycho” is… have a look at the last comment Karla posted…

      “You are a worthless piece of shit and I hope someone you love gets one in the heart and spits out blood and we can all dance around his or her bloody face dreaming about al the CIA operatives who faked a death.”

      true humanitarian

      • Your post is old, but I will reply, if only for the sake.of catharsis, my own.
        I can’t begin, nor want to figure out what is in Karla’s head, what
        brought “it” to this point of malevolency—–and I can’t say I want to.
        Does this person, I hesitate categorizing it—for that would admit there might be several like “it”, even understand what triggers them? Is it exogenic, your blog; or endogenic, an expression of a dystopic world only visible to “it”? I hope it does not hurt someone elso nor has not. Is this the latest of a seriies of tirades, or shown as a typification of the vileness which comes often? I’m new here obviously, a few minutes old only, thus the question.

        As for Willy, I’ll see if my present life will has space for the denouement. I couldn’t when it came out, being only 13-14. Between facing the newly revealed second law of thermodynamics, and my own hopeless dysfunctionality, I wasn’t ready to abandon the American Dream, pursuing it without a plan as I did. Perhaps, it was a realization and denial of a play which offered no solution; either personal or societal, to me or Biff.

        That we all are heroic, as in Greek tragedy, whatever our success in whatever scale you measure by, is of little comfort. No matter whether you are Everyman or a President, in common with all Presidents, who understands he is only a pawn, a figurehead.
        Sometimes he may be said to nominally instigate high evil, as in 9/11, but even then I’m sure he only is instrumental to the grand conspiracy plans conceived on another level, and in another venue.

        As one, as I do, contemplates ones life, there is some comfort in realizing that ALL are faced with the inevitable question; “What have you done since last? No laurels, however outstanding are green very long. The comfort of being known, knowing a circle, being respected is ephemeral, sooner or later it is gone. And one day you can’t create it again. But then the universe changes, and that’s why we have life and its adaptation and evolutional character. It’s just that we as survival machines have little space in time or capacity to adapt.

        Am I conspiratorially inclined? Perhaps, but incidentals like having read yesterday, that the formation of farm workers to be production workers began with the planned national reform calling for a school day with an hourly scheme, rather than previous freeformed intervals suiting the subject or the students’ needs. The children had to be trained to tolerate monotony.
        Now who says you can’t do societal engineering. Ghastly!

  10. OO page 55 time, he continues to work towards building his own business, dabuzz marketing solutions. ,

  11. “ability to provide for his children”


    Biff is 34

  12. yes, but Willy whacks himself with the idea that “with $10,000 behind him, Biff will be unstoppable.”

    So he still did what he did trying to provide for his sons.

  13. Just found your blog thanks to WRH. Loved your article about Stewart and Colbert and now this about Willy Loman.
    Will most definitely be back.

  14. thanks Chris. I like Mike’s website. good info and links. welcome to the site.

  15. I don’t know where to send you a note, willyloman, so I’ll put it here:

    Turkish Court to Ban Blogspot

  16. They took out 600,000 blogs because two guys ran a live stream of some football match? hmmm… sounds like a little overreaction, doesn’t it? BTW, I’ll email you with my address so you have it in the future

  17. Yes, a completely crazy reaction. We’re not hearing the whole story of that ruling…

    And thank you for the e-mail. I’ve always wanted to be able to quietly send you some of the articles I’ve read, without having to put it in your most recent posts, which may have nothing to do with what I link:)

  18. Like this…here’s another stunning decision by the courts, in America! I can’t find these things in the western press, but the “Islam Times” didn’t let it go unnoticed:
    “American justice at its best!
    Islam Times – Muslim who posted online threats gets 25 years in prison; U.S. soldiers who confessed to shooting and killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan: Nine months in jail…

    Islam Times: The American justice system added another achievement to its list of accomplishments when a U.S. man who converted to Islam was sentenced to 25 years in prison for posting online threats while soldiers who confessed to shooting dead Afghan women and children were giving nine months in jail.

    Zachary Adam Chesser was sentenced for posting the address of South Park Creators online after they insulted the Holy Prophet in the name of “freedom of speech.”

    On that very same day, 24th February 2011, Staff Sgt. Robert Stevens, who shot and killed Afghan women and children for sport and threw grenades at them got nine months in prison and a demotion to private.

    Chesser’s sentencing took a total of 3 months to decide from the time in October when he confessed to the online postings.

    The main defendant in the case in which Stevens was sentenced, Staff Sgt. Calvin R.

    Gibbs has yet to be sentenced for killing women and children, for cutting of their fingers and making necklaces of their ears, even though he too confessed to his brutal crimes.

    One has to ask, it took three months to sentence a Muslim to 25 years for posting online threats yet a man who confessed to killing and mutilating men, women and children over a year ago has yet to be sentenced?

    According charges based on his confession and the confessions of others, the soldiers would throw grenades at women and children for “fun,” and would compete in how accurately and quickly they could shoot women and children.

    The group of American G.I.s were lead by Gibbs and killed Afghan civilians for fun and used finger bones, leg bones, a tooth and a skull as macabre souvenirs according to documents revealed by the Pentagon.

    As in other cases, the U.S. government is not releasing all the information and the most brutal aspects of the case in the hopes that attention will eventually fade. It used similar tactics during the Abu Ghraib scandal, when footage of boys as young as 13 being sodomized by U.S. soldiers as they screamed in pain and women being brutally gang raped were never released for fear that they could threaten “American national security.” Women who were detained were forced to watch these young children being tortured and were raped repeatedly. They wrote notes to visiting relatives begging them to kill them so that their misery could end.”

    This is the first article I’ve read today about the court rulings, so I have to try to find some more articles to verify this after lunch. But what a bunch of psychos we have in our military!

  19. Fantastic work. Hope to meet and work w/ many more like you…

  20. thanks Lucius. same here

  21. Dear Willy,
    Sorry for the random posting, but couldn’t find a direct email to reach you.

    However, thought you might enjoy this article on the Polemic of “Good vs. Evil” in warfare, http://takimag.com/article/war_is_hell_but_its_also_war/print

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  22. Hi Willyloman – as a foreigner I would like to be on your mailing-list. Very interesting to follow the everyday american – and happy to see that they dont buy the crap from corporate media anymorre

  23. Dear Willyloman,

    It has been years since I read Death of a Salesman, and I agree that Willy Loman is a classic example of a character having a tragic flaw that leads to his inevitable death, but part of the definition of a tragic flaw is that it comes from within the character. Outside forces only come into play in order to show that character’s reaction to the world and the consequences of the choices he makes based on his tragic flaw. If my memory serves me, the play definately is a social criticism of the times, but I believe Willy Loman’s death is due in part to the realization of his romanticism and at the same time, his unwillingness to fully let go of it. However, as I said, it has been years. You have inspired me to go back and re-read it. It won’t be the first time that you have inspired me….but as I said…it’s been years. ; )

    • Dear Mrs. Billingsley Rouner,

      Let me first say how good it is to hear from you. I don’t hear much at all from the remnants of my previous life and whether that is indicative of the character of my writings or the character of me, I would probably rather not know. as you said, it’s been years.

      In relation to your questions about the play, I would ask you to consider that last scene between him and Biff and consider the sacrifice Willy makes and for what reason he makes it. In any other context, in any other text, a father who sacrifices his life for the betterment of the lives of his children would automatically be considered heroic and noble. And yet, as you can garner from many of the comments on this site, he is ridiculed and marginalized. Why do you think that is?

      And who really as a “romanticized” view of the world in the end? Biff who is going out to be a farmhand to make himself free? Happy who will suck-up to the institutions to suffer a life of middle management at best? They both will live in a state of perpetual cognitive dissidence in one form or another, neither of them free, both, for different reasons, failing to thrive.

      And let’s face it, in the world we live in (and this is a point that is rarely ever brought out in any discussion of the play) those young men WOULD stand a better chance with “$20,000 behind them”

      Willy Loman say the world as it was in the end. Tradition, loyalty, honesty… yes, these are the romanticized ideals of the past that he couldn’t let go of. But in the end, his tragic flaw brought him to the point in his life when he understood what was actually the ONLY thing of value in America… and so to fix his broken children, he got it for them. Happily.

      For a better understanding of the context of the time in which the play was written you can check out this:


      Yes, that image is from the Watchmen, which I strongly recommend people read if they can. The film that finally came out was pretty good. I don’t like how they changed the ending though.

      The image behind it is a Banksy painted on the separation wall in the West Bank. It’s a reflection of my continued support of the Palestinian people and the two state solution.

      The globe with the bio-hazard symbol stretching across it is probably a reflection of my continued trend of self-deprecation. Make from that what you will.

      I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reply earlier. It’s very good to hear from you. I have to say, I checked out you Facebook page.. you have two beautiful children, Rose. I am very happy for you. I hope you are well and happy.

  24. p.s.
    Is your logo a reference to The Watchmen? I never got around to reading any of it, but knew people who did. It’s an evocative image.

  25. Okay, so I’m talking more about a Shakespearean tragedy model and not the whole Greek per-determined fate thing….so..why am I still awake and writing this?

  26. Dear Willyloman,

    By having a secret affair, he falls short in the areas of traditionalism, loyalty and honestly. It’s one thing to live ones life following those ideals, and another to romanticize those ideals and not live them. How would you define his tragic flaw?

    On another note, I hope you are well. I looked for you on Facebook, too, to no avail. Don’t worry about not replying earlier, I only wrote my comments last night (very late!). If you had replied earlier, I would have been asleep!

    • Hello again Rose,

      Now that’s a good question.

      I think the affair serves several purposes in the development of the story and the general message of the play.

      I agree with you that WL was no saint, but he wasn’t supposed to be one, he was supposed to be noble.

      If you look at the context of the play in terms of the story line, the inclusion of WL’s affair is the catalyst for Biff’s transition, not so much Willy’s. When Biff goes to Boston to see his father on a sales trip, it’s then that he screws up in school and his future is forever changed. Is it changed for the better?

      We all have a somewhat idealized vision of our past. Over the years we filter it, rewrite it, delete it in some cases. It’s a survival skill that is quite natural and in some cases necessary. It’s a crucial moment in the play but I don’t think it’s there to reduce Willy, I think it’s there to show him and the entire family as a standard, three-dimensional family unit complete with betrayals and life changing skeletons in the closet. That moment of realization, for BOTH Willy and Biff, set the course of events in the play in motion, but it is not what drove Willy do ultimately do what he did.

      after all, he only decides to make the final sacrifice AFTER Biff forgives him.

      As important as that plot development was, and it was very important, I think the recurring visits from “uncle Ben” are far more telling as to what his tragic flaw actually is.

      I sent you a friend request by the way. I don’t really do much on Facebook to be honest. I set it up years ago before starting this blog at the request of some friends. Good thing I didn’t invest in it huh?

  27. I have some ideas for a reply, but I feel as if I need to re-read the play first. I’ll get back to you….Do you have an idealized vision of your past?

  28. Oh no! That’s not what I was going for, I promise! I may have been angling for a compliment at most, but i didn’t mean to solicit that.

  29. I left you a message on Facebook. Did you get it?

    • Hi Rose

      Yes, I’m sorry. I did see that yesterday (I don’t spend much time on Facebook) and I have meant to reply but things are a bit hectic around here. I will send a reply a little later today.

  30. No hurry. I just wasn’t sure that you got it since I had trouble posting it.

  31. Willey Lowman killed Willy Lowman. Do not put the blame anywhere except on Willy Lowman.

    Communism is government ownership and control
    Fascism is private ownership and government control

    Communists want more government control
    Fascist want more government control

    Miller was a member of the communist party.

    Obama wants more government control

    Communist/Fascist or Fascist/Communist?

    He just wants control, doesn’t matter.

  32. I believe the story was written as a sort of autobiography by the author. In real like, Willy Lowman is the author’s uncle (on his father’s side).

  33. Nice people still commenting on this. What Willy and Biff face is the Foucauldian Grid of power/knowledge/capital/normality. I assume you know Foucault? He spent his life working on this. Resisting is important. Destroying it more important. Please come read on forum. We are quite astonished and admiring of your work on the Boston Bombers.

  34. There is also the “oh, she has suffered much…” referring to his wife. A desire to ease her suffering from so many year’s of doing without and scraping by (after all, it “should have” been better for her- part of the sold American dream as well) But we can only fool ourselves (“this house is full of liars… we all lie”)… until we can’t fool our self anymore. And after we can’t “sell” our-self anymore….what is there to live for? So he sold himself “death”… the “good” that would come out of it- beating back “Ben”, who objected, saying his “son’s” would be angry, (but not once they had the money- in Willy’s “dream” -because that is the only “sell” he had left, the rest had unraveled. He didn’t just “dream” the “American Dream” – He lived it, breathed it, sacrificed for it, and to now be asked (and faced within himself) that he had “dreamed” “the wrong dream” meant he had to die, with assurance, that the dream would materialize ($20,000 – instant success- since the 36 years of “the company” amounted to abject humiliation in the end) “I do believe there was more of Willy in this house, why he loved working with his hands, better than selling”. Not recognizing, the American Dream had materialized, he was clear of debt. He outright owned his home.The current “Dream of Humanity”- to no longer be a debt slave/corporate slave/religious slave etc.. Willy wanted his kids, as all parents do, to have a life of ease, not slavery. Once that was accomplished, the dream was no longer needed, but it was only the dream, the lie, that he both lived and died for. Biff said a couple of times “he doesn’t know himself”.

  35. Hey Scott,

    Have you watched “Making a Murderer”? I think many aspects of that show really speak to American Gladio, and the rampant corruption in the justice system that facilitates the high-profile murders and bloodbaths that are part of it.

  36. […] “Why willyloman”? […]

  37. The “salesman” who “died” was whomever was pitching the american dream…now, of course, dream and what a chimera that is, is stll “alive” in peoples heads…but for miller he is saying it died, putting willy loman 4 himself and everyman who feels rhe same way…

  38. If I could call Dale Carnegie the WillyLoMan archetype, then Edgar Cayce who outlived him by one year would have to be his higher equivalent…wonder if this came out in Miller’s works anywhere…. Anyhow, I was not logged into PayPal when I hit the button ‘Review Donation & Continue.’ PayPal told me my time had expired and it had logged me out after filling in my credit card information. Would you please email a physical address I could send a cashier’s check?

  39. Saw the Broadway play with Brian Deneehy. Unforgettable and evocative. No one could ever play W.L role better than Deneehy. I think the entire play took place on a bar stool . Fortunate to have seen him play one of his best roles ever.

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