The use of literary devices helps readers to further develop deeper knowledge and understanding of the text and who the text revolves around. Every aspect of a piece of literature relies on other aspects within to create a complexity and relatability that an author wants to achieve. The same can be said for situations outside of literature: in the lives of people. The morals and values of an individual influence the actions he takes. In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Miller utilizes flashbacks, symbols, and characterization to show that Willy and Biff’s morality is represented by actions of lies, hypocrisy, and uccumbing to society.
The flashbacks in Death of a Salesman create a buffer between Willy’s past and present actions as well as how his morals evolve and influence those actions. Willy does not know his father, and consequently, he has never had a strong male figure in his life. Willy’s flashbacks with Ben show that Ben is a family member that Willy views as a role model. Even though Willy does not know Ben well, He knows that Ben is successful. This causes Willy to value his actions, and want to implement them into his own life.
All he knows about Ben’s success is that he walked into the jungle, and walked out a wealthy man. This contributes to Willy’s idea that hard work is not needed to achieve his goals. Another flashback provides readers with a scene where Willy is with Biff and Happy as young children. Biff steals a football because he is so focused on sports rather than on his schooling. Throughout his childhood and high school career, Willy encourages Biff’s love of sports and expects him to make something out of his talents on the field. When Biff steals the football, Willy does not reprimand his actions.
Rather, he supports Biff’s dedication to football. He emphasizes the idea that these actions are not bad simply because they are eneficial to his son’s success. This success represents Willy as a parent, so he focuses more on that than the immoral actions that are being taken. In addition, when Biff comes to Boston in a flashback to speak with Willy about his failing math grade, he walks in on Willy’s affair with the Woman. He is shocked and immediately resents his father. As a result of his observation, Biff realizes his father’s life full of wrongdoings.
Willy engages in relations with the Woman to feel security within himself because he cannot find self worth anywhere else in society. Furthermore, in an article analyzing many literary devices used ithin Death of a Salesman, the author provides information concerning the purpose of the flashbacks in the piece. He states, “might these flashbacks also be Willy’s attempt to fictionalize part of his past as well as to portray some of it truthfully” (Cardullo)? Willy lied to himself and to his family all for the sake of his own image.
Cardullo’s point emphasizes the function the flashbacks play in developing the moral code of Willy Loman in which he disregards the part of his life that made him the man he is (Miller). The symbols in Death of a Salesman contribute to the tangible elements that make the morals of the Loman’s understandable to both the characters and readers. A diamond represents material value and wealth. It is the hardest substance and it is related to hard work. When Ben makes the comment to Willy about the diamonds, he is implying that he works hard for his success, that he had to venture into a jungle to get them.
Willy does not quite grasp Ben’s implication. Willy sees the diamond as success and wealth. He wants to be well liked and have something to prove for himself. Willy thinks that if he does not achieve success and wealth, he will not be well liked. He lets these thoughts consume his actions. The Chevy the Willy drives represents his job as a traveling salesman, and the reputation he thrives for. Willy calls his Chevy “the greatest car ever built” (Miller 21). Willy’s idea of success is looking the part. If he has the best car, then to him he is the best salesman.
Having such a car allows him to look successful to others, even if that is not the case. While Willy is not a successful salesman by any means, he wants to use the car as a facade. At the end of Act Two, Willy plants seeds in his garden as an act of desperation. He is trying to provide something for his family before he commits suicide. The seeds symbolize a contribution that will help his family. It also represents new life and growth. Willy feels like he has failed his children. Planting these seeds will allow him to have another chance with something that he grows.
He knows that he cannot go through with suicide if he has nothing to show for his life. Willy strives to leave something meaningful behind. All of the aforementioned symbols provide an outlook on the ideas of wealth, reputation, and success that Willy emphasizes in his values as a person (Miller). Characterization tells a lot about individuals in a drama because it reveals ersonality, values, and morals in a progressive, in depth way. Throughout the drama, readers follow the progression of Willy’s affair with the Woman.
Not only do Willy’s actions reveal that he is cheating on his wife, but he gives the Woman stockings while Linda sits at home and mends her own. Willy tries to make up for his lack of societal inclusion by lying. By this he creates bigger obstacles like potential distrust from family, and plagues himself with anxiety because he knows that actions like cheating are unjust. During the drama, there quite a few instances where Willy attempts to end his life. He is tries to crash his car, inhales gas through a rubber pipe, and eventually commits suicide in a car accident at the end of the play.
Willy’s character is one that faces immense societal pressures such as the need to be wealthy, successful and obtain the American Dream. In a journal criticizing the many works of Arthur Miller, Lois Gordon writes of Willy’s suicide saying, “in defiance, irony, and profound bitterness, Miller sends Willy to his death with the same illusion he has lived by” (Gordon). By this, Gordon means that Willy still succumbs to those societal pressures by committing suicide. He nded his life so his sons would get money out of it. Money is what society puts an emphasis on and Willy made sure his last breath on Earth kept that emphasis in mind.
Over the course of the drama, Willy interacts differently with Biff; sometimes trying to be an encouraging father, and other times acting very disapproving of his son. For example, there are flashbacks which showcase the bond between father and son, but present day interactions show quite the opposite. Willy’s expectations for Biff’s success get in the way of their relationship. He puts so much pressure on Biff that it takes a toll on him early on. A urning point in their relationship comes when Biff catches Willy in his affair, causing him to lose all respect for Willy.
When Biff comes home an unsuccessful man, Willy is beside himself. He harps on Biff for being lazy and unsuccessful and Biff argues back with him because he can not look at his father in a positive manner. Because both of the grown men are aware of each other’s indignities, their actions become driven by their spite for one another. As a matter of fact, the characterization of both Willy and Biff continues to grow and change until the very end of the drama. At the peak moment of tension in their relationship, n argument results in a realization that the relationship between the two of them has disintegrated.
Biff verbalizes his resentment for his father and the insecurities he has faced because of him. He acts purely on his emotion and the acknowledgement of his father’s immorality and how that immorality influences himself. No matter how their characters progress, both Willy and Biff’s characterization reveal their values and morals of their need for success and societal appeal (Miller). When Arthur Miller uses flashbacks, symbols, and characterization in Death of a Salesman, he is establishing the moral code of Willy and Biff Loman.
Both Willy and Biff’s actions of lying hypocrisy, and succumbing to society provide the readers with a better understanding of the values each hold, and why success has been so unattainable. Willy’s morals feed off of societal pressures because he feels the need to make himself in the image of society. Many of Biff’s morals stem from the example his father leads in his life, as well as expectations that have been placed on him. The literary elements Miller uses throughout the drama show the progression of these morals and the actions that are taken as the consequence of that morality or lack thereof.