The Battle for Identity and Reality in “Death of a Salesman”

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Whether it is through family, an occupation, or a hobby, everyone desires something that makes them a unique individual. Almost everyone has experienced struggles in giving their best endeavors to achieve a great identity, but then there are those who think it comes without any effort. b. Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Death of a Salesman” (1949) is a modern tragedy that tells the story of the anti-hero Willy Loman, a traveling salesman living in Brooklyn, New York during the 1940s with his family. His world starts falling apart soon after he hears news of his older brother’s death, whom he very much looked up to. Everything around him is changing with the coming times, and he is realizing that he has missed his chance of being the well-liked person he hoped to be. He has two sons with his wife, Linda, and he tries to instill traits in them that he believes to be the secret to success, which are likability and ingenuity.

Willy’s Past and Unrealistic Dreams

The American Dream has always been Willy’s number one drive in life, and he is in complete denial about how it might have come about unethically. Willy might be a character that the audience can sympathize with, but Willy creates his own future and, in the end, dies because of his own actions. In his identity crisis, he starts experiencing hallucinations of past events. c. Thesis: Willy Loman is experiencing hallucinations of his past because of high stress and anxiety regarding his identity crisis. His hallucinations are his mind subconsciously trying to cope with the current situation and to figure out why everything around him is falling apart. II. Willy’s past a. Between his father being a successful flute salesman and his brother finding a diamond mine in Africa, Willy Loman has been raised to believe that wealth should come easy and that all he needs to do is to be well-liked to become successful. b.

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The fact that we know that the action of the play happens during the 1940s, we can assume that Willy has lived through World War I as well as the stock market crash of 1929, which resulted in the Great Depression, which is something the author of the play can relate to. His father was an owner of a women’s fashion store, which went out of business during the economic crash of 1929, which caused great poverty for the Miller family (Ascherson). III. Willy’s hallucinations a. It has been established that Willy’s life has not gone as he planned. His lovely neighborhood is changing into an apartment complex lot, his sons are not the famous, wealthy men he hoped they would be, and he is failing in his job as a salesman.

What might have been Willy’s tipping point is his brother’s passing a few weeks earlier, a man he adored dearly. All of these traumatizing circumstances could bring up terrible anxiety and stress, which could be the reason that he is now hallucinating past events. b. In a case report written by Dr. Ankur Sachdeva on visual hallucinations associated with anxiety, he writes about a 36-year-old male who suffered from extreme anxiety, which had been ongoing for almost eight years. He goes on to say that “the patient also reported seeing images of a lady that no one else could see during the last two months.

Confrontation and Catharsis

These clear and distinct images occurred when he was awake and fully conscious and appeared real. He reported seeing them five to ten times a day, for 5 minutes at a time”. Proving that one does not need to suffer from a mental illness to experience hallucinations, but can be caused by c. He lived so long in his false reality that soon, the walls around him began to crumble, and he had to face reality. IV. Willy and Biff a. Many times, parents who have missed out on their dreams will try and push their children to pursue whatever they missed out on. Willy has pushed his dreams onto his sons, but they have no idea how to achieve them. Willy had high expectations from his oldest son, Biff. He was supposed to be just like his own older brother, get rich and famous with only charm as his tool.

Except that did not happen. Willy has brought up Biff and Happy that it is okay to steal. In one of Willy’s journeys to the past, Willy congratulates Biff on stealing a football for practice by exclaiming, “Sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he? Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (18). Yet, later, he contradicts himself by saying, “Why is he stealing? What did I tell him? I never in my life told him anything but decent things” (27). Not realizing that it was he himself who molded Biff into doing such a thing. As a result, Biff goes through his life stealing and being dishonest, never holding down a job, and torturing himself mentally for disappointing his father. b. After Biff goes to his big meeting and steals a pen, he has an epiphany. He is not who his father raised him to be, and he does not want to be.


During the catharsis of the play, where Biff confronts his father on his upbringing and begs him to accept the reality of him being a non-successful, ordinary man, Willy realizes that Biff actually adores and loves him and only wants his acceptance. As he comes to the conclusion that his dream of being well-liked has come true, he immediately decides that he must die to preserve it. “He might not have won their respect, but he is definitely loved – and perhaps that is all that Willy ever really hoped to achieve” (Centola 33).


  1. “Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism” by Arthur Miller and Gerald Weales
  2. “Miller: Death of a Salesman” by J. C. Trewin

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The Battle for Identity and Reality in "Death of a Salesman". (2023, Aug 29). Retrieved from

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