The Struggle for Identity and its Impact on Relationships in Death of a Salesman

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In Fred Ribkoff’s written response to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, titled Shame, Guilt, Empathy, and the Search for Identity in Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, he goes into how he believes that Willy Loman has identity issues because of his shame and guilt of some of the things that have occurred in his past.

Identity Crisis and the Role of Shame and Guilt

He gives a little insight into what this is based on, talking about another work by Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity, which is about Greek tragedies and their link to shame and guilt in relation to identity crises. Besides using William’s example, it appears that Ribkoff just uses the play as his source of information. In Death of a Salesman, it becomes apparent that Willy has found himself in this situation. The only thing, though, is that it affects not only him but also his oldest son, Biff, who has had the pressure of what Willy wants him to be on his shoulders his whole life.

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However, even with this issue, Biff knows that he doesn’t want to be like his father and, even to a certain extent, his grandfather. He wants to do his own thing and knows who he is deep down inside. Fred Ribkoff also makes a point to point out how Willy continuously looks up to people like his late brother, Ben, who he described as successful before he died. Ribkoff, however, points out that this doesn’t really help Willy because he now has a dream that he cannot make true. The article itself seems mainly to be Ribkoff thoroughly analyzing Willy Loman as a person, as well as Biff Loman, but not as in-depth. The author goes on about how Willy’s thoughts aren’t only affecting him but others, mainly Biff.

It was very disappointing, however, that the text didn’t go more in-depth about the other secondary characters, such as Linda and Happy, who also have experienced the effects of Willy’s thoughts and beliefs. For instance, Willy cheated on Linda with another woman and apparently had no knowledge of it, and Happy played second best to Biff and didn’t get much character development because of it. The article also talks about how Willy is going through several stressful thoughts in his head: he isn’t making enough money, he cheated on his wife, he is not living up to his own expectations, feels his son is a failure at times, and is suicidal because of all of it. Even after Biff spills his heart out to his dad, telling him that he loves him and that he accepts him, Willy refuses to let go of his ideal identity and kills himself to keep it that way. Looking at others’ perceptions of other author’s writings is essential to the world of reading in writing.


Secondary sources like this could be a source of information for other readers to spot something we might have missed or wouldn’t have come up on our own. It is a great way to get a broader understanding of works of literature.


  1. “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
  2. “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” by Harold Bloom

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The Struggle for Identity and its Impact on Relationships in Death of a Salesman. (2023, Aug 29). Retrieved from

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