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Cyclical Victimization In Death Of A Salesman

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Willy Loman, the protagonist in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, is no more the victimizer of his family than he is a victim himself. Miller explores the possibilities of cyclical mental abuse passed on through familial generations, resulting in failure and confusion of one's priorities and goals. Biff, Willy's eldest son, was the victim of too much love and attention. Happy, the youngest boy was victimized by having received no attention and very little love. Willy's wife, Linda, is a victim of her husband's overzealous promises and lack of execution. Although Willy inflicted such calamity upon his family, there were similar conditions produced in his childhood that were responsible for his clouded judgement, causing him to fall prey to his own family's faulty beliefs, values and treatment. Raised during turn-of-the-century America, Willy is seduced, like many, by the American dream of capitalistic success. Above all, his worst enemy is time as he is a victim of old age.

Willy loved his son, Biff, too much. The constant attention he instilled on Biff stifled his child's ideals and mental development, making it difficult for Biff to discern right from wrong and attain responsibility. Always being the favored son, he could do no wrong. When he began to "borrow" footballs from school, Willy, knowing that this was wrong, protected his son's integrity by endorsing this behavior stating: "Coach'll probably congratulate you on your initiative!" (30). Willy also began to instigate thievery among his boys by promoting the theft of lumber from a local construction site (50). Any positive role model Biff had, such as his studious friend Bernard, were criticized and belittled by Willy (33) while he set Biff atop an imaginary pedestal for little to no accomplishment. Willy suppressed concerns about Biff's adolescent behavior, such as "driving without a license" or being "rough with the girls" (40), in an attempt to protect his favorite son from ridicule and punishment. Biff came to rely on his father to protect him or solve his problems. When he flunked math the first thing Biff did was run to his father for help (110). Willy's over-protection and profession of accomplishment when there was none left Biff misguided and unprepared to live with societal expectations. Willy's attention indirectly victimized Biff, and he was subject to his father's foolishness and staunch pride. As a result, Biff became a wanderer, jumping from job-to-job without any solid life goals.

Unlike Biff, his brother, Happy, is able to live under society's guidelines to a certain degree. However, Happy's perception of life is skewed by his father's lack of parental guidance. He was a second tier son, and much of what he learned from his father was overheard when told to Biff. He adopted similar stealing habits from Biff when he helped him steal lumber. Now Happy accepts bribes from buyers at work in return for favours (25). His inability to have a stable relationship stems from Willy being proud of Biff for having so many girls follow him around school, but telling him never to promise them anything because girls "y'know, they believe what you tell 'em" (27). Happy also developed a dependency on performance to hide insecurities towards his father's lack of attention. He constantly performs, by showing off his exercises in front of his father (33), and continues to perform by telling lies to Miss Forsythe, a lady he is trying to impress, in the Chop House (102). Regardless of Happy's performing, Willy victimized his young son by neglecting him, and as a result Happy does not know how to connect with any one around him, leaving him without a single substantial relationship. The failure to communicate with his son has left Happy shrugging off anyone's opinion of him, and forever being blind to the truth.

Linda is a victim of Willy through marriage. Vowing to be faithful and love one another till death do them part, Willy promises Linda more than he can handle, preventing her from being in a fulfilling relationship with her husband and children. Linda is a housewife; she promised to raise a family and provide for her husband in return for her expectations of life to be met. Throughout the play Willy promises Linda a home out in the country (72) or picnics out with the car (18), even though he has no money to pay for his current home, let alone buy a new one. The promised picnics out with the car are another impossibility because of Willy's difficulty to focus on the road. Willy victimizes Linda with false hope. The boys have grown up under their father's insights never to take women's remarks seriously, and therefore Linda is disrespected by her own family when Biff and Happy constantly disregard her and refer to Willy as "the boss" (125). Linda is also a victim of denied love and affection. Willy exudes all his sexuality for another woman with an extra-marital affair, revealed through his delusions, and merely acts like a good friend toward Linda. Linda instigates passion by kissing Willy on the cheek only to have him emptily pledge: "I want to grab you and just kiss the life outa you" (38). Willy's promises are lies, and he doesn't have the slightest expectation of ever executing them. The truth may have given Linda a clearer sense of her reality and position, and prevented her from ever being the victim of a worthless and abusive marriage. In the end, she is also a victim of Willy's senility, by putting herself last so that she may shelter him and make the remaining moments of his life pleasant.

Regardless of Willy's meager performance as a husband and lack luster parenting, to propose that Willy is the only source of his and everyone else's problems would be preposterous. Willy is as much a victim of influence as Biff and Happy are. Like Happy, he too was neglected by his father, who left him behind to venture into Alaska. He could hardly remember his father, but holds him in high esteem. Willy's mother, left with the burden of taking care of two boys, is not even mentioned to have any merit or credit, in fact she is not mentioned in the play at all. This lack of credit and respect for his mother is similar to his attitude towards Linda and, in turn, his sons' attitudes toward women in general. Willy's only other influence was his brother Ben, who avidly promoted the dream of wealth and success, walking into the jungle with nothing and walking out rich (48). Willy is victimized by his brother's beliefs in the game-of-life, similar to the way Biff's beliefs and acts were influenced and condoned by his father. Ben subdues Willy's concerns for dishonesty when he explains that

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