Characters and Analysis
The protagonist of the play, Willy is characterized by insecurities and general illusions about life. While he seems to believe in the dream of a rise to success in business and the wealth which comes with that, these things have alluded him. He is also profoundly disappointed in his sons who have not lived up to his unrealistic expectations.
As the realities of his life close in him, his failure to succeed, his past mistakes, and his disappointment sin his family, he begins to lose touch with reality. He suffers from a kind of dementia and despair which make him suicidal. The conflict between social pressures and personal realities make up the central themes of the play.
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Willy’s oldest son. Biff has led a fortunate life. He was a high school football star. He is popular with both friends and with women. He also had good prospects for a college scholarship, but because he failed math, he was not able to graduate. He also seems to have a tendency to steal things, suggesting a similar mental illness problem to his father. Biff would represent Willy’s more sensitive and creative side. Biff is prone to impulsiveness and emotion. He abaondons the dreams his father has for him and heads out west. There are profound conflicts between Biff and Will which they are not able to reconcile.
Willy’ wife. She is devoted and loving, but she show signs of having endured Willy’s dreams and failures. While she can be taken in by Willy’s dreams and idealism, she is also much more realistic and sees through Willy’s self-delusions. She stands by him during his final collapse in the play, but we see a sense of relief come over with Willy’s death.
Willy’s oldest son. He has been over-shadowed by Biff his entire life and compensates for his sense of inadequacy by being sexually promiscuous and professionally ambitious. Where Biff is the more sensitive side of Willy, Happy would appear to be Willy’s more rational and practical side. Happy is driven to succeed and is willing to give in to any societal pressures which enable his success. However, he is unethical in business and his sexual dalliances are bad for business and his career.
Charley is Willy’s next-door neighbor. He runs a business with his son that has been successful. His son, Bernard, is a powerful attorney. Willy is jealous of Charley’s success even as he admires it. Charley offers money to Willy to help with his bills. Willy betrays a real moment of weakness when he tells Charley that he is his only friend.
Charley’s son and a highly successful attorney. He is admired by Willy’s sons, especially Biff. He represents a source of frustration for Willy because his own sons do not measure up to Bernard’s success and prestige.