June 15, 2009

Character Analysis: Death of a Salesman

Director's Notes Part Three

It is a sad and frightening truth that Linda, Willy's wife, who is so totally devoted and loyal to him, who is his pillar of strength, who will let no one speak ill of him (no matter how justified it may be), who does everything possible to make his life peaceful and happy, who knows so well how to handle him, who can anticipate almost his every mood and who prides herself on understanding him so well, in actuality knows Willy very little.

She encourages him to stay at a job he is obviously unfit for; she is unaware of his self-esteem crisis and his pie-in-the-sky delusions; she discourages him from starting other pursuits (this because of her ultra-conservative nature); and is completely bewildered by his suicide, despite the clues that are dropped everywhere.

Her fundamental decency, integrity, loyalty and love are remarkable and unquestionable, but it must be realized that she unwittingly feeds Willy’s problem. The love and devotion she gives him, however, are truly a wonder. Tragically, Willy never understands the depth of her commitment.

Fundamentally, Biff is decent, gentle and sensitive. He is extremely stubborn, with a strong independent streak. Right to the very end it is love, not hatred, that drives the relationship between Biff and Willy. Biff hates Willy for betraying his mother, but still loves him deeply for the love and affection Willy lavished on him. He is furious with himself for being unable to remove what he considers this yoke of love, and this exacerbates his antagonism toward Willy.

It is said that Biff’s life is ruined after discovering that Willy is a philanderer. Certainly, it is a tremendous setback, but there are other factors at work here. His innate nature plus his prior experiences and conditioning are of major importance. It is not the discovery of the event itself that causes Biff to give up and leaves him unable to cope with the experience.

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