Willy Loman’s Failure in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1164
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: Bachelor


The play Death of a Salesman by the playwright Arthur Miller is one of the most famous literary works about the American Dream. The central character is Willy Loman, a salesman whose salary is not enough to pay his numerous debts. In twentieth-century literature, he is considered an example of a man pursuing his American Dream who never succeeds. The American Dream means everything for Willy Loman, and he dedicates his life to achieving it for himself and his family. However, his inability to catch his American Dream is not the only reason for his failure and suicide. Many essential things impacted his life, made it look miserable, and led to his death, including his denial of reality, his affair and his son’s knowledge about it, and the conditions of his life.

Two worlds of Willy Loman

First of all, throughout the entire story, Willy Loman is living in two different worlds. He cannot truly change his life for the better tomorrow, yet he never stops believing that he has the chance to turn his family’s life around and lead them to their American Dream. Willy Loman partially admires and is somewhat jealous of his brother, Ben, who became rich while working in Africa (Miller 28). In his illusionary world, Willy believes that he and his sons will be successful one day like his brother. However, in the real world, Willy understands that there are few chances for him and his sons to repeat his brother’s success. Both worlds Willy lives in have one similarity: he cannot stop thinking about his American Dream, and he does not have any other goals than for his family to get prosperous.

In other words, Willy Loman’s life is currently very far from the life of his American Dream. He cannot reach it because he does not have a purpose in his life: he is only trying to repeat his brother’s success. Willy never understood the American Dream in his entire life and never asked himself what he truly desires. He considers his brother an example of a successful man, and Willy wants to follow that example and wants his sons to do the same. According to Sudha, Willy tries to make his life joyful but cannot comprehend how to do that properly (62). The only example of the American Dream for him is his brother’s wealthiness, and Willy believes that the purpose of his life is to get rich, but he cannot do that despite all his struggle.

Imperfections of Willy Loman’s life

Willy’s salary is low, he has problems at work, his debts grow, and there is nothing he can do to change that. He can only dream about the future, believing that he is approaching it, yet his life is not becoming any better. His sons, Biff and Happy, cannot please him because they both have not achieved what he wanted for them. Happy, the younger son, takes an insignificant position of “one of the two assistants to the assistant,” yet he is proud of it and optimistic that he will become rich one day (Miller 104). Biff, the older son, is not a model son as well because he fails his education, his former employer refuses to hire him, and he fears being a disappointment (Miller 79). As a result, Willy does not have anything to hope for: he has not succeeded, and his sons will likely fail to reach their American Dream as he did.

Willy’s sons’ role in his failure

However, as mentioned before, part of Willy’s world is visionary, and he never stops believing in his sons’ success. Although Biff’s prolonged absence has shattered Willy’s dream somehow, he does not lose his hope and keeps thinking that both his sons will make him proud one day (Sudha 62). Willy tries to share his ideas with his sons so they could continue following his American Dream, and at some point, he succeeds. Although Biff and Happy do not see clear paths to pursue their American Dream, they have inherited their father’s desire to reach it.

Nonetheless, sons’ faith in their father breaks at some point in time. Once Biff discovers that Willy has an affair with another woman, he completely breaks, along with his father’s hopes for him to become an embodiment of his American Dream. Willy’s disappointed elder son says, “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years” (Miller 81). At that point, Willy cannot hope that his sons will embrace his dream since they both do not believe in him anymore. Willy’s dreams are devastated when his sons abandon and mislead him in the restroom, refusing to support him in an hour of need (Sudha 62). The abandonment by his sons, people he believed in most, breaks him and leaves a scar on his American Dream. His real-world starts to dominate on his delusionary one because Willy loses more and more hope and faith with each passing hour.

The end of Willy Loman

Left detached and secluded, Willy starts to reconsider his life and seek new ways of ending all his troubles. As Devi states, “the money-oriented world makes agitation for him instead of serving him” (100). Willy has lived his life believing that being wealthy and prosperous is the only dream worth following, the American Dream of his brother, inherited by Willy. Money has always meant everything for Willy because he has never seen another way to be happy than to be rich. Even Willy’s final, most sinister decision to commit suicide appears to be his last desperate attempt for his American Dream to come true for his family. Although that sacrifice is fallacious, Willy still makes it because, aside from the American Dream, he cannot continue living his life as it is, leading nowhere close to his happiness.


Although pursuing his American Dream was Willy Loman’s primary life goal, many other factors led to his death, including his denial of reality and losing his sons’ respect along with his dream. First, Willy has never embraced the actual state of affairs and has kept living in an illusionary world in which his American Dream is alive. Second, his life is not perfect as it is, with his financial and familial problems. Third, Willy truly breaks when his sons abandon him because they are his only hope that his dreams can come true. Everything mentioned above leads to his suicide, which he commits so his family could get the death insurance, hoping that that money can help them catch their (or his) American Dream. However, it is not the only reason for Willy’s death because it is evident that the salesman is tired and broken. He cannot struggle anymore, all his efforts do not lead to positive outcomes, and his life becomes harder and harder for him with each passing day. Aside from his American Dream, Willy Loman exchanges torment in life to serenity in death.

Works Cited

Devi, Barnali. “Willy Loman as the Paragon of American Dream in the Play Death of a Salesman”. Seshadripuram Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 1, no. 4, 2019, pp. 99-106.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Play in Two Acts. Dramatists Play Service, 1980.

Sudha, Bhaskara. “The Individual and the American Dream in Death of the Salesman”. Research Journal of English, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018, pp. 61-64.