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In a sense there are two Willy Lomans in this play. There is the present broken, exhausted man in his sixties, soon to end his life. And there is the more confident, vigorous Willy of some fifteen years before, who appears in the flashbacks. One actor portrays both, readily shifting from one representation to the other. To some extent, of course, the personality remains constant. The younger Willy, although given to boastful blustering, does admit misgivings to Linda and loneliness to Biff. And the shattered older man, in turn, occasionally reverts to his former manner of jaunty optimism. Yet the changes are great and significant. The earlier Willy could never have been the idol of his teen-aged sons had he behaved in the perverse, distracted fashion of his older self.
Willy's agitation during his last day's stems from a twofold sense of failure. He has not been able to launch successfully in the world his beloved son Biff, and he no longer can meet the demands of his own selling job. Although not altogether ignoring Linda and Happy, he is primarily concerned about the once magnificent young football star that at thirty-four drifts from one temporary ranch job to the next. Willy cannot "walk away" from Biff' problem, as Bernard suggests, nor can he accept Linda's view that "life is a casting off." Being over sixty, Willy is doubtless tiring physically. The sample cases are heavy. The seven-hundred-mile drives are arduous. And many business contacts, developed over the years, are vanishing as the men of his era die or retire. Yet the worry over Biff has obviously accelerated his collapse.
Actually, Willy's attitude toward Biff is complex. On the one hand, there is a strong personal attachment. He wants Biff to love him. He remembers yearningly the fondness shown for him by Biff as a boy, and he still craves this. At this point, however, relations are strained. Although Willy shies away from remembering so painful an episode, he knows in his heart that the Boston affair left the boy bitterly disillusioned. Feeling some sense of guilt, Willy fears that all of Biff's later difficulties may have been really attempts to get revenge. Biff has failed, in other words, mainly to "spite"Willy. Although outwardly resenting such alleged vindictiveness. Willy still wants to get back the old comradeship, even if he has to buy it dearly. "Why can't I give him something," he asks the spectral Ben, "and not have him hate me?" And his great final moment of joy and triumph occurs when he can exclaim,"Isn't that remarkable? Biff - he likes me!"
On the other hand, Willy also is emotionally involved with Biff because his son's success or failure is also his. By becoming rich and influential, the handsome, personable Biff was slated to provide Willy's victorious reply to all not sufficiently impressed with his own modest advancement. By making his fortune in the business world, Biff would prove that Willy had been right in turning down Ben's adventurous challenge to head for Alaska. He would also outshine the sensible, plodding Charley and Bernard, thus establishing once and for all Willy's theory that having personality and being "well liked" were the great requisites for preeminence. Losing his own job, Willy is naturally unhappy. But if he can still purchase success for Biff with the insurance money, he personally will yet have won. "I always knew one way or another we were gonna make it, Biff and I!"
If, however, Willy at any stage is apt to overindulge in grandiose daydreams, he is hardly the "phoney little fake" he once seems to the shocked Biff. He works steadily at one job for thirty-six years and does pay off along-term mortgage, even if at the end he accepts some help from Charley. He takes good care of the house, too, capably making even major repairs. Although not altogether faithful, he is a reasonably satisfactory husband to Linda, who obviously respects him. He does not like to see her darn stockings or work too hard.
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a reasonably satisfactory husband, Willy, Willy Lomans, Willy Loman, Linda, Uncle Ben, Charley,
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