Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Death of a Salesman Summary

Willie Loman based his most of his life on lies. The saddest part is that he actually made the lie that "all you need to succeed is to be liked" part of his core belief system. It appeared to be the only thing he really did believe and all his efforts went to presenting an image he thought other people would like and admire. He even lied regularly to keep his mental world intact.

So strong was this need to be popular and liked, that he broke commitments and promises to gain immediate ego boosts from whoever he was with. He behaved in some ways like an narcissistic personality disorder in that his focus was gaining admiration and maintaining an image of himself that he was in love with and he was willing to protect that image at all costs, even though there was evidence that most people didn't believe in it. His image of the charismatic and successful salesman only hid his insecurities and failings. Deep inside, he knew he wasn't that, but the fear of facing his true self was so great that he couldn't stand to see anything that disproved that image.

Unfortunately, by following a faulty premise, he blinded himself to reality and it caught up to him. It caught up to him as a parent, when the son he put all his dreams on lacked the discipline to even hold down a steady job, because he treated the oldest son as an extension on himself and couldn't stand to be firm with him as a child. He also alienated his eldest son by having an affair, which shattered his son's image of him and led to a desire to hurt his father by not going to college and becoming a football star. Willie's behavior also affected his other son, who in a desperate attempt to get his father's regard, modelled himself after his father's idea of how to succeed and was showing the same lack of results.

It caught up to him as a worker, when he slowly made himself a failure by not paying attention to his mistakes and faulty premises so he could correct them and be effective in his job. He made himself unemployable and because successful businessmen didn't take meager jobs, he refused the only real chance he had of rebuilding his career.

It caught up with him as a person, when he found himself facing truths he didn't have the strength of character to withstand. His only path was suicide and in his death we find that his beliefs failed him so thoroughly that when it was all said in done, the only people who grieved for him was his family and two neighbors who pitied him. The man who spent all his time trying to be liked in the end wasn't liked by anyone.

The only person Willie seemed to not have offended was his wife Linda, who was willing for whatever reason to believe his lies and support his dreams. If she knew about his infidelity, she never let it affect her publicly. She was so emotionally enmeshed with Willie that she never really asked herself if his core beliefs held water. To Willie's credit, he did recognize how important his wife's support was to him, something a true narcissistic personality disorder probably would never admit to himself.

While it is easy to see why Willie chose to value some of the things he did, it's hard to understand why he didn't see his own failure sooner. We all have believed inaccurate "rules" in our lives, yet most of us would re-examine our beliefs when there is evidence that we were in trouble. Wille doesn't do this. He ended his life instead. But he did his best to end in way that it would give his family some benefit. He was still trying to provide for them. For all his failings, he did love his family.

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