Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman focuses on a man named Willie Loman in which his profession is sales and does adequately in terms of income, but his life is all but a failure. Willie is a man who does not have a true sense of himself and he is blinded by the realization of a terrible life he has. He does not even recognize how much his family loves and cares about him. Death of a Salesman is a play that is Psychoanalytic because of the problems Willie faces with himself and his dysfunctional family. Willie is angry at one of his sons named Biff because he has failed at life in his father’s eyes and Willie represses current memories to times when he was happier with his sons. Willie also repressing his thoughts that could’ve made his family happier such as when he passed up a trip to go with his brother to Alaska at a diamond mine and his brother became rich from that venture. A psychoanalyst would describe this problem of repression as what Freud would call a “pleasure principal” which means that people seek pleasure and avoid pain [Snyder, Lopez 1].
“Loman is an example of a person who is affected badly by repression of his pleasure principal, and Arthur Miller wants to use Loman as an example for America since his hard working in salesmanship has drastically aided in his psychological regression. America’s identity is based on the ideas of the American Dream, to which Willie has always pitched the idea to his son, which is a dream of self-improvement mainly through economic means or repressing self-gratification in a quest for something larger. The American Dream can therefore be held responsible for Willie’s problems.” There a couple of scenes in the play in which we can evaluate these problems. One of the major scenes in which we can evaluate problems between Willie and his family is in the hotel scene where Biff meets up with him there. Another scene in which we can also evaluate is Happy and Biff’s’ discussion after Biff comes home. The last scene to evaluate is Willie Loman’s death because it is a turning point of Biff and Willie’s relationship but also behind the decision is to why Willie decided to crash his car and kill himself.
The scene in Willie’s daydream at Frank’s Chop House where Biff meets with Willie at the hotel shows the sign of the “pleasure principal” problem that Willie has. He is having an affair with another woman which would break the sanctity in Willie and Linda’s marriage. Biff meets with his father because he wants to tell him that he failed his math course and that he wants his father to talk to his teacher for him to pass math. Biff then finds out that there is another woman in the room with his father. When Biff is upset and cries about finding another woman in his room, Willie always tries to change the subject, and then tries to pass the woman off as a buyer staying in another room that needed a shower in his room because her room was being painted. This shows that he just wants to avert the problems him and his son has. Willie promises Biff that he will talk to his math teacher but Biff tells his father to forget it and that he tells Willie “You’re a phony little fake!” [Miller 3] Miller uses this line to address that Willie has lied to his family. The issue with this line is that Biff begins to lose faith in his father and because of Willie trying to seek that “pleasure principal” with having an affair with another woman, Biff decides to not make up the math test and not go to college which makes Willie himself responsible for Biff’s failures.
Freud would agree that the psychoanalysis behind this is that Willie seeks pleasure and that he wants to get away from his problems at home. He does not like to face problems head on and rather decides that he will get away from all that and avoid the problems he has in his life. Willie basically has lost in touch with reality and Willie agrees that Biff’s finding out that he had an affair is the reason that Biff has failed to fulfill what he had wanted his son to do. Biff in turn despises him after finding out about the affair and he does not want to fulfill the expectations that Willie had in store for him. Before the affair Willie always told Biff about the American Dream but Biff’s respect of his father was lost and that Willie lost the idea of selling Biff the American Dream because Biff thinks he’s a phony and that the American Dream his father tells him is fake. The big “American Dream” that Willie always shoots for has damaged him psychologically. The American Dream has damaged him because in the current time of the story he is out of himself and has no clue on reality and it has affected him on a personal level as well as his relationship with his son Biff.
Not only does Willie affect Biff but he also affects his other son Happy. Happy is always into to women and his intentions to have relationships with women is also the same reason why Willie decided to have an affair with another women; reasons such as healing his repression through the “pleasure principal.” The following lines are an example of Happy’s affairs with women:
“Happy: I get that anytime I want, Biff. Whenever I feel disgusted. The only trouble is it get’s like bowling or something. I just keep knocking them over and it doesn’t mean anything. You still run around a lot?
Biff: Naa. I’d like to find a girl- steady, somebody with substance.
Happy: That’s what I long for.
Biff: Go on! You’d never come home.
Happy: I would! Somebody with character, with resistance like Mom, y’know? You’re going to call me a bastard when I tell you this. That girl Charlotte I was with tonight is engaged to be married in five weeks. Sure, the guy’s in line for the vice presidency of the store. I don’t know what gets into me, maybe I just have an overdeveloped sense of competition or something, but I went and ruined her, and furthermore I can’t get rid of her. And he’s the third executive I’ve done that to. Isn’t that a crummy characteristic? And to top it all I go to their weddings!” [Miller 2]
Happy’s affairs with women and his views on them somehow can come from the Oedipal Complex. The Oedipal Complex is when a boy is fixated on his mother and competes with his father for maternal attention, that a son feels that he has a rivalry towards his father over his mother [DiYanni 4]. Biff gets more attention from his father because he is the older on and he is the star of the football team, so Biff is number one to Willie. Since Happy did not have a strong influence on his father, he could have had a stronger influence towards his mother. It is possible that Happy feels that his father does not really interact with Linda so he feels that it is his responsibility to be closer with his mother than Willie is. That Happy is competing for his mother affections more than Willie is trying to do. Since Willie is lost in touch with reality and having affairs, he does not have a stronger influence on Linda than Happy has.
The engaged woman that Happy has an affair with could represent Linda. Since Happy feels indifference towards Willie and Biff’s relationship he uses the engaged woman as a repressive strategy to get away from his jealousy towards Willie and Biff. Since Happy says that he would like a woman like his mother, the engaged is woman is “Somebody with character, with resistance like Mom.’ Meaning that in a way Happy has that kind of sexual attitude towards his mother. Happy also says that he has an overdeveloped sense of competition with the other guy that is engaged to wed the woman. The fact that he has affairs with other women because of the competition could mean that since he has indifferent feelings towards Willie, he takes those feelings out on the other men and that those men engaged to be wed to those women would represent Willie. Happy feels that in a way having sexual relations with those women is like getting back to the men, and that he could imagine that Linda is those women and Willie is those men.
The Oedipal Complex does not apply to just Happy, but Biff also. Near the end of the play, Willie decides to take the family car for a drive and subsequently crashes the car and commits suicide. Biff’s life has been a failure in Willie’s eyes and that Willie feels he has left his family down, especially Linda. He was not able to achieve the “American Dream” he always wanted, the family wasn’t financially secured and stable. Willie decided to kill himself because he now realizes that his life is all but a failure and there’s no need for him to be alive. He kills himself out of love, as crazy as it seems.
The American Dream has destroyed him psychologically and now that Biff did not respect him, he feels that his family would be better off without him. By crashing the car and killing himself, his family will collect the insurance money collected from his accident and death. He died for the love of his son and he wanted him to have a better life since he has failed in his eyes. This pertains in a way to an Oedipal Complex because Willie has now handed his wife Linda to his sons. It is now Happy and Biff’s chance to take care of their mother. Although no sexuality will be between the two, Linda’s care is now at the hands of her two sons. It is Biff and Happy’s responsibility to decide what to do with the money and make sure that Linda is safe. It is now like both of them are married to her. Another reason why this is somehow an Oedipal Complex is because it was Biff that killed his father. Willie killed himself because he loves his son too much that he did not want to be a failure. Biff messed his mind up and that led to Willie committing suicide. So in a way, the case is that the son kills his father and takes over the life of his mother.
Willie uses “regression” which is a defense mechanism that means when thoughts are temporarily pushed back out of consciousness and into unconsciousness . His daydreams are a good example of that. He is in reality but on and off he frequently dips into a state of mind in times that were crucial in his life because he wants to forget the problems that he is currently facing. The scene in the hotel was important because that was the time in which Biff began to lose his trust on his father and where Willy ultimately lost his son’s respect for him. This is the time where the American Dream had begun to make Willy lose it psychologically and lose himself in reality. Willie at this time was now unable to sell the idea of the American Dream to Biff and now this causes Willie to lose trust on the idea of the American Dream. The American Dream ultimately becomes the problem of the Loman’s because Biff mistrusts his father and Willie leaves his family.
The Oedipal Complex is also apparent in Death of a Salesman because it can be said that Happy is indifferent toward his father because he focuses his attention more so on Biff rather than him. This makes him feel closer towards his mother. He also perfers to have sexual relationships with engaged women because he possibly views the man as his father and the women as his mother. Sleeping with engaged women is his way of expressing his indifferent feelings towards his father. Biff’s lost of respect for his father is also the reason why Willie decides to kill himself. This falls under the Oedipal Complex because it is in some way a form of a son killing his father and taking control of his mother. With both his sons taking the insurance money from Willie’s death, Linda is now at the hands of her sons. These aspects in Death of a Salesman prove why this can be a Psychoanalytic play. There is a combination of how the mind thinks and why the mind thinks that way that are caused by family problems and there are also hints of the Oedipal Complex that are integrated in this play.