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The theme of self-deception in 'Death of a Salesman'

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Roma Charles

on 27 November 2016

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Transcript of The theme of self-deception in 'Death of a Salesman'

Explore the theme of
self-deception in

In the requiem Happy chooses to continue to go along this path of self-deception as he chooses to follow Willy's dream even though he can see how flawed it is and how it led to Willy killing himself.
He believes that his cult of personality will bring him success because he doesn't know of Willy's affair with the other women, he believes in his father and wants to prove that 'Willy Loman did not die in vain,' as he thinks that his plan of the 'Loman brothers' is achievable.
Introduction:
Self deception is one of the main themes in Death Of A Salesman. Willy Loman envisions himself as a successful business man who is also a great father. However Willy is so caught up in his fantasies that he never brings them into fruition and influences his children to believe in his lies just as he does, condemning them to the same pathetic fate of him.
Willy:
In the past Willy believed that he would one day own his own business and be successful like his older brother Ben and many of his dream sequences represent these unacknowledged desires and regrets like going to Alaska with Ben or Biff coming to Boston as he struggles to find his own identity. The play allows us to get an internal and external view of Willy's motives through expressionism which means we can see both the real world and the imaginary one he lives in. One of his beliefs is individualism, he beliefs he can change things and become famous. He believed in masculine ideals.

'One day, I'l start my own business'
'Be liked and you will never want.'
'Working on a very big deal, Bernard."
'Touchdown! Touchdown! Eighty thousand people!'
'Lick the world!'
I'm telling you, I was sellin'
thousands and thousands,
Like a young god. Hercules-
I averaged a hundred and seventy
dollars a week in the year of 1928!
In Act two Biff is convinced that he was once a salesman for Bill Oliver because of all the lies that he has been told by Willy. His family believe that Oliver will back Biff and Happy up on a big sales idea they had, all thinking that Oliver 'liked' Biff and gave him a promise of, 'He always said he'd stake me.' However this is not the case, and Biff finally breaks this facade when he waits around 'all day' for Oliver to not even to remember his name, Biff realises the lie that he has been living because he was never a salesman, he was only a 'shopping clerk.' But when he wants to be upfront about it both Happy and Willy try to push him back into lying and pretending to be something that he is not and never was.
Biff is the only character to break out of the state of self-deception and realise the unrealistic dreams that Willy has set out for them. In the requiem he decides that he will not go after the 'wrong dreams' that Willy had as they will not lead to success or happiness.
Happy
Happy, unlike Biff pretends to be something that he is not. He tells people of dreams that didn't come true to big himself up and make himself seem more successful (and more towards Willy's idea of the American Dream) this is evident in how he is crudely sexist towards women when you are first introduced to him as a character. This shows self-deception as he believes that he embodies his father's masculine ideals. This is also true in the second act when he tells Miss Forsythe, 'I sell champagne,' his lies make him seem like a shallow and empty character who reflects his father's cult of personality that being liked will make you more successful. This action allows himself to believe that this false story is true
Biff and Happy both contribute to Willy's self deception, raising him up on a pedestal when they are kids. This makes Willy believe that he is higher than he really is and makes his fell more important.
Linda is also convinced that Willy is doing well in his job, refusing the idea that he should go with Ben because he's 'doing well enough.'
When he was younger Biff made his friends clean the basement because he was popular, this shows his self-deception as he thought that he was better then them and that they should do the work for him.
Bernard also looked up to him and desperately wanted to carry his 'shoulder guards,' this adoration had the same effect on him as it did on Willy, making him big headed. However later in life Bernard is much more successful than Biff even with Willy believing that he was 'an anaemic.'
Bernard
Bernard shows us what Biff could have been if he hadn't been raised the way he was. While Willy constantly put pressure on Biff to become a famous footballer, Bernard is taught that hard work is more important. Willy realizes what he did wrong when he meets Bernard as an adult and it is clear that he became more successful than Biff. Willy put Biff on a pedestal and didn't think he could do wrong whereas he always looked down on Bernard. When Bernard confronts Willy about Biff he starts to realize how his bad parenting choices meant Biff was bound to fail.
Contexts
America in the 1940s was a very capitalist society where people were taught to be interdependent and look out for only themselves. Willy shares the dream of many Americans of being completely independent and well off without others. Willy however doesn't have the money to do this and his whole job relies on others so he dreams up this perfect reality where his dreams all come true as unlike Biff and Ben, Willy cannot leave New York so he makes do with imagining the family's success. At the end, Willy plants plants because he has a desire to make something concrete that will live beyond him as he couldn't build the business he dreamed of.
Linda
Linda believes Willy's lies that he is successful and also doesn't realise that he has had an affair. She tries to tell herself that Willy is fine and makes up excuses for him. When she discovers the pipe she doesn't remove it in the hope that Willy will do it himself as she doesn't want to believe he is so suicidal. Linda says Willy is 'troubled' and constantly stands up for him to the boys when he doesn't deserve it.
Biff:
Full transcript