Life is hard when you’re working doing something you’re not passionate about. It takes a toll on any person to hop out of bed and drag themselves to work, only to find that their unhappy or making way less than they deserve. This is true of many people today, but it’s also one of the lessons that can be learned from this book – Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.
In this short novel, Willy, a working man in his mid to late 60s is struggling to barely make ends meet as he lives in a household with his lovely wife Linda and his two sons Happy and Biff.
The Loman household is full of madness and chaos among family members.
Willy is suffering from an apparent mental disorder that causes him to talk to himself, often while staring into deep space, and his judgement has become fatally skewed by exhausting himself as a driver working long hours into the night.
Linda isn’t exactly a troubled soul. Though she is slightly stressed under the weight of her husband’s condition and the attitudes of her two sons, she does her best to keep a balance under their roof.
Happy is a lady’s man. He can get any girl he wants pretty much, and often times he does. This causes him to feel a little down when he thinks about it, but generally he’s the peacemaker.
Biff is struggling in life. Though he has/had a lot of potential, he spent the last 15 years of his life wandering about taking on different endeavors, not really sticking to any particular gig. He’s bummed out about the way life is treating him, and this causes him to lose his temper with everyone, especially his dad.
There are a hand full of lessons that can be learned from the story of the Loman family. Here are the ones I picked up.
1. Be yourself, but know who you are. Willy was unaware of how crazy he had gotten, and this caused him to lose some of the opportunities he may have gotten if he wasn’t so fragile and off his rocker.
One instance I can recall is when he had a chance to get a deal working out of state by explaining his dilemma to his boss, but ended up getting fired because he was having an emotional breakdown in the middle of his speech. His boss was a jerk so he might not have gotten it anyway, but the way he handled the situation was clearly off-pudding.
If he had kept it together he might have had a better shot at working with a little weight off his back. It’s kind of a sad scene to read actually.
Another is when Biff realizes he’s not the person everybody wants him to be. He could have been a salesman, or an entrepreneur, or any number of things really, but Biff just wanted to live a happy life. He didn’t care about all the material things. He just wanted to take care of his father and make his family proud but he ended up losing his way by scrambling place to place doing things his heart wasn’t really into.
You gotta know yourself in order to know what works for you. Otherwise you’ll end up depressed and unhappy, and your mind will cast a shadow of uncertainty on itself.
2. Be patient. A lot of problems that arose in the Loman household was because Biff didn’t have the patience to cope with his father’s condition.
They’d always end up lashing out at each other. Whether Biff was trying to talk and Willy kept interrupting (which is funny because one of his favorite lines is “don’t interrupt”), or Willy was rambling on in a speech about nothing (almost nothing – really about the old days) and Biff couldn’t bear to listen to him anymore.
Patience is a virtue. If Biff and people in general could learn this key characteristic it would avoid a whole lot of unnecessary trouble and conflict.
3. Know when to quit. A lot of people overwork themselves or spend too much time doing the same unproductive thing when they could be doing something more useful toward their end goal.
In the story, Willy was overworking himself like crazy, which caused him to exhaust all his mental and physical energy, eventually driving the poor fella mad. Despite having bills to pay he should shave taken some time to reflect on who he was, where his priorities were, and what he needed to do to support himself in a way that works for him. Willy was burnt out.
Even working a job he was ‘good’ at, his pay should have been twice the average commission considering he was a 30 year vet. After the relationship he had built with his boss he probably should have been part owner!
Biff doesn’t know when enough is enough either. He stayed in arguments with his dad and even his mom when he should have just let each situation blow over and try again the next day. A lot of people look at quitters as slackers or not-so-hard workers, but if you quit some activity giving you zero advantage in the long run, its definitely okay to quit.
You just have to make a decision within the bounds of reason.
4. Live and let live, but keep love in mind. Linda wanted the best for Willy so she didn’t bother or upset him when he started to go crazy. She wanted her sons to accept their father for who he’d become.
That’s a life lesson in and of itself. You can’t force someone to see things your way, or act in a way you find more appropriate. Love and patience should always be considered when dealing with difficult people, especially those closest to you.
5. Don’t take your parents for granted. Parents do so much for their children that it’s kind of heart breaking for them to feel unloved and unappreciated.
The man of the house works extremely hard to make sure that there is bread on the table, and when that feeling of unappreciation creeps along it can lead to a whirl of emotional chaos and dysfunction. This is exactly how Linda describes her sons’ attitudes toward Willy and toward her.
Death of a Salesman is a great play/novel that’s super easy for anyone to read. One thing I can say about this book is that the way it is portrayed, the death of salesman seems to be a death built around leisure. Dying with confidence and courage sounds like a treasure to me, what about you?