In effect, he is "trapped in a society which prevents him establishing anything to outlast himself, ruining the lives of his sons as well as his own" (Parker, 1969:97). Thus, betrayal in "Death" is a subjective judgment on Willy's part, an even that occurred simply because Willy had let failure happen to him and his family.
Abandonment as a theme is implicitly expressed in the play. Failure to express one's individuality and realize an individual's fullest potential has become the most evident illustration of the theme of abandonment in "Death." Willy abandons self-growth in order to pass on his ideals to his sons, and his sons, in return, abandon (unwillingly) their personal development in order to fulfill their father's dreams and aspirations for them. Unfortunately, these sacrifices did not help the Loman family at all -- Willy has become a prisoner of his own dreams and failures, while Biff became the unwitting victim of his father's ideals.
This 'abandonment of the self' is illustrated in Hayman's description of Biff's and Happy's abandonment of their individuality in order to follow their father's unrealized dreams: "He has encouraged their weaknesses and inflated their image of themselves so high that when they grow up, it is an unforgivable and almost intolerable letdown to find that being personable and being good at sports are not enough to ensure financial security and popularity in the adult world" (39-40). This passage brings into lucidity the transformation that happens between Willy and Biff's relationship, wherein Willy's downfall towards illusion bordering on insanity and Biff's self-realization and acceptance of his true self led to the abandonment of their family ties. As explicitly shown in the confrontation scene between the father and son in the first part of this discussion, Biff's reference to his father as "Willy" signifies his disrespect for his father. It is also an illustration that Biff attempts to establish, once again, connection with Willy, not merely as a son, but as an 'enlightened' individual who fully understands Willy's frustrations and dilemma in life, simply because Biff went through all these phases under his father's distorted, yet high, ambitions and aspirations for his sons.
Abandonment is also discussed in "Death" in a political sense -- that is, the abandonment of capitalism, of the American dream, since these are the very concepts in the lives of Americans that leave them disillusioned and dissatisfied with their life. Willy's job as a salesman is a manifestation of the harsh effects of capitalism, wherein a high level of competition among people, a pseudo-social Darwinism where people are sorted between those who are "fit" to succeed and live the American dream, and those who are "unfit" to succeed and assume the lifestyle of an 'American dream' dreamer. Indeed, an insinuation about the abandonment of capitalism in preference for socialism is a possibility that Miller's critiques have contemplated in analyzing "Death": " ... The play presents a rather conventional, if very powerful, expression of left-wing attitudes to capitalism which have been common in the 1930s" (Parker, 1969:103). Hence, Miller traces Willy's failure and frustration in life through the American dream. Therefore, its abolishment will result to the satisfaction of American families who have aspired, like Willy, to succeed in the unfair competition that happens within the capitalist economic system.
In sum, these themes of disillusionment, betrayal, and abandonment in "Death of a Salesman" provides audiences and readers with new perspectives in looking at the characterization of both Willy and Biff Loman, how, in the midst of the great American dream, the American family thrives with the unfortunate and unfair realities that plague people everyday. "Death of a Salesman" is a realistic portrayal of life in America in the 20th century, a period where people dreamed the American dream and religiously believed in the beneficial effects of the capitalist economic system.
Ardolino, F. (1998). "Miller's Poetic Use of Demotic English in "Death of a Salesman." Studies in American Jewish Literature 17.
Centola, S. (1993). "Family values in "Death of a Salesman." CLA Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1.
Hayman, R. Arthur Miller. NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.
Miller, A. (1976). Death of a Salesman. NY: Penguin Books.
Parker, B. (1969). Arthur…