One of Sigmund Freud’s greatest accomplishments was creating psychoanalysis (Thornton). “Psychoanalysis is a systematic structure of theories concerning the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes” (“Psychoanalysis”). The story Death of a Salesman can be seen through a psychoanalytical lens quite easily. The four main characters of the story are Willy, Linda, Biff, and Happy. Willy is the father of Biff and Happy, and he is the husband of Linda. Death of a Salesman is about a hard working American man who cannot seem to work hard enough to reach the American dream, so he blames his son Biff for being a failure. During the story Willy cannot seem to grab hold of reality. Once Willy figured out he would not be able to live the American dream, he began to throw it on his most successful son Biff. Once Biff did not live up to the expectations that his father had set out for him, Willy became very delusional. He argues with his son calling him a failure in life, but he avoids the thought that it could have been his fault. While Biff was in high school he found out about an affair his dad was having with another woman, and after that instance it all seemed to go downhill for Biff. Soon, Willy begins to have suicidal thoughts, saying he is just tired of life. In his delusional state of mind he created a false life where he was well liked. He thinks if he kills himself then his family will reap the rewards, which is not remotely true. At the end of the story, Willy’s family has a moment of clarity given by Biff. He says they are all fakes, and that they had spent their entire lives lying. He then breaks down into tears, and tells his dad he loves him and he always has. After the moment of clarity, everyone seemed happy including Willy, but his family left him alone after heading off to bed not knowing his mental state. Willy begins to have suicidal thoughts again, and thinking his family would reap the benefits, he takes his own life in a car wreck.
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I plan to interpret this text through a psychoanalytical lens. One can easily see that Willy uses a few psychoanalytical defenses. The defense that is commonly used by Willy is known as regression. “Regression is the temporary return to a former psychological state, which is not just imagined, but relived” (Tyson 15). In the state of regression, one can not only revisit painful experiences, but can also revisit happy and fulfilling experiences (15). Throughout Death of a Salesman, Willy is seen revisiting the past as if it were occurring in the present. In one scene, at the end of the story, Willy is speaking to his boss hoping to get relocated to a job closer to home. When Willy is told he is no longer needed for the company, he begins to get angry, and once the boss leaves he begins to use the defense mechanism regression. One could say the reason he used the regression defense was to avoid what was really going on in his life. Willy’s regression became a recurring theme of this story, as he used it repeatedly. It did not only affect him, but it affected his whole family. His son Biff had once worked for a man by the name of Bill Oliver. Willy’s regression produced a story that made him believe that Biff was once a good salesman for Bill Oliver. Biff thought that Bill Oliver would remember him for the good salesman that he was, and maybe help Biff get onto his feet in the workplace. Soon Biff realized that it was just one of his dad’s false stories he had made in his head; in fact, he had never been a salesman for Bill Oliver, he was just a shipping clerk. Willy cannot seem to get over the fact that he is not living the American dream, and that he is not a well-liked person; to top it all off, he tries to live through his son because he could not achieve the dream himself. From a psychoanalytic perspective one could say that Willy’s ego is the reason he continues to falsify stories, also the reason he continues to try and relive the past. It all goes back to the old cliché “check one’s ego at the door”, nobody checked Willy’s ego and it drove him over the edge.
American identity is captured throughout this story. The fact that our nation’s ego is bigger than the country itself, says a lot about this story. I think that has a lot to do with our countries leaders, and how we have to be the center of attention all across the world. I said in the last paragraph somebody needed to check Willy’s ego a long time ago, and sometimes it seems as though us as Americans need to wake up and check our ego as a nation. In this story, Willy is trying to achieve a certain unattainable goal to most people. The goal I am referring to describes American identity and that goal is the “American dream”. Is there really an American dream? In my opinion the American dream should not be a standard of success one has to reach, but it should be a level of happiness one reaches within oneself. Dreams can make a person successful, if achieved, but what people fail to realize is that dreams can also make them a failure. My interpretation of the text is important because us as Americans all have dreams, but Willy was so caught up in his dream that he started to lose his sense of reality. He began to use regression as a coping mechanism for him not being able to reach his dream. This is why my interpretation is important. It shows what really was happening to Willy and helps us not fall into that same regressive state.
To conclude this essay I believe that Death of a Salesman had a basic surface level meaning, but it also had a deep or underneath the skin meaning to it. There is no way to know exactly what meaning the author intended people to get while reading this story. I think it was an extremely good play, which I would recommend other people to read.
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