The line between reality and illusion is often blurred in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman. Whether it is incorporated in the content or the actual structure, this struggle between recognizing reality from illusion turns into a strong theme; it eventually leads to the downfall of Willy and his family. Willy is incapable of recognizing who he is, and cannot realize that he, as well as his sons, is not capable of being successful in the business world. Happy and Biff both go through some battle between reality and illusion that cause a collapse in some part of their lives. The line between Willy’s flashbacks and current time also send him into turmoil when he cannot distinguish between the two.
Willy believes that he is much more successful than he is in reality. The first sign of Willy’s illusion about his life occurs rather early in the play. He has the illusion that “[he’s] the New England man. [He’s] vital in New England” (14). In reality any person could have taken Willy’s position at work. This illusion leads to his downfall because as his life begins to fall apart, he lives in the illusion that he has enough money to support his family, so he does not recognize that he has to put the pieces of his reality back together. More towards the end of the play, in an outburst of anger Willy refuses to be called “a dime a dozen” and states “I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman” (132), as if the Loman family is a special figure in society. His unclear view of his place in society leads to his destruction; with only one view of his life, Willy believes that he is living his life to the fullest.
Not only does Willy believe that he is a success, but he believes that he is “worth more dead than alive” (98). This is the first point in the play when Willy actually speaks of suicide, although there had been references to it earlier in the play. The theme, confusion between reality and illusion leads to a downfall, applies here because in a way suicide is the ultimate downfall. Charley, a voice of reason, counter argues that “nobody’s worth nothin’ dead” (98). Charley is consistently in reality and is one of the most successful people in the play. So, the fact that Charley recognizes reality in the harshest and brightest light is what kept him from experiencing a downfall in his life. If the Willy was not confused about the reality of his life, there may not have been such a great fall when his life amounted to less than he expected, and when Biff’s life did not turn out to be what he had hoped.
Apart from Willy’s delusion of his own success, he also sees his sons as great successes in the business world, and that they will amount to so much in their lives. These boys cannot be successful because they have been “[blown] so full of hot air [they] could never stand taking orders from anybody” (131). Willy’s illusions about his sons not only ruined Willy’s life, but it caused these boys to have a false sense of reality, which is the theme....