Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller was first presented in 1949 and has been studied and reproduced countless times since. The plot revolves around a salesman named Willy Loman and his family. Willy is 63 years old, and on the decline. His career as a traveling salesman is going badly, and during the play he is let go. Willy’s flashbacks to a better past take up much of the past, and are brought on by the return of Biff, Willy’s favorite son, who comes to visit from out west. Biff is 34 and Willy’s favorite son, but Willy’s high expectations him cause many issues for both of them. The overall tone of the play is sobering as we watch the family (especially Willy) fall apart because of various reasons, including the way they treat each other.
One reason that this play is well known is because many of the characters are identifiable with ourselves. Willy is a burnt-out businessman with no special talents or qualities. Linda is a kind and dedicated housewife, but she has not accomplished anything noteworthy. Biff has a habit of theft and a number of pent-up frustrations. Happy tries to smooth out the tensions in the family, but he is also unsatisfied. The only “successful” major character in the play is Bernard, but even he was considered “liked, but not well-liked” by the Lomans when he was young. There are not any heroes or bad guys in the play. The characters are all very human, and very flawed.
While the worse characteristics of these characters can be identified with, their actions are still difficult to accept. For example, there are many times throughout the play where I found myself very annoyed with Willy. I didn’t appreciate his attitude towards Linda (or toward Biff and Happy) in Act 1 where he doesn’t let Linda speak, and then I really didn’t like him when we learned about his affair. And as for Linda, while I appreciated her desire to help Willy, I thought that she was making a weak decision when she left the rubber hose in the basement. However, when it is difficult to sympathize with a character (or person) it is important to remember that people are made in the image of God, and deserve the respect and understanding we give to ourselves.
In Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga Jr. discusses what it means to be made in God’s image. Every human is a creation of God, though imperfect. Being image-bearers of God gives humans a responsibility to love and treat others accordingly (41). However, being made in God’s image does not mean we are perfect beings. Because of the Fall, Plantinga says, we are far from perfectly good, yet at the same time because we have been made in the image of God, we cannot be perfectly evil (35). This mixed identity is evident in all the characters in Death of a Salesman. For example, Happy is wrong to use sex to gain power over his employers, but also wants to “save” Willy by continuing in sales work, which could be seen as a noble cause.
Being created in God’s image also implies...