The Death of a Salesman is one of the most critically acclaimed plays of the last century. Its characters embody some of the most interesting idiosyncrasies to ever be depicted in a play in a very long time. Willy, Linda, Happy, and Biff represent a part of the human psyche that is untouchable entertaining ad at once tragic. None of the family member is ever really able to get what they want in the world. They are constantly striving for an all elusive thing that is as intangible as the air itself. Of all the characters of the play, Linda Loman, wife of the protagonist, seems to be the most interesting from a personal standpoint. She is the epitome of sorrow and pity. Her very nature is her very downfall. Linda’s character and psyche is directly connected to her husband’s role and mood. Willy is struggling, so therefore Linda will struggle the same. In many respects she is an extension of Willy and at once a reflection of him.
In the very opening of the play it becomes apparent to us that Linda is very caution in the way she addresses her husband. This caution could be out of fear that he might react negatively or that Willy is just too fragile to address in any other fashion. It could be a case where Linda is very aware of Willy’s ego. “Why? What happened? Did something happen, Willy?” Willy answered, “No, nothing happened.” Linda still enquiring so cautiously, “You didn’t smash the car, did you?” Willy’s next response was rather harsh and cynical, “I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me” (Miller, 5).
Linda approaches her husband with a great deal of trepidation. It would be as though he was a ticking time bomb that she had learned to handle over the years. Such an existence leaves one on constant guard and alertness and never gives one a chance to be fully expressive. For this reason, Linda is depicted as a woman who hardly gets to make her point or even get her words heard.
In response to the above point, it is very important to now examine the relationship between Linda and her husband. It is apparent that Linda is constantly presenting Willy with a smile and never being openly critical of him. By presenting a more docile side to Willy and never expressing herself, with annoyance in her words, she somehow seems to overlook and bypass Willy’s faults and weaknesses and shows infinite grace and patience with Willy. She is forever positive and optimistic when she is in the presence of Willy and just about always pretends to be ignorant of the truth that Willy fails to accept. She sees what her husband is going through, and she supports him and loves him despite his many failures and weaknesses. She realizes and accepts Willy as an ordinary man. From here it is important to note that the name Loman is indicative of Willy’s position in the grand scheme of things. He is indeed a “low man” who continues to fall (Phelps, 239).
Linda never blames Willy or encourage him to strive for greater out of fear that he might see this a a critique of his current state. Linda is an exceptionally protective wife who will move heaven and earth for her husband. She loves him similar to how someone loves a poor defenseless babe. She protects Willy when Biff confronts him, and defends Willy from Biff and Happy who perceive their father as a crazy, heartless person. In one scene we see heated exchange Biff states, “Stop making excuses for him! He always, always wiped the floor with you. Never had an ounce of respect for you” (Miller, 8).
Though Willy might seem tough towards his wife he has love for her and is well aware of what she does for him. As stated, “You’re my foundation and my support, Linda.” (Miller, 6). He knows that he is unable to cope with reality on his own. As a result he does not truly rebel when Linda tries to stop him from venturing off. If she does not want to go, he will stay still in his misery. Will sees that Linda is his champion in the way how she defends him and lies to herself and the rest of the family about his status and sanity. “The man is exhaustedâ€¦ A small man can be as exhausted as a great man” (Miller, 10). This is by far a delusional statement made by Linda in support of her husband. Towards the end of the play we see Willy express a bit of passion towards his wife. Unfortunately, this is right before he kills himself. He takes her in his arms and kisses her then says “You look awfully tired” (Miller, 30). Interestingly this was the only point in the play where Linda makes a demand, “Come dearâ€¦ I want you upstairs.” To further breakdown Linda’s characteristics, she is placed in stark contrast to the more sexual women of the play. She represents the typical housewife who avoids the outside world and all its influences all together. Her entire universe was centered in her home. However she was not able to control said universe even though it was so limited and minuscule. The forces at play were chaotic and without direction. As stated in the lines of the play, “Biff is lost.” Happy on the other hand, parallels himself and his behavior with the fast passed demands and nature of the outside world. With all this turmoil, Linda has to keep herself grounded and centered. When Willy and the boys are going crazy running from place to place and causing disruption, Linda serves as a referee and pressure valve that clams and abates the men in her household.
As a wife and a mother she has completely lost her individuality. Within the world around her she is as nameless and insignificant as her husband. It is as though by being married to Willy she has inherited his fate in the world. In many respects, Linda is stuck with having to take care of three children instead of only two simply because Willy needs just as much emotional support as a small child. In addition, Willy is in constant need of protection. Linda would rather take care of her child Willy instead of Biff and Happy. This could be as a result of Biff and Happy being and appearing to be much stronger than Willy in Linda’s eyes. Not only did she have to protect Willy from the crude harsh world, she also had to protect him from his sons (Phelps, 239).
The entire Loman family is in an eternal state of crisis throughout the play. Each family member has their own individual issues and attempts to solve them in different ways possible. Linda has the most complex issue to deal with. She is married to man who is slowly unraveling and mother to two sons who are lost and confused. She somehow went with the flow of things and was more responsive than active. Linda was troubled throughout the play. She could not handle the inevitable nor was she able to prevent or prepare herself for it, she only responded.
To simply put it, Linda is a woman who is caught between a rock and a hard place. Her duty as a wife and her responsibility as a mother pulls at her incessantly. The war in which she has found herself has robbed her of her very persona and individuality. In many ways it is as though she is a shell of a woman who does more reacting than thinking. This simple fact makes it clear to the reader or viewer of the play that she is not in very much control of herself. In essence, she is defined by her husband and her sons. To take it to another level, the dysfunctional nature of the relationship between her husband Willy and her sons, Biff and Happy makes it clear that she herself in a state of internal chaos (Cardullo, 583).
She is also aware of the fact that her husband is irrational, and very hard to deal with; however, she goes along with his behavior and notions solely for the purpose of protecting him from the negative looks and attacks of others, as well as his own self-depreciation and destruction. Linda is Willy’s champion and offers him some degree of sanity and moral support. She gently nudges him when it comes to paying the bills and communicating with Biff, and she does not lose her cool when he becomes irate. One can say that she exhibits a great deal of grace, while others might say that she is weak and spineless.
Linda is knows that Willy is secretly borrowing funds from Charley to cover the life insurance and other bills. She has also discovered the rubber hose behind the heater and lives in persistent fear that Willy will attempt to asphyxiate himself. She is also aware that he has attempted to kill himself on several different occasions. Despite all this, Linda does nothing, out of fear of aggravating Willy’s fragile mental condition. In fact, Linda even goes as far as throwing Biff and Happy out when their behavior and upsetting mannerism threatens to upset Willy. In many ways Willy is like a small child, and Linda is like a mother who anxiously protects him from Biff, Happy, and the rest of the world.
It is very apparent that Linda Loman is in a situation that is way above her head. She tries her hardest to draw conclusion and make sense of it all. In the end, all she gets for all her efforts are heartaches and an even greater sense of smallness. It is as though she is unable to control her sons the way a good mother is suppose to. In the same breath, Linda is also not able to say much to help her husband’s situation or even cause him to change for that matter. In some ways, Linda’s persona is very indicative to a great number of American women in the 1940’s
In essence, the 40’s were a period in time when men were men and the gender roles were very clear and concise. There was just about no gray areas in society when it came on to the relations and comparisons between men and women. Everyone knew their respective place and no one crossed any lines. Linda was just the same; very cautious in the role she played in the home. Her duty was that of a nurturer and she focused on doing just that. Willy and his sons represent a social paradox. This is due to the fact that Willy was too old to have been drafted in the war and his sons were too young. On the same note they were not very certain individuals. Instead they spent much of their time pondering and making mistakes. Men of the 1940’s are often times referred to as the greatest generation of American men ever. Willy and his sons represented the lowest variables of men in 1940’s American society.
The 1940’s marks the time of World War II, when just about every American man was preparing himself to fight and die for is country. American women were in the same breath preparing to sustain the troop overseas. Linda had the three men in her life right there where she was and it was as though they were away facing war on a distant battlefield. The irony was that the battlefield was right there in the Loman’s household. Linda chose her side and made it known that her husband, Willy, was her first priority (Jackson, 12).
Willy Loman did not deal very well the changing time. In fact his very relationship with his sons is a reflection of this reality. It is as though Willy was stuck in a time warp. He was unable to evolve past a period in time when people like himself were the norm. to say it another way, he was defined by his job as a sales man and sales men were becoming an extinct creature at the time. In some ways, it was Linda’s job to protect her man from this harsh reality. Willy could not cope and this lead to his eventual suicide. This, in many respects, meant the Linda failed in her job to protect Willy and keep her family together.
One important thing to take into consideration when looking at Linda’s persona is the fact the she secretly feels as though she is responsible for her sons’ and husband’s failure. The three men in her life are unfulfilled and unsatisfied with their respective lot in life. Linda believes that it is her job as the matriarch of the family to keep everyone on path and task. However she somewhat fails and as a result takes a lot of hassle from Willy. In one scene Willy is speaking of going to Alaska but Linda retorts “But you’ve got – He’s got a beautiful job hereâ€¦ Don’t say those things to him! Enough to be happy right here, right now” (Miller, 211). This shows us that linda also acts as a limiting factor for her husband. She is well aware of this and takes all of her husband’s abuse as a result. It is as though she is afraid of change and evolution. She is more content with her little lot in the world. This point is seen in the fact that the Loman’s live in a community that has changed drastically while they still remain the same. The neighborhood is now filled with towering apartment buildings while they subside in a little house in the midst of all the modernization.
Throughout the play is treated in a rather cruel manner. Willy is very harsh and insulting towards her. Whenever Linda is trying to converse or make a point about an issue Willy stops her in her tracks and ends her conversation and begins his own. He basically ignores her as if she does not exist or even have a right to her opinion.
Willy does not present himself a very good husband who cares about the emotions of his wife. He seems to be more compassionate towards his outside women. Willy is cited as grunting at her and tells her to be quiet. This is clearly very appalling behavior by Willy towards his wife and one expects Linda to shout or fight back. However, Linda maintains her calm and composure and remains ever so supportive of Willy. She is always trying to stand between Willy and her sons to ease the tension. She is protective of Willy. She knows that Willy is exhausted and down for the count and is a man at the end of his line and literally at the edge, and as Willy puts it, “ringing up a zero.” She wants him to be happy even when the reality of the situation is horrific. She is aware of his infidelity and somehow goes along with it for the purpose of making Willy happy. If she could not make him happy herself, then she had no apparent problem with him seeking joy elsewhere (Most, 556).
As far as Linda’s opinion and notion of sex is concerned, she seems to be almost virginite and naive. As stated by one critic, “Linda is more flat than would seem either desirable or necessary (Murray, 42). Two major sequences involving sex are Will’s affair with The Woman and the boy’s episode with the two girls in the restaurant. The importance of infidelity to Linda is judged mainly in terms of the effect it has on Biff. This shown very skillfully. Bernard, when he meets Willy in his father’s office. Is curious to know what it was that stopped Biff from trying to qualify for a university. At school he failed only one subject and he could have made this up by going to summer school. Bernard knows that something happened in Boston, where biff went to visit Willy, which was a turning point in his life, for afterward he adamantly refused to enroll for summer school. We do not know what took place until after we have seen Biff and Happy in action with the two girls. Happy’s way of sweetening them up is simple application of the principles of salesmanship. Linda is aware that her sons are now becoming men of their own making she cannot really deal with this reality and rather to separate herself from her sons than to face the truth (Hayman, 55). “Get out of here, both of you, and don’t come back! I” (Miller, 56).
It is difficult, however, to justify Linda’s final speech: “Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand it, will”. True, even an expected event might cause surprise – rational understanding cannot prevent emotional shock, especially in the case of a loved one’s suicide. Linda, moreover, being sympathetic but not very perceptive, could never enter wholly into Willy’s dreams – she was different in that she could “walk away” (“life is a casting off,” she says, 133). Nevertheless, one feels that there is a self denial here on the part of Linda. She knows of Willy’s previous suicide attempts; she knows of his depression over Biff and the job; and she knew a great deal about Willy’s dreams. There would seem to be very little, really, to search for on Linda’s part. The one thing that Linda is somewhat clueless to was Willy’s infidelity; but Willy’s infidelity was not casually related to his suicide. In spite of the fact that much of the specific content is defensible, however, in Linda’s last utterance, there still remains some degree of confusion.
In conclusion, Linda Loman lived a life that was in direct relation to her husband’s state of mind. She had no sense of individuality and based her entire existence on her household. She was constantly responding to the chaos around her and never seemed to take an active role in preventing issues from popping up before they did even though she saw everything before they appeared. The problem with Linda was that she somehow seemed to live in constant denial of what was happening. This was as a result of her optimism and simple needs.
She had a great deal of love for her husband and never once showed signs of not being just that. She was the epitome of a dedicated wife who lost herself in her marriage to Willy Loman. As a mother she did the best she could but was more into her job as a wife. She would sacrifice her sons for her husband’s very happiness. It was her sole purpose to keep Willy safe and protected within the parameters of the home. In essence, Linda had true and unconditional love for Willy simply because she accepted him with all his flaws and shortcomings.