1.1. Willy Loman:-somewhere in his fifties or sixties
-lives with his wife Linda and has two sons, Biff and Happy which are grown up
-has a house which he is about to pay off
-works as a salesman for a new York company led by Howard Wagner
-travels all across New England for the company, in order to sell stockings
lost in dreams and illusions
needs to be loved/liked/shown that he is worth something
strive for easy success
represents the normal man
idealistic hero (Miller)
When Willy Loman was very young, his father went away (probably to Alaska) and his brother Ben followed him, soon. When he was old enough, Willy intented to go there, too but instead decided to become a salesman, as he learned about a very successful salesman who still at a very impressing age was worth both money and in social matters.
He embodied Willy's longings to be rich (successful) and well-liked (loved).
It is possible that Willy was quite succesful in the following years (marrying and Biff and Happy being born) but by the time that his sons grew older, it must have been clear to him that his life was no story of success. He then had a girlfriend to be able to stand the psychological problems that resulted out of his economic failure and started to lend money from his neighbour and friend Charley telling his wife he had earned the money himself (she found out, anyway).
Since the role model of the old man turned out to be either inappropriate for Willy or for the changing times, Willy began to project his hopes and dreams on Ben, who he imagined to have become really rich.
It is remarkable that Ben, in Willy's imagination, is no kind of well-liked person. Maybe Willy, who has the idea that success should be a result of being well-liked (because of one's physical and mental strength (Willy has neither)) claims this idea as a product of his own genius, as his personal achievement (noticing that he is only copying in any other matters).
Suffering a great disillusionment and a breakdown in self-convidence, Willy focuses on a depriciative attitude towards manual work despite the fact that he has always liked "working with his hands" (and has often perfored this kind of work in his high-times). He does not want his son Biff to do such kind of work (he did not before, either) and refuses a proposition for a job (although probably not exactly what is called 'manual work') by Charley after having been fired by Howard because of his loss of self-control.
Willy is lost in dreams and illusions. He may have always been such a character but now that his life turns out not to be able to compete with his old dreams, he switches over to his dream world more and more often.
Although he does a lot of mistakes and totally loses control of himself, he is actually a bright character (noticing his situation and trying to kill himself) who actually understands that his dreams are just dreams.
All in all, Willy Loman is a character captured in his dreams and in his incapability to be content with any life that lies outside this dream.
It can be argued that this dream is a result of the American Dream, or more specifically, of the determination that derives from a society that regards the American Dream as the one-and-only true concept – meaning becoming rich (richer than one's parents), being an accepted member of society (harmonic nuclear family, etc.) and selling oneself.
This last aspect seems to have a certain importance for Willy because it is the essence of his job as a salesman. It is quite probable that he fails selling products because he fails selling himself.
Maybe he has never been ment to be a salesman, maybe he is like Biff;
Maybe the times have changed and selling oneself does not work anymore by being well-liked but by being serious, reliable, rational;
Maybe Willy has never been well-liked himself and this idea is only a result of admiring a brother, a father that went away too soon.
1.2. Linda Loman:-married to Willy Loman
-somewhere in ther fifties or sixties
-lives in the house, Willy has built
-works as a housewife
not that intelligent
very caring wife
selfless, denies herself
not facing the truth/conflict
Linda Loman is married to Willy and is probably of comparable age. She lives in the house, Willy has built and works as a housewife and as entertainer for her husband.
She admires and even adores Willy and as a result suffers a lot from his behaviour and his problems. She is always there when he comes home and cares for him, with growing worry
observes his decline.
She believes that it is Biff and Happy's fault or at least that their behaviour has significant impact on Willy's mental situation.
Since she has found out that Willy is about to kill himself she lives from day to day. It is remarkable that she does not remove the items of possible suicide and accordingly it appears that she herself lives in a kind of illusion, she knows – but does not want to make it obvious, she avoids the conflict and at first does not even tell her sons about the problem.
This kind of behaviour can be observed throughout the play: Linda always supports Willy; believing she understands him, she does not do anything in order to stop Willy; she wants to bring everything in order (like a proper housewife) but doing this, she wants to bring the whole world into a shape that fits to Willy and strives to keep up appearences. That is why she does not interrupt Willy's daydreams, which possibly is the fatal aspect of her behaviour.
Linda is really restless but always trying to bring everything in order she denies herself to such an unnatural extent that it happens that she becomes a kind of flat character and loses her dignity.
That is why she is definetely a tragic character; when Willy dies, she does not understand and is left alone, she is the last person to speak (to him) and the one who suffers most from Willy's death.
His illusions have become hers and as the bubble bursts she stands alone and is brutally desillusioned. She is not as intelligent as Willy and therefore (or because she was less selfish) has not fully realised the end until it was really undeniably there. When Willy dreamt, she dreamt with him – a desperate love – when he was angry she suffered from realising the problems struggling to find an solution and a reason – and found both in her sons. She did not understand that at that time Willy was no longer to be saved.
1.3. Biff Loman:-son of Linda and Willy
-some 35 years old
-at the time the play takes place he lives at Willy's house
-has spent up to 15 years travelling through the country
-handsome, physically healthy
split between the promises of his father and his inability to fulfill them
split between his father's wish and his own wish
realistic after all
breaks the rules / destroys the appearance
Biff is some 35 years old and at the time the play takes place lives in his old room in Willy's house. He has been away for approximately 15 years travelling through the country and doing blue-collar jobs and spending some time in jail for stealing.
When he grew up his father always told him that he was something special. And really – he was really good at football and the girls ran after him. However, he wasn't that good at school. When he flunked math he would want to do the test again just to please his father who he loved and admired very much and with whom he had always had a good relationship.
Then he found out about his fathers secret girlfriend and was disappointed.
Soon he found out that he was not to be very successful after all. After the incident he went away from home and travelled through the country. His physical restlessness parallels to his mental lack of orientation. He was caught between his father's ideas and his own experience that he loved to (and could only) do manual work.
It is clear that Willy's overoptimistic statements concernig Biffs abilities are an important reason for Biff's economic and personal failures. If Willy had not "blown Biff so full of hot air" Biff could have started off small and could have worked himself up to a realistic degree. But he never started small because his father considered him being not worth of that. The result was lowest work, stealing, prison, a lot of easy women.
At the end of the play, Biff believes to have found out what his way of life is: He wants to do grounded work and maybe built up a farm. No high-rise but his feeds on the ground, a modest peaceful life with a good wife. It is also interesting that he is not totally independent in these ideas: His wife should be the way his mother is, his own ideal is maybe his father in the good times doing some manual work. In fact, Biff believes that his father is like him but just did not find his way.
1.4. Happy:-Biff's brother
-handsome, physically healthy
-works as an assistant to the assistant
-at the time the play takes place he lives at Willy's house
not that strong minded
very confident about girls
keeps up appearances
Happy is Biff's brother. He is different from him but nevertheless admires him.
When both were young, Biff was always better than him and was always loved more. This shows that the insight that American children are brought up to combine success with love is true – at least in terms of the play. Maybe that is why Happy to become succesful even after Willy's death.
Happy is more selfish than Biff, he actually does not notice or care about his fathers troubles. It needs Biff to come to home to create a common conciousness of the problems.
Happy is younger than Biff, but since he has never found out about his father's girlfriend he did not totally break down like Biff but has achieved relative economic success which nevertheless stagnates: He just can wait for the persons to doe until he is offered their position. That is why Happy is not content with his life, either.
Happy looks good, at least in the present he has a lot of girls who he uses to handle his ecomomic failure.
It is interestimg that happy does not dislike Biff although he always had to look up to him.
However, after Willy's death, he intents to fight on for his father's dream.
1.5. Bernard:-son of Charley, neighbour to the Loman family
correct, reliable, reasonable
skilled, intelligent, rational
represents everything the Loman brothers are not
Bernard is the son of Charley, the Loman family's neighbour. Bernard is quite successful – more than is his father. Bernard is actually quite skilled and intelligent as well as he has a kind of correctness (he is 'reliable').
When he was at school he was very careful about his homework, etc. and was a good student – but a nerd.
It appears that Bernard represents everything the Loman brothers are not:
-He is better than his father who is not totally unsuccessful, after all: He earns at least enough to
support the Loman family with money. The Loman brothers are only as succesfull or even less
successfull as/than their father.
-He is not the kind of 'well liked' person that Willy dreams of but he is successfully rational,
motivated, ambitious and reasonable. The Loman brothers are well liked – but not on an economic
level. As a result, their their social acceptance lingers down especially Biff's but also Happy's as the
ship (the Loman family) sinks. They are only liked in terms that do not have any real background,
that are independent because they kind of belong to spheres outside the society (like easy women):
If they are liked, then they are liked the way an animal in the zoo is liked – as an article of virtu but
nothing that you want to be responsible for your money or whatever.
1.6. The Woman:- no background information
- was a girlfriend of Willy
not supposed to be liked
The Woman is a really flat character, she laughs about everything and nothing, she is not supposed to be liked by the audience. We do not know much about her except that she has been Willy's girlfriend for a time, which apparently did not mean much to her.
1.7. Charley:- the Loman family's neighbour
- seems not to have a wife
- quite successful
role model for Willy
not changing, the quiet point
Charley is the Loman family's neighbour. He seems not to have a wife living with him but we do not know whether she has died or if they had a divorce or if he has never been married at all.
However, he has a son, Bernard, who is a very ambitious boy and manages to be even more successful than his father (in economic matters).
It appears that Charley is quite modest, since he lives next to Willy although probably being able to afford better housing and does never talk about his money.
He is also very helpful since he supports the Loman familly with quite a lot of money without talking about it ever being paid back. All in all he is a really positive character who also serves as a role model for Willy. It is quite probable that Willy envies him.
Charley is bounteous, tolerant (he does not care about Willy's strange behaviour), warmhearted and reasonable.
It appears that in the end he is the only character to really understand Willy. This is not the case because what he says is so clear but because of the way he talks. As I said, he makes a really reasonable, grounded impression. It is remarkable that any of the main characters is somehow changing in the play (at least between the time represented in the flashbacks and the actual time of the setting) but Charley is the only one who does not change. He reminds the play's quiet point.
1.8. Ben:- Willy's brother
- went away and followed the traces of his father going to Alaska
- probably this is everything that is sure about him
ideal for Willy
self-confident, arrogant, degrading
intelligent, calculating, sly
Ben is Willy's brother. He went away from the family when he was 17 years old and followed the traces of his father going to Alaska in order to find gold.
It is probable that this is everything that is sure about him. Both the audience and Willy do probably not know more about him. However, he plays an important role in the play because he is a role model, an ideal for Willy, who projects all his hopes and dreams onto him. In Willy's imagination, Ben has made great success in Alaska and later in Afrika. He is an adventurous, self-confident and brave man who knows how to make easy money.
In contrast to Charley, Ben is not a positive character. His intelligence is calculating, aggressive and egoistic. His coolness and loftiness are degrading and arrogant. Nevertheless, he embodies the American Dream as Willy interprets it: Work little, gains lots.
On the other hand, he incorporates a plan b, a second possibility, the alternative to break out of the system, something that keeps Willy alive for some time.
1.9. Howard:- Willy's employer
- his father already led the company
- has a wife and some kids
determined by the American way of education
Howard is Willy's employer. Before him, his father led the company and Willy already worked for the company when Howard was not even born. But Howard does not care about such things.
He is interested in stupid technical gadgets, money and raising his kids in the way that is said to be the American way of education. Howard does not at all care about Willy.
He is quite hardhearted and has no sense for other people's problems. he simply ignores them. All he longs for is money. That is why he fires Willy and does not attent his funeral.
Howard incorporates the rational but selfish and hardhearted capitalist and also the determined struggler for success (determined by the psychological pressure that derives from a performance-oriented education selling love for success).