… the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.
There is a sense of security and safety in living in the conformity of convention – a sense of certainty that can guarantee success in following tried and true endeavours. However, following the certainty in convention does not always equate to contentment or fulfillment; it may just abide by the ideals and expectations that were placed upon the individual. To live unconstrained by convention and circumstance poses more of a risk, abandoning ideals and values that are entrenched in an individual’s identity, yet cultivates the most fulfillment, when done successfully. Through Arthur Miller’s modern drama, Death of a Salesman, characterized through Biff Loman, a man facing an identity crisis caused by his father’s obscured ideals and values of success, leading him to search for his personal truth through attempting to live unconstrained by the conventions he was raised with, while in his dire circumstances. Miller explores the idea that when a deluded individual is confined by the obscured values they were raised with, they will conform to these standards, seeking refuge in the security of pleasing others. However, said individual will attempt to find self fulfillment through attempting to live unconstrained by convention and circumstance.
Constrained by a skewed sense of values and ideals, Biff, with a high regard for his father, Willy, is willing to conform to the conventions of His father’s ideals and dreams imposed upon him. From youth, Biff had always been supported as the ideal child by his father, through his triumphs and despite his wrongdoings. In imitation of Willy’s example, Biff has been able to escape all situations of consequence because of his father’s deluded values for success, encouraging even Biff’s tendencies of theft and mocking figures of authority if “the kids like it”. The definition and basis of success Willy teaches to his sons are to reach a point of success, one must be wealthy, likeable, and good looking. “Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer.” (33) Willy instilled his own deluded perceptions of success upon his sons – that academic attainment and work ethic are inferior to charisma. Biff believes from a young age, through the conventions instructed to him, that success is measured through wealth, popularity, and charisma. Willy even lies to his children about his own success – evidence of his own delusion that he is passing on to his children, in order for their view of him will remain idealized. Biff perceives that he was already finding success in high school as he was the charismatic and popular golden boy. He is more willing to conform to his father’s ideals and conventions because he finds success within them – allowing him to believe life will always be as easy as high school. An individual will not attempt to live unconstrained by convention and circumstance if in that convention, they find prosperity.
When Biff is aware that his father’s (and now, his own) values and beliefs are based on false perceptions, he begins to question his own identity – uncertain on the success he will find if he constrains himself to conventions that are obscured versions of reality. After discovering his father’s infidelity, Biff condemns his father as a “fake”, shattering his idealized perception of Willy, along with the conventions and dreams imposed upon him. However, for the decade following the discovery, Biff has been “lost” in the corporate world, attempting to follow conventions, despite his circumstances of lacking a further education. “with reserve, but trying, trying: He [Oliver] said he’d stake me. I’d like to go into business, so maybe I can take him up on it.” (62) In an attempt to please his father, Biff declares with sufficient amounts of uncertainty, that his charisma will influence previous employer, Bill Oliver, to invest in him. The severity of the circumstance increases when Biff discovers that his father is attempting to commit suicide. As the eldest and most idealized son, Biff attempts to take responsibility to satisfy his father’s delusions by living in convention. The temporary death of Biff’s dreams is the favourable outcome in comparison to an untimely death of his father. In order to continue to please his father and avoid the conflict of suicide, despite his wrongdoing, Willy cannot restrain himself from the constraints of his false idealistic perception of Biff – pressuring Biff all the more to conform to his standards. Biff finds security in constraining himself to his father’s standard convention. Because of Willy placing his deluded sense of reality upon Biff, Biff began to submit to his father’s influence, even when his statements were no longer based on truth. In belief of Willy’s ideals to the extent that he remembered being a salesman for Oliver when in actuality, he was merely a shipping clerk. Biff’s delusion even goes as far as believing Bill Oliver adored him enough to even invest in him. Individuals that are aware of the false perceptions of reality remain constrained by them in order to rebuild these conventions as a means to form a sense of truth. Through this internal conflict, the individual is unable to truly know and solidify their identity, unless they are able to unconstrain themselves from the conventions they are expected to uphold.
As Biff is compelled to find the truth beyond his father’s delusions, he is able to unconstrain himself from the confines of the conventions and circumstances in order to obtain a sense of fulfillment and certainty in his own identity. While missing the opportunity to formally meet with Bill Oliver, Biff rebels in a small act of revenge in the only way he can: theft of a mere fountain pen. In reflection of his own actions, he mentions, “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office… when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute to say I know who I am.” (132) Biff’s enlightenment of the unadulterated truth is what drives him to theft; he remembers the truth of his past, instead of the idealized version his father convinces himself of. In reaction to Oliver’s disregard of Biff’s presence, stealing the fountain pen, an attempt to live unconstrained by the conventions of law, reinforces that the truth of his past is crime – as the result of his lack of success. Consequently, Biff finally accepts that the reasoning behind his failure in many jobs is caused by the absence of passion and fulfillment in the conventional means of living. The pursuit of his love for manual labour, although it does not amount to the definition of success Willy initially instilled within him, will allow him to live unconstrained by the pressuring conventions he is expected to maintain. Once Biff was able to reject his father’s expectations, freeing himself from the false perceptions of success, he is able to find truth. Biff allows himself to unconstrain himself from the restricting circumstances he found himself in in order to seek what he is truly passionate about. An individual that has the ability to confront themselves and discover the truth beyond the deception their whole life or circumstance was based around, does so by unconstraining themselves from deluded conventions placed upon them – pursuing the truth of their own identity.
In order to find true salvation in living in truth, an individual must unconstrain themselves from deluded conventions that originally clouded their perceptions. Although there is a sense of security and certainty in living in conformity to social conventions, it is unsustainable; to exist in the standard of expectations and the denial of one’s true desires leads their mind to delusion. The attempt to live in conformity of said conventions at an unattainable standard oppresses the mind to delusion, as evidenced through Willy Loman and his influence upon his children. Death was the only escape. Similar to waking from a dream, Biff’s epiphany of the truth, his blatant encounter of reality, was a catalyst in the awareness of his identity, apart from his father’s conventions. The security in the conformity of conventions is incomparable to the sacrifice an individual has to endure, equating to a meaningless life that lacks worth or fulfillment. The pursuit of a life of truth, unconstrained by any convention or circumstance, is certain to be a life of significance.