What does it Mean to be a Father?
“A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be” (Clark). What does it mean to be a father? Just as expected in the old days, they’re the breadwinners. They support their families financially and leave the wife at home to tend the children. Now the children whom are much older see the parent that was there and struggle for a relationship with the parent who never was. In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller shows the audience the hardship of father and son relationships by using rhetorical devices such as verbal contradiction, symbolism, and foreshadowing.
Arthur Miller shows the audience on numerous occasions the distant relationship between Willy and his two younger sons through verbal contradiction. It not only tells us that Willy’s mind is slipping but that he can never be on his own side. For example: In a flashback, Willy had just returned home and Biff and Happy (Willy’s sons) greet him with excitement. Biff, being a star football player, steals the game ball. First, willy tells Biff to return it. Seconds later he contradicts himself and tells Biff that his coach will probably be fine with it. This shows Biff that it’s okay to take others things due to his popularity at school. In a much wider time scale, in the same flashback Willy remembers Bernard telling him that Biff was going to flunk his math class. With the utmost pride in his son, Willy teases Bernard about being a smart kid in school. Biff fails math of course and years later, Willy tells Biff he should of studied more for math. Biff never really knows what he should do because his father is constantly contradicting him and answering for him.
Another example of Willy and his Sons struggling relationship is through the use of symbolism. Linda would sit at home all day constantly trying to fix her old worn down stockings while Willy, towns away, would buy brand new stockings and give them to his mistress. One day Biff walked in on Willy and his mistress, discovering what kind of man Willy truly is. This caused a major crack in Biff and Willy’s relationship. “You- you gave her momma’s stockings!” (Miller 93). Very later on in the book, Linda comes across a black rubber hose. It was found attached to the water heater, with a nipple attached to the end. A few pages later Linda shows Happy and Biff the hose, and tells them Willy is attempting to eventually kill himself. Biff doesn’t act surprised, but Happy is stunned. Willy would rather kill himself to support his family then go on living his life. It shows us that Willy has always cared for his family, but in this modern world only money can make someone happy.
A final example of Willy’s strained relationship with his sons is through the use of foreshadowing. Since the very beginning introduced to us through a flashback, Happy, Biff, and Willy are all outside. Happy is desperately trying to show and tell Willy that he’s getting stronger, bigger, smarter, ect. Willy notices, but says nothing. Focusing all of his attention on Biff and his football career. This doesn’t cause any problems with Biff, but with Happy. At the end of the book, Happy states: “I’m going to show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man. He fought out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (Miller 139). Happy dooms himself to repeat the same life Willy had, to be successful and unhappy, to never know who he was meant to be.
“Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it” (Burke). Willy’s father tried and failed, Willy tried and failed, and now Happy will live to have miserable lives. He will never be truly happy or financially successful because he’s living the life his father wanted to instead of his own. Arthur Miller shows the audience the hardship of father and son relationships by using rhetorical devices such as verbal contradiction, symbolism, and foreshadowing in the play The Death of a Salesman.