The theme of abandonment in Death of a Salesman Essay

In this novel, the author presents Willy Lowman as the protagonist character who tries to conform his lifestyle to the American dream. Throughout the play, Willy has deceived himself to be an accomplished salesman who is highly respected and liked by people. Willy feels betrayed and abandoned socially, financially, psychologically, and emotionally. He first relates his misfortunes to his father’s abandonment at a very early age. Besides, he is abandoned by people he trusted most such as his brother, Ben, and son Biff but ironically at the end of the play, he is the one that abandons his family by committing suicide.

The Theme of Abandonment in Death of a Salesman

Willy Lowman is presented as a man who was abandoned together with his brother Ben right form his infant age. This rendered him deficient in terms of parental love, material, and emotional comfort. It is in this regard, Zheng argues Willy is not entirely to blame for the misfortunes that haunt him in his entire life. If Willy could have had a chance to grow under the leadership and watchful eye of his father, maybe he could have been different in the way he perceived life. The life he lived imprisoned in hallucinations of what he perceived to the typical American lifestyle would have been different may be. In this first instance, Willy Lowman’s abandonment is evident in Act of the play which depicts Willy’s concern over the departure of his father without going along with them. In this scene of the novel, Willy is seen asking his brother Ben where did their father go and why Ben did not follow his father. Besides, Willy is concerned about Ben’s lifestyle by asking, ‘where is my Dad…How did you get started?’ (Arthur 32). In response his brother wonders the extent to which Willy can remember the departure of their father since he was just a baby of about three to four years of age. But Ben confirms to him that he was three years and eleven months when their father abandoned them. This is clearly reinforces the notion that Willy was in fact very young when he was abandoned by their father as argued by Charlene in his work. Furthermore, at that tender age, Ben tried to locate his father’s whereabouts in Alaska but in the process he lost direction and instead headed to Africa as he says in the play, ‘I was going to find father in Alaska….so instead of Alaska, I ended up in Africa’ (Arthur 33). Thus, they did not reconnect with their father and it is clearly evident that Willy was weaker in remembering his father compared to Ben.

Subsequently in Act one of the play, Willy Lowman seems to have been abandoned by his father at the time of need. Zheng notes that Willy struggles to remember even a small bit of his father’s character to no avail which confirms that Willy felt disadvantaged by lack of growing up in the presence of his Dad. He wondered how his father was in terms of character and tries to correlate this with what /how he as father is perceived by his sons. In this regard, Willy asks his brother Ben to explain in the presence of his children how their father was by saying, ‘Please tell about Dad. I want my boys to hear. I want them to know….All I remember is a man with a big beard, and I was in Mamma’s lap…’ (Arthur 33). This is why Charlene argues that Willy is confused in establishing his character as in general a child is perceived to inherit his/her character from the parents. The only way that Willy could describe his father is in terms of physical aspects. Furthermore, the departure of his father haunted Willy throughout his life and in later in his life Willy correlated that early abandonment to every other instance that he feared being left alone without anyone to consult. According to Charlene, when and if a person is psychologically and emotionally abandoned at early developmental stages, he grows with that fear coupled with the desire to cautiously avoid any recurrence in life. For instance, in Act one of the play Willy is seen telling his brother Ben ‘can’t you stay a few days? You are just what I need’ (Arthur 36). This statement concurs with Zheng’s argument that Willy needed support of his father while growing-up and is seen to regret that abandonment when he tells his brother, ‘…Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel…’ (Arthur 36). Consequently, the words of Willy indicate that his father never gave him a chance to experience and know him better at that early age. In this respect, Willy tells off his fears to his brother and urges him to stay on. That he needs his moral support to endure the challenges he is experiencing in life. However, Ben argue that he has very little time left and fears he will not be able to catch up with train at the station. In the same note, what Willy cares for most in this instance is a piece of advice for his sons Happy and Biff. This depicts Willy to value Ben’s advice to his boys, both as an uncle and a role-play father to Happy and Biff in Willy’s absence. With respect to this, Willy is seen asking Ben, ‘my boys-can’t we talk? They’d go into the jaws of hell for me…’ (Arthur 36). Therefore, it can be argued that Willy considers his presence as father of importance to his boys and this is in contrast to what he did not experience while growing.

            Throughout act one of the play the fears and/or the actual sense of abandonment in Willy are clearly evident. According to Charlene in his work, such fears become vivid in the eyes of people who are close to the victim for instance Linda in the context of this play. A person who fears (or is fearing) being abandoned tends to neutralize it by banking his hopes in a person he/she perceives very close to him/her such as a children and spouse. In this scene, Linda is seen to authoritatively question Biff on what he said of his father comparing his to other successful men in the town such as Charley -their neighbor. Therefore, Linda in her view considers the Biff, as a son has abandoned his father by being influenced by money. This is being disrespectful to the parents as the author draws of Biff. In this scene, Linda tells Biff ‘make Charley your father’ (Arthur 40) indicating the change of focus in her son Biff. Furthermore, Linda goes on to defend her husband in the presence of Biff by saying although Willy is not that wealthy he deserves reasonable respect and care from him (Biff) as a child. Interestingly, Linda is seen admitting that her husband is not that perfect and is undergoing a psychological torture of some kind when she says ‘…a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him’ though she does not expound. In this regard she tries to emphasize the importance of his son’s respect and care to his father, Willy. Besides, Linda goes on to wonder how disrespectful Biff is while his father values him most and defends Willy by saying ‘he’s is not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog…attention must be finally paid to such a person.’ Thus, by her words, Linda confirms that Willy is actually abandoned and needs a lot attention to restore his normalcy. In the same scene, Zheng argues that lack of Willy in portraying a good role model picture coupled with his failures could have influenced Biff abandon and disrespect his father and it evident as Linda wonders, ‘you called him crazy’ referring to Biff assertion (Arthur 40).

Towards the end of Act one of the play the theme of abandonment goes to manifest itself and this is comes out through Linda in front of his son Biff. As Zheng concurs with the scene events, Linda goes on to wonder why Biff and Happy cannot realize their responsibility in comforting their father whom they have disserted. Linda regrets of her sons’ character when she says ‘I’m ashamed to’ and goes on to cry for her husband woes (Arthur 43). The Author brings the extent of disrespect that Biff and Happy have accorded to their father by quoting Linda to have said ‘how can I insult him that way?’ She wonders. This demonstrates that truly Willy has been abandoned by his sons. In the same note, Linda tries to persuade his sons to borrow a leaf from her respect and care for her husband when she tells them how she removes the rubber pipe from Willy’s presence –not to kill himself- but returns it back as a matter of respect. Furthermore, tells Happy and Biff that she absolutely understands Willy’s thoughts and goes on to tell them ‘…I tell you he’s put his whole life into you…’ (Arthur 43). Besides, Linda cautions her sons that they have abandoned their father and this is evident from her statement which says, ‘….you’ve turned your backs on him’ (Arthur 43). As a spouse to Willy and mother to Happy and Biff, Linda has been forced to carry cross of her husband –desertion by his sons- and tries although in vain to make them see the sense of restoring their respect and care for the old man. This is the reason for her to wail and goes on to tell Biff in particular that ‘his life is in your hands!’ (Arthur 43). Therefore, Linda’s words to Biff demonstrates the amount of trust Willy has in his sons, especially Biff, but ironically they cannot see this and thus the reason for Will to suffer and feel abandoned.

In Act two of the play as Charlene argues, a number of instances emphasize on abandonment that Willy experiences in his day to day life in relating with other people. For instance, when Willy visited Howard seeking to be given less-demanding tasks in line of duty, it becomes evident that in fact Howard sympathizes with him in realizing and/or perceiving that Willy has been disserted by his sons. During the conversation, Howard asks Willy ‘where are your sons?’ (Arthur 63) It is logical that a person who asks such a question has clearly sensed some degree of desertion.  Another remark that strengthens Howard’s feeling is when he asks Willy ‘why don’t your sons give you a hand?’ which shows that Willy is not experiencing emotional, social, and psychological neglect from his sons, but also financial/economic assistance neglect (Arthur 63). In Howard’s argument according the author, the old man –Willy- need to rest and be supported by his sons. Besides, it comes out clearly that Willy and his sons are not in sound relationship because Howard tells him ‘you go your sons and tell them that you’re tired’ (Arthur 63). In this context, if Willy would have been in good rapport with his sons, they would have been assisting him financially hence he seems to be abandoned.

Subsequently, the sense of abandonment seems to be absolutely clear in Willy’s mind in act two of the play where he wonders of his legacy as a former salesman. He converses with Howard who sees him to exist in his own world of fantasy. Willy wonders on ‘what could be more satisfying that to be able to go …be remembered and loved and helped by so may different people?’ (Arthur 61). Willy is seen to value the death of a salesman by narrating a story to Howard of a salesman who was greatly adored by a lot of people by saying that ‘hundreds of salesman and clients were at his funeral’ (Arthur 61). Thus Willy credits this to a lot of respect a person is given by people and his/her personality. Furthermore, his statement in this conversation demonstrates that Will is in fact wary of his personality and fears that people may abandon him even after death by saying that ‘they don’t know me anymore’ (Arthur 61). Consequently, when Happy and Biff went out with their father and spent some time in a hotel, Willy had a secret love affair with a mistress. However, Biff realized his father is cheating on his mother and it is that point that he (Biff) walked away from his father. Biff insults his father by calling him ‘you little fake’ (Arthur 95). He left him at the doorway shocked of his son’s act. In this scene, Willy tries to caution and recall Biff back to avail by threatening to beat him. Willy shouts ‘Biff, come back here or I’ll beat you! Come back here!’ which shows that Willy has in fact been abandoned (Arthur 95).

In another instance according to Zheng, Willy sense of abandonment is confirmed by Linda’s anger towards his sons. Reason being they abandoned their father at a restaurant and he had gone there on their invitation. It is clear in Linda’s mind that her sons’ presence, respect, and care for their father are his ultimate joy and sense of relief. Linda tells Biff ‘you invite him….and then you desert him there’ (Arthur 97). In another context according to Charlene, during father-son argument, Willy criticizes Biff for failing to accomplish considerably in life –securing a good job. Therefore as they engage in heated debate, Biff attempts to walk away out of his father’s sight but is stopped by him. Willy, sarcastically cautions Biff by saying him ‘rot in hell if you leave this house!’ which shows the fear of abandonment in Willy’s mind (Arthur 103). Besides, according to the author it clearly shows the extent to which Willy values his son although he has underachieved. Charlene in his work argues that the theme of abandonment is out rightly manifested at the requiem after Willy’s death. Interestingly, it turns out that the fear Willy possessed during his life -of being abandoned at his funeral- turns out to see the light of day. Linda asks Charley ‘why didn’t anyone come?’ and goes on to ask ‘but where were all the people he knew? Maybe they blame him’ (Arthur 110). Lack of proper attendance by people at Willy’s requiem shows that he was abandoned even at death by people he considered to be his friends. Finally, it is Willy who after being abandoned by people in his life that actually abandons his family and friends by committing suicide.


Considering the scenarios explained in this paper it comes out clearly that Willy is frequently abandoned right from his childhood up to his death. This leads him to feel rejected and despair greatly. Therefore, for fear of abandonment Willy tried to live the proverbial American Dream without success and he instills that ideology in his son Biff. However, Willy deceived himself all-along that he was an accomplished person which haunts later in life for failing to embrace reality. Nonetheless, Willy continued to make matters worse when he cheated on his wife in front of his son leading to more separation. In regard the theme of abandonment in this novel, I would interpret that dreams or visions should not only be treasured only in our thoughts but they should people should attempt to achieve them practically. Otherwise a person will live imprisoned in his thoughts without any achievement.

Works Cited

Arthur, Miller. Death of a salesman: certain private conversations in two acts and a requiem. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

Charlene, Fix. “The Lost Father in Death of a Salesman.” Michigan Quarterly Review 47.4 (2008): 464. 14 Aug. 2010. <>.

Zheng Danqing. “Who is to blame for willy loman’s death? – on arthur miller’s death of a salesman/qui est a blamer pour la mort de willy loman ? – de mort d’un commis voyageur.” Canadian Social Science 3.4 (2007): 25. 14 Aug. 2010. ;;sid=6;Fmt=3;clientId=20828;RQT=309;VName=PQD;.