Arthur Miller uses several techniques to characterize Willy, Biff, and Happy. His techniques serve to explain the reasons behind his characters actions, what actions they now take due to their history, and the result of the personal struggle they are each trying to learn how to manage. Each of these characters taken a wrong turn down the road of life and are now trying to rectify the damage they have inflicted upon themselves and others in their life.
Each character has a certain attribute that marks their defeat. Willy’s mark lies in his hallucinations of the past. These hallucinations are meant to represent all of his missed opportunities for a better life; either for himself or for his two sons, Biff in particular. The hallucinations that Willy has that are directed towards his own failure are the hallucinations about his brother Ben who made a fortune with timber in Alaska and died young. There are two elements used here that seem to play a great part in increasing the importance of these particular hallucinations. Ben made himself rich in a short amount of time and of his own doing, he represents the self made man, the antitheses of Willy’s career option, a salesman. Ben had to rely on nobody but himself to
As we see Happy"tms lying practice begin in Willy"tms flashbacks, we also see the beginning of Biff"tms stealing problem in these flashbacks. The first is that it is a misfortune, a goal Willy never manages to attain. Biff realizes the error of his ways and tries to help Willy and Happy see their problems too, but they seem to be too far along for help. Willy taught his son"tms that what really matters is what people think of you. Miller is giving us a warning in his play: beware of the failure of succeeding in life. Not only does he lie to others but, he seems to be lying to himself as well about certain subjects, one of which is success in the workplace. Ignorance seems to be a theme that Miler sticks to throughout the play. With these two points in effect, Willy sees Ben as the person who is everything he ever wanted to be: everything Willy failed to become. In the Lowman family, money and reputation seem to go hand in hand. When bad things happen Happy interjects into the situation with some kind of great news: "I"tmm losing weight"" or "I"tmm getting married"" Happy is hardly noticed and never corrected for these actions, which leads him to his present state; lying compulsively and even lying to himself. In both situations Willy and Biff thought they were held in higher esteem than they really were. This allows the play to take on a puzzle effect; information must be pieced together from the past and present actions of characters. She repeats phrases about the smell of shaving cream in the house, alluding to the fact that both of her boys are home. This is only feeding the delusions of Willy"tms but she sees this as the only remedy.