While there are many things that make "Death of a Salesman" one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, to this reviewer's mind the play's many themes are the key. One of the play's main themes is reality vs. illusion. "Death of a Salesman" makes frequent use of flashbacks to present Willy’s memory during the reality. The illusion not only suggests the past, but also presents the lost pastoral life. Willy has dreamed of success his whole life and makes up lies about his and Biff’s success. The more he indulges in the illusion, the harder it is for him to face reality. Biff is the only one who realizes that the whole family lived in the lies and tries to face the truth. The American Dream is the other main theme of the play, but everyone in the play has their own way to describe their American Dreams, Biff especially. Willy dreams of being a successful salesman like Dave Singleton, somebody who has both wealth and freedom. Willy believes that the key to success is being well-liked, and his frequent flashbacks show that he measures happiness in terms of wealth and popularity. Society tries to teach that if people are rich and well-liked, they will be happy. Because of this, Willy thought that money would make him happy. He never bothered to try to be happy with what he has. Willy also believes that to attain success, one must have a good personality. He believes that salesmanship is based on ‘sterling traits of character’ and ‘a pleasing personality.’ But Willy does not have the requisite sterling traits of character; people simply do not like him as much as he thinks is necessary for success.


 

Uncle Ben represents the ideal of American Dream. He thinks that the American Dream is to catch opportunity, to conquer nature, and to gain a fortune. He says “Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. (He laughs.) And by God I was rich.” Ben symbolizes another kind of successful American Dreams for Willy. After seeing his father’s real identity, Biff does not follow his father’s “dream” because he knows that Willy does see his future but in a blind way. Meaning that he can and cannot see at the same time, since his way of seeing or visualizing the future is completely wrong. Biff has a dream to get outside, to farm, and work hard with his own hands, but his father prevents him from pursuing his dream. Biff realizes his father’s dream is “wrong” during his father's funeral.

Another thing that is apparent from the "Death of a Salesman" is the hard work and dedication of Charley and Bernard. Willy criticizes Charley and Bernard throughout the play, but it is not because he hates them. Rather, it appears that Willy is jealous of the successes they've enjoyed, which is outside his standards. The models of business success provided in the play all argue against Willy’s "personality theory." One is Charley, Willy’s neighbor and apparently only friend. Charley has no time for Willy’s theories of business, but he provides for his family and is in a position to offer Willy a do-nothing job to keep him bringing home a salary.

"Death of a Salesman" will especially hit home with male readers who feel they had a difficult time in life pleasing their fathers. In this connection, I recommend that readers of "Death" watch the spectacular 1985 film version starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy and John Malkovich as Biff. Hoffman and Malkovich perfectly portray the sadness of failed hope of a father for his son and failed love of a son for his father.