Linda Loman: Character Analysis in Death of a Salesman

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Biff is Willy’s hope; Linda is his support

      She is the eternal wife-figure. Linda Loman is Willy Loman’s wife and seems to be the marriage-vow personified. Mother of two sons (Biff and Happy), she is smarter and stronger than any other character in the play. She is the silent sufferer. Often she is the victim of Willy’s whims; but far from showing any resentment against him, she is the one who understands him and sympathizes with him. “Most often jovial, she has developed an iron repression of her exceptions to Willy’s behavior—she more than loves him, she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end.”

For Linda, security is paramount

      Linda loves and respects her husband. She has great concern for him. But paradoxically enough, she is his life and death. She does not really understand Willy’s dreams—but she is always there to support him blindly. From the very beginning she believes—or perhaps wants Willy to believe that Willy is a well-liked salesman, very successful; almost a super salesman. When Willy complains of the meager quantity of sales he has done, she soothes him down with the exhibition of undaunting faith in him. “Well: next week you’ll be better.” At times Willy seems to be on the verge of realizing how mediocre he is. This self-realization, no matter how painful, is necessary. But Linda never encourages him to come out of his shell of dreams and illusions. If anyone could do anything for Willy to make him shed this grisly covering, it was Linda and Linda alone. But as often, here too Linda replies: “But you’re doing wonderful, dear,” which encourages Willy to cling on to the islands of dreams, instead of coming to the shores of reality and facing it as it is. When Willy feels that he should give up salesmanship and go to Alaska, it is as if Linda is frightened. She does not have an adventurous soul. It is she who asks him to stay there. She feels security is everything in life.

      Most probably, Willy would have failed in Alaska, as he did at home, but the significant point that comes out here is that Linda is in the grips of Willy’s illusions perhaps more than Willy himself. Willy is good at manual labor. Instead of encouraging Willy to be true to himself—to be a carpenter, a plumber, a bricklayer—she urges him to remain as he is, without disturbing the security they had. Anything beyond the material, the concrete, is beyond Linda’s comprehension. She can never understand Willy’s dreams; she never moves in the direction of understanding his real, fundamental values. This aspect of hers, comes out very well at the end of the play, where she mourns Willy’s death and says: “Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that?....Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home...We’re free and clear...We’re free...We’re free...We’re free...”

      E.R. Wood feels that Linda is perhaps too completely the understanding wife and mother, penetrating not only inside Willy's head, but also inside the authors. She seems to be devoid of any failings. She knows her husband through and through; she knows when he grossly exaggerates about the business he has done and the commission he earns: she knows when he borrows money from Charley and tells lies to her that he has earned it. She understands him and sympathizes with him. She loves him with all his weaknesses. Beneath her understanding of and sympathy for her husband, there is a current of essential humanity in her. In one of the most eloquent speeches of the play she supports his cause as a human being. “He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention must finally be paid to such a person.” Here she seems to be speaking for the ordinary man everywhere, that Willy represents. But at the end of the play, she is too grief-stricken and broken to speak out for humanity. There she has words for Willy, and Willy alone.

Linda is a good housewife

      Linda is loyal and loving life partner and a good mother. She manifests one aspect of the success-myth: security and stability. A figure like Ben is contraposed to her and is a constant threat to her.

Linda is a complex character

      She understands her husband, but she understands only the obvious in him. She understands the hard-working, self-sacrificing father and husband; but she fails miserably, to understand the visionary, whose right to dream she has always supported. She has a painfully realistic insight into Willy’s character and his situation. But she allows him his lies, for if he realizes she has seen him through and is aware of his petty deceptions, Willy will be nowhere. Every human being needs a little dignity to live by and he would be stripped of this. She has aborted Willy’s attempts at suicide but cannot bear to shame him into realizing that she is aware of everything.

But even the same Linda has her blind spots

      She has seen Willy working hard all his life and yet being able to earn only sufficient for the family. Yet she believes him to be the trail blazer who opened unheard of territories for his firm. She blows up Willy’s already inflated image. She has done to Willy, what Willy has done to their sons Biff and Happy. She is also driven by the same motive: love. In her well-meaning prudery and naivete and in her unflinching faith in and loyalty to Willy, she has generated adolescent sexual attitudes in the males around her, all unawares though.

      Quite early in the play Willy confesses to “Linda You’re my foundation and my support, Linda.” This is very true. But the opposite of this is also true. Both Willy and Linda are mutually each other’s supports. Without one, life would crumble to nothingness for the other. Some critics like William Beyer seem to be charmed by Linda’s personality and have gone so far as to argue out that the play is “the mother’s tragedy.”

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