Much of a person’s personality is derived from his or her parents or the people with whom they live. One’s behaviors are a reflection of his or her up bringing. All actions of others in one’s environment have an impact in one’s behaviors. That is especially true of parent’s influence on a child. Nearly all morals and ethics are learned from parents. Sociologists have indicated that as time progresses American ethics have decayed immensely. Parents in America have become more lax with their children, and the strictly enforced code of ethics seems to have diminished.
Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, portrays the consequences of the laxity of parents with regards to ethics through the relationship of Willy Loman and his two sons, Biff and Happy. Rather than having played a positive role model for his sons Willy Loman, established a poor standard of morality. For example, when Biff was in high school he was the star of the football team. One afternoon he stole a football from the locker room. When Willy became cognizant of Biff’s actions, Wily did not punish Biff.
Instead, he told Biff that the oach was likely to congratulate Biff for his show of initiative (29, 30). Similarly, at another point in the play Biff and Happy stole lumber from a nearby construction site. Instead of teaching the boys a lesson in ethics Willy was proud of his sons. In fact, he bragged about the amount of construction materials the two stole (50, 51). Willy allowed the boys to steal, which could be considered an immoral act, worse yet, Willy’s praise for their actions prohibited Biff and Happy from knowing stealing was an immoral act.
Studies have shown that at a very young age children were extremely impressionable. Teaching the difference between right and wrong would give hope for a moral future. In the play there was little hope for Biff and Happy because Willy continued to show poor standards of morality in a positive light. In addition to stealing, being dishonest also surfaces as an unethical behavior that was practiced and thus promoted by Willy Loman. Willy was a salesman who had a rocky past few months. Instead of admitting his failure to his wife, Linda, he lied about his income.
He lead Linda to believe he earned more than he actually did. Each month his debt grew greater and greater because he had borrowed money to continue to live the lie (72, 73). With the knowledge that Willy lived a lie, Biff saw no wrong in dishonesty. In turn, he too lied to Linda. He told her that he was ready to settle down with one women. His statement was only said to please Linda; it could not have been further from the truth (68). Dishonesty is against traditional ethics. If Willy taught it as an unethical behavior
Biff and Happy would be aware of it as well. Moreover, Willy’s poor treatment of others revealed his unethical character and also paved the path his sons would follow. An example of Willy’s poor treatment of people was his affair. Although, Willy and Linda were married for many years, Willy must not have been satisfied with his marriage, because he had an ongoing affair with another woman (116, 119). Linda would have been crushed to know about Willy’s unfaithfulness. Willy’s poor treatment of Linda lead his sons to believe that dishonesty oward others was acceptable.
They too treated women as objects. For example, at one time they left their father at a restaurant so they could go rendezvous with a couple of woman (24, 25, 27). Through his dishonesty, Willy was not even competent enough to teach his sons the most important law of ethics, the golden rule. Do onto others as one would want done onto them. In a perverse way the Loman boys did practice the golden rule. They did to Willy what he did to others.
In conclusion, Willy’s relationship with his sons in Death of a Salesman reflected the lack of enforcement of morals and ethics in the American society. Through the character Willy Loman, Arthur Miller demonstrated that it was necessary to teach children a solid code of ethics, which should be applied to everyday life. Without an ethical background people would lead immoral lives. Perhaps, if Willy had been more strict and a more positive role model his sons would have turned out as more ethical and conscientious people. Rarely does a parent who behaves unethically raise a child who grows up to be remotely ethical.