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Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller (1915-)

Main Characters

Willy Loman - A 63 year old once popular salesman who’s lost his popularity and sales, not to mention his mind.

Biff Loman -  A 34 year old son of Willy who has been searching for himself while working on farms in the west to the dismay of his father.

Happy Loman - The younger brother of Biff who tries in all he can to please his father and attempts to continue his father’s dream after he dies.

Linda Loman - The wife of Willy who tries to protect Willy’s feelings and can’t make herself confront him if it means hurting his feelings.

Minor Characters

Bernard - A bookish friend of Biff and Happy who urges Biff to study in high school to no avail, however, he himself makes it as a prominent lawyer and goes to argue a case to the supreme court at the end of the play.

Charley - Bernard’s father who is fairly successful and offers Willy a job which Willy refuses on the basis of pride.

Setting

Willy’s house - Small house in New York surrounded by apartments.

Restaurant - Restaurant where Stanley works where the Lomans were supposed to have dinner at the end of the play.

The hotel - The hotel where Willy stays while in New England for his business trips.  This is where Biff catches his father in the affair.

Plot

Biff returns from the west to visit his family although he doesn’t know how long he’s going to stay.  Happy is glad to see him, but Willy seems strangely irritated.  He talks to old friends he imagines to the chagrin of his family, but no one has the heart to confront him about it.  Willy has a flashback of a time when Biff and Happy were promising high school students.  In the flashback, Willy gives his sons a punching bag.  He also condones Biff’s stealing of a football and doesn’t encourage them to study as much as they should.  He emphasizes being well liked.  After the flashback, Happy talks with Willy and asks him why he didn’t go to New England for his business trip.  Willy explains that he almost hit a kid in Yonkers.  He also tells his sons of his brother Ben who made a fortune on a trip to Africa.
 Charley comes to Willy’s house at night complaining of not being able to sleep.  Charley and Willy play cards, but at the same time, Willy hold a conversation with his imaginary brother.  Charley has no idea what’s going on and leaves.  Willy continues the conversation regretting that he stayed in American while he could have gone to Alaska or Africa with his brother and made a fortune.  While Willy is having this imaginary conversation, Biff talks with Linda and asks her about Willy’s condition.  Linda explains that she can’t bring herself to confront Willy about it.  She also tells Biff that Willy has attempted suicide by crashing the car several times.  Willy comes out of his reverie and speaks with his family about their jobs.  Happy has an idea of starting a line of sporting goods so Biff decides to go to Bill Oliver to ask to borrow money.  Willy decides to go to Howard the next day to ask if he can work in New York so that he wouldn’t have to drive 700 miles to work..  The next day Willy goes to Howard and Biff goes to see Oliver.  They decide to celebrate their success by going out for dinner at night.  When Willy talks with Howard, he loses his temper and begins yelling at Howard who in turn fires him.  After Biff goes to see Bill, Bill doesn’t remember him and doesn’t lend him money.  At night, Biff and Happy arrive at the restaurant before their father.  Biff explains to happy that he didn’t get the money, and happy encourages his brother to lie.  Willy arrives.  Biff tries to tell Willy that he didn’t get the money and that he stole a fountain pen from Bill.  However, Happy is at the same time lying to Willy that Bill warmly welcomed Biff.  Willy apparently accepts Happy’s version.  Willy tells his sons that he was fired and falls into his reverie having a flashback of the time Biff caught him in his affair.  He remembers that it was that moment that Biff’s life ended.  Happy does not want to put up with his father and leaves with Biff and two girls they met earlier at the restaurant.  The two of them arrive home late and the coldly receives by Linda.  Biff confronts Willy about his suicide attempts and Willy denies everything.  He tells Biff that he did not get any money from Oliver and has no hope go get any money.  He accuses Willy of not know who he really is.  However, after this, Biff cries and leaves.  Willy realizes that Biff loves him and decides to celebrate by killing himself by crashing the car which would give his family 20 thousand dollar in life insurance.  No one but his family and Charley goes to his funeral.

Symbols

Stockings - They symbolize Willy’s infidelity and his lack of caring for his own wife since his gives his wife’s stocking to “The Woman.”

Stolen lumber - This symbolizes Willy’s acceptation of stealing and lack of understanding what really goes on.

Recorder - This symbolizes the success Willy dreams he could have had and wishes he had.  It also symbolizes his pride as he tells Howard that he will get one while there is no way he can afford it.

Tennis rackets - Ironic symbol of Bernard’s success since Bernard goes to play tennis with a friend who owns a tennis court.  It is ironic since it was the Loman brothers who thought sports equipment would be their success.

Style

The style and devices Miller uses enhances Willy’s mental state.  By using flashback and reveries, he allows the audience to get into the mind of Willy Loman and brings us into a sense of pity for him.  Miller also uses a lot of motifs and repeated ideas through the play to give the viewers an idea of what Willy and his situation is all about.  Personal attractiveness is an oft repeated motif.  It shows that Willy believes that personal attractiveness makes one successful, but his belief is shot down by the success of Charley and Bernard who, in his mind, are not personally attractive.  Other motifs are debt which sadly the Lomans escape after Willy dies, stealing which Willy condones, even encourages, the boxed-in feeling of Willy, the idea that Willy’s life is passing him by, expressed in the quote, “The woods are burning,” and Ben’s success and the qualities that brought about his success.

Dominant Philosophy

Miller seems to say with this play that any man can have as great a fall and be as great a tragedy as a king or some other famous person.  Just because people are common does not mean that their falls are to them less steep.  Also one must find oneself to be successful in life.

Quotes

“Work a lifetime to pay of a house.  You finally own it and there’s nobody to live in it.”  Willy tells this to his wife after hearing that his sons left together for the evening and that they only needed one more payment on the house.

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be?  What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!  Why can’t I say that, Willy?”  Biff says this to Willy while arguing about his revelation and found self.

“I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you.   You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them!  I’m one dollar an hour, Willy!  I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it.  A buck an hour!  Do you gather my meaning?  I’m not bringing home any prizes any more, and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home!”  Biff says this to Willy while arguing with him.  Willy is shocked that Biff thinks so lowly of himself not realizing that what Biff says is true.

“Isn’t that -- isn’t that remarkable?  Biff -- he likes me!”  Willy says this to his wife and to himself after the argument with Biff.  He had believed that Biff was out to ruin his life out of spite.