Analysis of Death of a Salesman

Analysis of death of a salesman
Analysis of death of a salesman

Plot of Death of Salesman by Arthur


Willy Loman though had a very good skill in carpentry adopts a job as a salesman so as to fulfill his American dream. He is a father of two sons, Biff and Happy and has a wife Linda. He returns from a business trip and concludes that now he cannot travel more for the sake of the business.

His wife Linda suggests him to ask his boss to give him a local job at the headquarter. Willy mistakenly takes him as an important salesman of his office so he will certainly get the local job. When Biff comes from his farm work, Willy reminds him that he could do better than this in the field of business. He further tells him that he is wasting his
time and talents. But, Willy does not have any faith on his other son Happy and hates him for his failure. On the same night, Willy is heard talking to
imaginary people and even shouting to them.

Because of his shout, Biff and Happy wake up and are worried about their father as he had never behaved like that before. Biff thinking that he
should not leave his father alone, plans to borrow loan from his former employer Bill to start a business.
Linda tells her sons that they are having a difficult time financially. She further states that Willy has been attempting suicide. Meanwhile, Willy argues with Biff for being so reckless, but Happy immediately interrupts informing Willy that next morning Biff has planned to see his former boss,
Bill. Willy is now happy and goes to sleep. All hopes for the better morning: Willy is hopeful in getting local job and Biff expects to get a loan to start a
new business.
The next morning, all their hopes are shattered. Willy overconfidently approaches his boss and tells
him all his problems in travelling for the sake of business. Instead of providing him with the local
job, the boss fired him. He is now jobless. Frustrated by the news, he goes to see his sons at a restaurant. Biff is sure that Bill would not see him
and there is no question of getting a business loan from him as he had stolen a pen from him some
time ago. Willy reaches there and wishes to hear a good news from Biff, but Biff sadly tells him that he
could not get the loan. Biff realizes that he and his family have been lying to each other. They are living in the illusion. They leave their father at the
restaurant who is busy in dreaming and reliving the past.

When Biff and Happy return home, their mother is mad at them for being so careless about their father
and leaving him alone at the restaurant. An argument starts among the family. No one is ready to listen to the other, but Biff tells that he cannot
live according to his father’s expectation which is just a failure. He tells them all that they are living
in a lie. They are running away from the ground reality. They fear to face the bitter truth about their

Willy realizes that though Biff is a failure like him, he loves him much. Distressed and frustrated, he decides to commit suicide so that the insurance money could be some use to Biff to start a new business. Within a few minutes, he commits suicide.
Linda feels so strange that though her husband is well liked by all employees why no-one attends his funeral. Biff feels sorry for his mother who is still
living in an illusion. He decides to be honest to himself, but, unfortunately Happy wants to follow the footprint of his father.

Themes of Death of a Salesman



Willy believes wholeheartedly in what he considers the promise of the American Dream—that a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business will indubitably and deservedly acquire the material comforts offered by modern American life. Oddly, his fixation with the superficial qualities of attractiveness and likeability is at odds with a more gritty, more rewarding understanding of the American Dream that identifies hard work without complaint as the key to success. Willy’s interpretation of likeability is superficial—he childishly dislikes Bernard because he considers Bernard a nerd. Willy’s blind l faith in his stunted version of the American Dream leads to his rapid psychological decline when he is unable to accept the disparity between the Dream and his own life


The Lomans are all extremely self-deceptive, and in their respective delusions and blindness to reality, Willy convinces himself that he is successful, well-liked, and that his sons are destined for greatness. Unable to cope with reality, he entirely abandons it through his vivid fantasies and ultimately through suicide. Linda and Happy similarly believe that the Lomans are about to make it big… any day now. Unlike the other members of his family, Biff grows to recognize that he and his family members consistently deceive themselves, and he fights to escape the vicious cycles of lies. It’s gotta be tough being the black sheep.i


The towering apartment buildings that
surround Willy ‘s house, which make it
difficult for him to see the stars and block the sunlight that would allow him to grow a garden in his back yard, represent the artificial world of the city —with all its commercialism and superficiality— encroaching on his little spot of self-determination. He yearns to follow the rugged trail his brother Ben has blazed, by going into the wildernesses of Africa and Alaska in search of diamonds, or even building wooden flutes and selling them on the rural frontier of America as his father did. But Willy is both too timid and too late. He does not have the courage to head out into nature and try his fortune, and, anyway, that world of a wild frontier waiting to be explored no longer exists. Instead, the urban world has replaced the rural, and Willy chooses to throw his lot in with the world of sales, which does not involve making things but rather selling oneself.
Biff and Happy embody these two sides of Willy’s personality: the individualist dreamer and the eager- to-please salesman. Biff works with his hands on farms, helping horses give birth, while Happy schemes within the stifling atmosphere of a department store. While Willy collects household appliances and cars, as the American Dream has taught him to do, these things do not ultimately leave him satisfied, and he thinks of his own death in terms of finally venturing into nature, the dark jungle that the limits of his life have never allowed him to enter.


Throughout Death of a Salesman , Willy pursues concrete evidence of his worth and success. He is entranced by the very physical, tangible results of Ben’s diamond-mining efforts and strives to validate his own life by imagining similar material signifiers of success. Willy projects his own obsession with material achievement onto his sons, who struggle with a conflict between their intangible needs and the pressure to succeed materially. Let’s just hope they have better luck than their parents at figuring it all out.


The central conflict of the play is between Willy and his elder son Biff , who showed great promise as a young athlete and ladies’ man, but in adulthood has become a thief and drifter with no clear direction. Willy’s other son, Happy , while on a more secure career path, is superficial and seems to have no loyalty to anyone.
By delving into Willy’s memories, the play is able to trace how the values Willy instilled in his sons—luck over hard work, likability over expertise—led them to disappoint both him and themselves as adults. The dream of grand, easy success that Willy passed on to his sons is both barren and overwhelming, and so Biff and Happy are aimless, producing nothing, and it is Willy who is still working, trying to plant seeds in the middle of the night, in order to give his family sustenance. Biff realizes, at the play’s climax, that only by escaping from the dream that Willy has instilled in him will father and son be free to pursue fulfilling lives. Happy never realizes this, and at the end of the play he vows to continue in his father’s footsteps, pursuing an American Dream that will leave him empty and alone.


Reputation is one of Willy’s primary concerns. He thinks that all you need to succeed is to be attractive and well-liked. Ha!—if only it were so easy. He celebrates his son’s popularity in high school, asserting that it is vastly more important to be fawned over than to be honest or talented.

Much of the time, Willy considers
himself a well-liked man. He aspires to be just like a salesman he knew whose death was mourned far and wide. Despite his fixation on reputation, Willy and his family members are neither well-known nor well-liked, and Willy’s funeral is sparsely attended. Harsh.


The entire Loman family places heavy value on appearances and good looks. Many of Willy’s fondest memories of Biff involve his son dwarfing others with his personal attractiveness. In addition, when Willy gives in to feelings of self-doubt, he worries that it’s his appearance that’s holding him back in business. Death of a Salesman may be making a larger statement by showing the Lomans’ fixation on attractiveness over real substance—could the play be trying to get across the idea that all of America falls prey to the very same mistake? What do you think? Is America itself way too obsessed with image and appearance?


Pride in Death of a Salesman functions as a means of self-deception and as a coping mechanism. The Lomans, and particularly Willy, are extremely proud even though the basis for their pride is not at all founded in reality. Willy celebrates his own “astounding success” in business and the accomplishments of his sons while the Lomans struggle financially. He is too proud to accept a job from Charley, a man whom he considers to be his inferior, yet accepts loans that he’s unable to repay. Throughout the play, we’re shown that Willy and his family are incredibly proud people with nothing real to be proud of.


Willy’s life charts a course from one abandonment to the next, leaving him in greater despair each time. Willy’s father leaves him and Ben when Willy is very young, leaving Willy neither a tangible (money) nor an intangible (history) legacy. Ben eventually departs for Alaska, leaving Willy to lose himself in a warped vision of the American Dream. Likely a result of these early experiences, Willy develops a fear of abandonment, which makes him want his family to conform to the American Dream. His efforts to raise perfect sons, however, reflect his inability to understand reality. The young Biff, whom Willy considers the embodiment of promise, drops Willy and Willy’s zealous ambitions for him when he finds out about Willy’s adultery. Biff’s ongoing inability to succeed in business furthers his estrangement from Willy. When, at Frank’s Chop House, Willy finally believes that Biff is on the cusp of greatness, Biff shatters Willy’s illusions and, along with Happy, abandons the deluded, babbling Willy in the washroom.


The theme of freedom and confinement is closely tied to economic security in Death of a Salesman . Linda and Willy long to escape both the physical confinement of their home and the economic confinement of their limited income, home mortgage, and bills. They idolize faraway lands such as Alaska and Africa as places of literal and figurative escape. Similarly, Biff finds New York to utterly confine him and can only imagine happiness and freedom working with his hands in the wide open West. Ultimately, the play seems to paint America’s incredibly competitive version of capitalism as something that traps its citizens. This depiction is pretty ironic since America is supposed to be “the land of the free”—a place where if you work hard, you’re freeto make your dreams come true.


Willy’s primary obsession throughout the play is what he considers to be Biff’s betrayal of his ambitions for him. Willy believes that he has every right to expect Biff to fulfill the promise inherent in him. When Biff walks out on Willy’s ambitions for him, Willy takes this rejection as a personal affront (he associates it with “insult” and “spite”). Willy, after all, is a salesman, and Biff’s ego-crushing rebuff ultimately reflects Willy’s inability to sell him on the American Dream—the product in which Willy himself believes most faithfully. Willy assumes that Biff’s betrayal stems from Biff’s discovery of Willy’s affair with The Woman—a betrayal of Linda’s love. Whereas Willy feels that Biff has betrayed him, Biff feels that Willy, a “phony little fake,” has betrayed him with his unending stream of ego-stroking lies.

Roles and Analysis of All Character in Death of a Salesman


Character Analysis and Role of
Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman

Despite his desperate searching through his past, Willy does not achieve the self realization or self- knowledge typical of the tragic hero. The quasi- resolution that his suicide offers him represents only a partial discovery of the truth. While he achieves a professional understanding of himself and thenfundamental nature of the sales profession, Willy fails to realize his personal failure and betrayal of his soul and family through the meticulously constructed artifice of his life. He cannot grasp the true personal, emotional, spiritual understanding of himself as a literal “loman” or “low man.” Willy is too driven by his own “willy”-ness or perverse “willfulness” to recognize the slanted reality that his desperate mind has forged. Still, many critics, focusing on Willy’s entrenchment in a quagmire of lies, delusions, and self-deceptions, ignore the significant accomplishment
of his partial self-realization. Willy’s failure to recognize the anguished love offered to him by his family is crucial to the climax of his torturous day, and the play presents this incapacity as the realntragedy. Despite this failure, Willy makes the most extreme sacrifice in his attempt to leave an inheritance that will allow Biff to fulfill the American Dream. Ben’s final mantra—“The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds”—turns Willy’s suicide into a metaphorical moral struggle, a final skewed ambition to realize his full commercial and material capacity. His final act, according to Ben, is “not like an appointment at all” but like a “diamond . . . rough and hard to the touch.” In the absence of any real degree of self-knowledge or truth, Willy is able to achieve a tangible result. In some respect, Willy does experience a sort of revelation, as he finally comes to understand that the product he sells is himself. Through the imaginary advice of Ben, Willy ends up fully believing his earlier assertion to Charley that “after all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”

Character Analysis and Role of
Linda in Death of a Salesman



is Willy’s doting wife. She refuses to see through her husband’s lies. This is a woman on a mission: protect Willy’s emotions and dreams. Part of her nature is the result of naïveté; Linda doesn’t know the full picture here, from Willy’s finances to his job to his mistress. This cluelessness is partly why Linda defendsnher husband’s behavior even when he has lashed out at he

No one can argue—she’s one loyal chick. Like her husband, Linda equates happiness and freedom with material wealth. She accepts the American ideal that success is possible for anyone. Nevertheless, Linda shows substantially more preoccupation than her husband with talent, dedication, and basic ethics that reach beyond simply being well-liked. Unlike Willy, she expresses concern over Biff’s poor math performance, his growing aggression, and his tendency to steal everything that will fit in his pocket and even some things that don’t. Linda’s utter and blind devotion to her husband makes it hard for her to understand why he killed himself—and why no one showed up to his funeral. Her ironic statement “we’re free” just reminds us that Linda is still very, very clueless.

Character Analysis and Role of
Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman

Biff Loman

Unlike Willy and Happy , Biff feels compelled to seek the truth about himself. While his father and brother are unable to accept the miserable reality of their respective lives, Biff acknowledges his failure and eventually manages to confront it. Even the difference between his name and theirs reflects this polarity: whereas Willy and Happy willfully and happily delude themselves, Biff bristles stiffly at self-deception. Biff’s discovery that Willy has a mistress strips him of his faith in Willy and Willy’s ambitions for him. Consequently, Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, while Biff sees himself as trapped in Willy’s grandiose fantasies. After his epiphany in Bill Oliver’s office, Biff determines to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to come to realistic terms with his own life. Intent on revealing the simple and humble truth behind Willy’s fantasy, Biff longs for the territory (the symbolically free West) obscured by his father’s blind faith in a skewed, materialist version of the American Dream. Biff’s identity crisis is a function of his and his father’s disillusionment, which, in order to reclaim his identity, he must expose.

Character Analysis and Role of
Happy in Death of a Salesman



might as well be Willy Jr., because this apple
hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Though he is relatively successful in his job, he has his dad’s totally unrealistic self-confidence and his grand dreams about getting rich quick. Like Biff, but to a lesser extent, Happy has suffered from his father’s expectations. Mostly, though, his father doesn’t pay that much attention to him. Willy was always a bigger fan of Biff. Happy, maybe because he always felt second-best, has more of a desire to please his father. Despite his respectable accomplishments in business and the many, many notches on his bedpost, Happy is extremely lonely. Happy is competitive and ambitious, but these feelings are misdirected. Unable to compete on his own terms in the business world, Happy blindly pursues women— like his friends’ girlfriends—purely for the sake of doing so. Looks like he’s taken his sense of competition to the realm of sex. Of course, this, much like the world of business, fails to satisfy him. Most disturbing for Happy is the fact that he can’t figure out why all this isn’t working. He’s followed the rules, done all the right things, yet Happy just isn’t happy. His name highlights the irony of his predicament. If you consider the fact that parents name their children, you could say that Willy foolishly bestowed the nickname on his son in yet another display of misguidance and delusion. Nice. Just as the saddest part of Willy’s suicide is his continued delusion, the saddest part of Happy’s ending is his own persistent misbelief. Still driven by what he feels he should want (money, a wife), he sticks to Willy’s foolish dreams to the bitter end.

Character Analysis and Role of
Charley in Death of a Salesman


A long-time acquaintance of the Lomans. Charley supplies Willy with a weekly loan once Willy is put on straight commission, and he repeatedly offers him a job. Charlie is a true friend to Willy, even though Willy is jealous of him. Charley appears in Willy’s memories, as well as in the actions of the present.

Character Analysis and Role of
Bernard in Death of a Salesman

Bernard Charley’s son. He provided Biff with answers while they were in high school and attempted to help Biff study so that he would graduate, even though Willy and Biff would criticize him. He is a successful lawyer. Bernard appears in Willy’s memories, as well as in the present.

Character Analysis and Role of
Ben in Death of a Salesman


– Willy’s wealthy older brother. Ben has recently died and appears only in Willy’s “daydreams.” Willy regards Ben as a symbol of the success that he so desperately craves for himself and his sons.

Character Analysis and Role of
The Woman in Death of a Salesman

The Woman

Willy’s mistress when Happy and Biff were in high school. The Woman’s attention and admiration boost Willy’s fragile ego. When Biff catches Willy in his hotel room with The Woman, he loses faith in his father, and his dream of passing math and going to college dies.

Character Analysis and Role of
Howard Wagner in Death of a Salesman


Howard Wagner

Willy’s boss. Howard inherited the company from his father, whom Willy regarded as “a masterful man” and “a prince.” Though much younger than Willy, Howard treats Willy with condescensionband eventually fires him, despite Willy’s wounded assertions that he named Howard at his birth.

Character Analysis and Role of
Stanley in Death of a Salesman


– A waiter at Frank’s Chop House. Stanley and Happy seem to be friends, or at least acquaintances, and they banter about and ogle Miss Forsythe together before Biff and Willy arrive at the restaurant.

Character Analysis and Role of
Miss Forsythe and Letta in Death of a Salesman

Miss Forsythe and Letta

Two young women whom Happy and Biff meet at Frank’s Chop House. It seems likely that Miss Forsythe and Letta are prostitutes, judging from Happy’s repeated comments about their moral character and the fact that they are “on call.”

Character Analysis and Role of
Jenny in Death of a Salesman


– Charley’s secretary.



Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Mythic Figures

Willy’s tendency to mythologize people contributes to his deluded understanding of the world. He speaks of Dave Singleman as a legend and imagines that his death must have been beautifully noble. Willy compares Biff and Happy to the mythic Greek figures Adonis and Hercules because he believes that his sons are pinnacles of “personal attractiveness” and power through “well liked”-ness; to him, they seem the very incarnation of the American Dream.

Willy’s mythologizing proves quite nearsighted, however. Willy fails to realize the hopelessness of Singleman’s lonely, on-the-job, on-the-road death. Trying to achieve what he considers to be Singleman’s heroic status, Willy commits himself to a pathetic death and meaningless legacy (even if Willy’s life insurance policy ends up paying off, Biff wants nothing to do with Willy’s ambition for him). Similarly, neither Biff nor Happy ends up leading an ideal, godlike life; while Happy does believe in the American Dream, it seems likely that he will end up no better off than the decidedly ungodlike Willy.
The American West, Alaska, and the African Jungle

These regions represent the potential of instinct to Biff and Willy. Willy’s father found success in Alaska and his brother, Ben, became rich in Africa; these exotic locales, especially when compared to Willy’s banal Brooklyn neighborhood, crystallize how Willy’s obsession with the commercial world of the city has trapped him in an unpleasant reality. Whereas Alaska and the African jungle symbolize Willy’s failure, the American West, on the other hand, symbolizes Biff’s potential. Biff realizes that he has been content only when working on farms, out in the open. His westward escape from both Willy’s delusions and the commercial world of the eastern United States suggests a nineteenth-century pioneer mentality—Biff, unlike Willy, recognizes the importance of the individual.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Seeds represent for Willy the opportunity to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. His desperate, nocturnal attempt to grow vegetables signifies his shame about barely being able to put food on the table and having nothing to leave his children when he passes. Willy feels that he has worked hard but fears that he will not be able to help his offspring any more than his own abandoning father helped him. The seeds also symbolize Willy’s sense of failure with Biff. Despite the American Dream’s formula for success, which Willy considers infallible, Willy’s efforts to cultivate and nurture Biff went awry. Realizing that his all-American football star has turned into a lazy bum, Willy takes Biff’s failure and lack of ambition as a reflection of his abilities as a father.


To Willy, diamonds represent tangible wealth and, hence, both validation of one’s labor (and life) and the ability to pass material goods on to one’s offspring, two things that Willy desperately craves. Correlatively, diamonds, the discovery of which made Ben a fortune, symbolize Willy’s failure as a salesman. Despite Willy’s belief in the American Dream, a belief unwavering to the extent that he passed up the opportunity to go with Ben to Alaska, the Dream’s promise of financial security has eluded Willy. At the end of the play, Ben encourages Willy to enter the “jungle” finally and retrieve this elusive diamond—that is, to kill himself for insurance money in order to make his life meaningful.
Linda’s and The Woman’s Stockings

Willy’s strange obsession with the condition of Linda’s stockings foreshadows his later flashback to Biff’s discovery of him and The Woman in their Boston hotel room. The teenage Biff accuses Willy of giving away Linda’s stockings to The Woman. Stockings assume a metaphorical weight as the symbol of betrayal and sexual infidelity. New stockings are important for both Willy’s pride in being financially successful and thus able to provide for his family and for Willy’s ability to ease his guilt about, and suppress the memory of, his betrayal of Linda and Biff.

The Rubber Hose

The rubber hose is a stage prop that reminds the audience of Willy’s desperate attempts at suicide. He has apparently attempted to kill himself by inhaling gas, which is, ironically, the very substance essential to one of the most basic elements with which he must equip his home for his family’s health and comfort—heat. Literal death by inhaling gas parallels the metaphorical death that Willy feels in his struggle to afford such a basic necessity.

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