Death of Salesman Analysis

chat on whatsapp

Summary 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

chat on whatsapp


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.



    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.

chat on whatsapp

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.