A Critical Review of 'Death of a Salesman'

Is Arthur Miller's Classic Play Simply Overrated?

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Have you ever loved a rock band that had lots of great songs you cherished? But then the band’s hit single, the one everyone knows by heart, the one that gets all the airtime on the radio, isn’t a song you particularly admire?

That’s the way I feel about Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." It’s his most famous play, yet I think it pales in comparison to many of his less popular dramas. Although it’s by no means a bad play, it certainly is overrated in my view.

Where's the Suspense?

Well, you have to admit, the title does give everything away. The other day, while I was reading Arthur Miller’s esteemed tragedy, my nine-year-old daughter asked me, “What are you reading?” I replied, "Death of a Salesman," and then at her request, I read a few pages to her.

She stopped me and announced, “Daddy, this is the world’s most boring mystery.” I got a good chuckle out of that. Of course, it’s a drama, not a mystery. However, suspense is a vital component of tragedy.

When we watch a tragedy, we fully anticipate death, destruction, and sadness by the play’s end. But how will the death occur? What will bring about the destruction of the protagonist?

When I watched " Macbeth " for the first time, I guessed that it would conclude with Macbeth’s demise. But I didn't know what the cause of his undoing would be. After all, he and Lady Macbeth thought they’d never be “vanquished until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” Like the main characters, I had no idea how a forest could turn against them. It seemed absurd and impossible. Therein lay the suspense: And as the play unfolded, sure enough, the forest comes marching right up to their castle!

The main character in "Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman, is an open book. We learn very early on in the play that his professional life is a failure. He’s the low-man on the totem pole, hence his last name, “Loman.” (Very clever, Mr. Miller!)

Within the first fifteen minutes of the play, the audience learns that Willy is no longer capable of being a traveling salesman. We also learn that he is suicidal.

Willy Loman kills himself at the end of the play. But well before the conclusion, it becomes clear that the protagonist is bent upon self-destruction. His decision to kill himself for the $20,000 insurance money comes as no surprise; the event is blatantly foreshadowed throughout much of the dialogue.

The Loman Brothers

I have a hard time believing in Willy Loman’s two sons.

Happy is the perennially ignored son. He has a steady job and keeps promising his parents that he’s going to settle down and get married. But in reality, he’s never going far in business and plans to sleep around with as many women as possible.

Biff is more likable than Happy. He has been toiling on farms and ranches, working with his hands. Whenever he returns home for a visit, he and his father argue. Willy Loman wants him to make it big somehow. Yet, Biff is fundamentally incapable of holding down a 9-to-5 job.

Both brothers are in their mid-thirties. Yet, they act as though they are still boys. We don't learn much about them. The play is set in the productive years following World War II. Did the athletic Loman brothers fight in the war? It doesn’t seem like it. In fact, they don’t seem to have experienced much during the seventeen years since their high school days. Biff has been moping. Happy has been philandering. Well-developed characters possess more complexity.

By leaps and bounds, their father, Willy Loman, is the strongest, most complex character of Arthur Miller’s play. Unlike many of the show’s flat characters, Willy Loman has depth. His past is a complicated tangle of regrets and undying hopes. Great actors such as Lee J. Cobb and Philip Seymour Hoffman have mesmerized audiences with their portrayals of this iconic salesman.

Yes, the role is filled with powerful moments. But is Willy Loman truly a tragic figure?

Willy Loman: Tragic Hero?

Traditionally, tragic characters (such as Oedipus or Hamlet) were noble and heroic. They possessed a tragic flaw, usually a bad case of hubris, or excessive pride.

In contrast, Willy Loman represents the common man. Arthur Miller felt that tragedy could be found in the life of ordinary people. While I agree with this premise, I also have found that tragedy is most powerful when the main character’s choices become whittled away, much like a masterful yet imperfect chess player who suddenly realizes he is out of moves.

Willy Loman has options. He has a lot of opportunities. Arthur Miller seems to be criticizing the American Dream, claiming that corporate America drains the life out of people and casts them away when they are no further use.

Yet, Willy Loman’s successful neighbor continually offers him a job! Willy Loman declines the job without ever explaining why. He has a chance to pursue a new life, but he won't let himself give up his old, soured dreams.

Instead of taking the decent paying job, he chooses suicide. At the play’s end, his loyal wife sits at his grave. She does not understand why Willy took his own life.

Arthur Miller claims that Willy's internalization of the dysfunctional values of American society killed him. An interesting alternate theory would be that Willy Loman suffered from dementia. He exhibits many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In an alternate narrative, his sons and his ever-attentive wife would recognize his failing mental condition. Of course, this version would not qualify as a tragedy either.

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Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Death of a Salesman is that rare thing: a modern play that is both a classic, and a tragedy. Many of the great plays of the twentieth century are comedies, social problem plays, or a combination of the two. Few are tragedies centred on one character who, in a sense, recalls the theatrical tradition that gave us Oedipus, King Lear, and Hamlet.

But how did Miller come to write a modern tragedy? What is Death of a Salesman about, and how should we analyse it? Before we come to these questions, it might be worth briefly recapping the plot of what is, in fact, a fairly simple story.

Death of a Salesman : summary

The salesman of the title is Willy Loman, a travelling salesman who is in his early sixties. He works on commission, so if he doesn’t make a sale, he doesn’t get paid. His job involves driving thousands of miles around the United States every year, trying to sell enough to put food on his family’s table. He wants to get a desk job so he doesn’t have to travel around any more: at 62 years of age, he is tired and worn out.

He is married to Linda. Their son, Biff, is in his thirties and usually unemployed, drifting from one temporary job to another, much to Willy’s displeasure. Willy’s younger son, Happy, has a steady job along and his own home, and is therefore a success by Willy’s standards.

However, Happy, despite his name, isn’t happy with the life he has, and would quite like to give up his job and go and work on a ranch out West. Willy, meanwhile, is similarly dreaming, but in his case of the past, rather than the future: he thinks back to when Biff and Happy were small children and Willy was a success as a salesman.

The Lomans’ neighbour, Charley, offers Willy a job to help make ends meet, but Willy starts to reminisce about his recently deceased brother, Uncle Ben, who was an adventurer (and young Willy’s hero). Linda tells her sons to pay their father some respect, even though he isn’t himself a ‘great man’.

It emerges that Willy has been claiming to work as a salesman but has lately been borrowing money as he can’t actually find work. His plan is to take his own life so his family will receive life insurance money and he will be able, with his death, to do what he cannot do for them while alive: provide for them. Biff agrees reluctantly to go back to his former boss and ask for a job so he can contribute to the family housekeeping.

Meanwhile, Willy asks his boss, Howard, for his desk job and an advance on his next pay packet, but Howard sacks Willy. Willy then goes to Charley and asks for a loan. That night, at dinner, Willy and Biff argue (Biff failed to get his own former job back when his old boss didn’t even recognise him), and it turns out that Biff once walked in on his father with another woman.

Willy goes home, plants some seeds, and then – hearing his brother Ben calling for him to join him – he drives off and kills himself. At his funeral, only the family are present, despite Willy’s prediction that his funeral would be a big affair.

Death of a Salesman : analysis

Miller’s family had been relatively prosperous during the playwright’s childhood, but during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as with many other families, their economic situation became very precarious. This experience had a profound impact on Miller’s political standpoint, and this can be seen in much of his work for the theatre.

Death of a Salesman represented a decisive change of direction for the young playwright. His previous success as a playwright, All My Sons , was a social drama heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen, but with his next play, Miller wished to attempt something new. The mixture of hard-hitting social realism and dreamlike sequences make Death of a Salesman an innovative and bold break with previous theatre, both by Miller and more widely.

In his essay ‘ Tragedy and the Common Man ’ (1949), which Miller wrote to justify his artistic decision to make an ordinary American man the subject of a theatrical tragedy, Miller argued that the modern world has grown increasingly sceptical, and is less inclined to believe in the idea of heroes.

As a result, they don’t see how tragedy, with its tragic hero, can be relevant to the modern world. Miller argues, on the contrary, that the world is full of heroes. A hero is anybody who is willing to lay down his life in order to secure his ‘sense of personal dignity’. It doesn’t matter what your social status or background is.

Death of a Salesman is an example of this ethos: Loman, who cheated on his wife and lied to his family about his lack of work and his reliance on friends who lent him money, makes his last gesture a tragic but selfless act, which will ensure his family have money to survive when he is gone.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Miller is somehow endorsing the hero’s final and decisive act. The emphasis should always be on the word ‘tragedy’: Loman’s death is a tragedy brought about partly by his own actions, but also by the desperate straits that he is plunged into through the harsh and unforgiving world of sales, where once he is unable to earn money, he needs some other means of acquiring it so he can put food on the table for his family.

But contrary to what we might expect, there is something positive and even affirmative about tragedy, as Arthur Miller views the art form.

For Miller, in ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’, theatrical tragedy is driven by ‘Man’s total compunction to evaluate himself justly’. In the process of doing this, and attaining his dignity, the tragic hero often loses his life, but there is something affirmative about the events leading up to this final act, because the audience will be driven to evaluate what is wrong with society that it could destroy a man – a man willing to take a moral stand and evaluate himself justly – in the way that it has.

Does Willy Loman deserve to be pushed to take his own life just so his family can pay the bills? No, so there must be something within society that is at fault. Capitalism’s dog-eat-dog attitude is at least partly responsible, since it leads weary and worn-out men like Willy to dream of paying off their mortgage and having enough money, while simultaneously making the achievement of that task as difficult as possible. When a younger and better salesman comes along, men like Willy are almost always doomed.

But by placing this in front of the audience and dramatising it for them, Miller invites his audience to question the wrongs within modern American society. Thus people will gain a greater understanding of what is wrong with society, and will be able to improve it. The hero’s death is individually tragic but collectively offers society hope.

So it may be counter-intuitive to describe a tragedy like Death of a Salesman as ‘optimistic’, but in a sense, this is exactly what it is. Miller takes the classical idea of the tragic flaw, what Aristotle had called the hamartia , and updates this for a modern audience, too: the hero’s tragic flaw is redefined as the hero’s inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity and rightful status in society.

There is something noble in his flaw, even though it will lead to his own destruction. So really, the flaw is not within the individual or hero as much as in society itself.

A key context for Death of a Salesman , like many great works of American literature from the early to mid-twentieth century, is the American Dream: that notion that the United States is a land of opportunity where anyone can make a success of their life and wind up stinking rich. Miller’s weaving of dream sequences in amongst the sordid and unsatisfactory reality of the Lomans’ lives deftly contrasts the American dream with the American reality.

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1 thought on “A Summary and Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman”

This is a very insightful and convincing appreciation. What it misses is any idea that Miller’s being Jewish may have had a hand in helping him to see why the American dream and its popularity-cult needed to be criticized. The word “cult” in “populairty-cult” says it all, because “The Death of a Saleman” is at its core a play about idolatry, the Ol,d Testament theme against which its prophets railed the most.

Willy is portrayed as an idol-worshipper, whereas his friend, Charely, and Charley’s son, Bernard, are both seen as devotees of the “true” God, in whose religion the human being is always endowed with dignity and always seen as an end in himself, never as a means to some other end. The play, in fact, asks a very Jewish question. If the true God and the false god both require sacrifice, how can you ever know which is which? And its tragedy supplies us with Miller’s answer: those who worship idols discover in the end that THEY are the sacrifice!

Miller, like Philip Roth later on, was a Jewish-American inheritor of the Old Testament’s prophetic tradition, a tradition in which Amos, Isaiah, Jeremia en Ezekiel continually used their verbal art to expose Israel’s stinking moral corruption, foreseeing nothing but doom if it continued in irs idolatrous ways. Change ancient Israel to America, change the average Israelite of that time to Willy Loman now: both wind up destroying themsevles for the very same reason: with all the good will in they world, they have no self-knowledge and spend their whole lives worshipping a false god, deluded in the belief that they are worshipping the true one.

Their mistake in both cases only becomes apparent when it is time to offer the sacrifice, but by then, of course, it is always too late!

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critical essay on death of a salesman

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Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The play concludes with Willy's suicide and subsequent funeral.

Miller uses the Loman family — Willy, Linda, Biff, and Happy — to construct a self-perpetuating cycle of denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder. Willy had an affair over 15 years earlier than the real time within the play, and Miller focuses on the affair and its aftermath to reveal how individuals can be defined by a single event and their subsequent attempts to disguise or eradicate the event. For example, prior to discovering the affair, Willy's son Biff adored Willy, believed all Willy's stories, and even subscribed to Willy's philosophy that anything is possible as long as a person is "well-liked." The realization that Willy is unfaithful to Linda forces Biff to reevaluate Willy and Willy's perception of the world. Biff realizes that Willy has created a false image of himself for his family, society, and even for himself.

Willy is not an invincible father or a loyal husband or a fantastically successful salesman like he wants everyone to believe. He is self-centered. He fails to appreciate his wife. And he cannot acknowledge the fact that he is only marginally successful. Hence, Willy fantasizes about lost opportunities for wealth, fame, and notoriety. Even so, it would be incorrect to state that Miller solely criticizes Willy. Instead, Miller demonstrates how one individual can create a self-perpetuating cycle that expands to include other individuals. This is certainly the case within the Loman family. Until the end of the play, Willy effectively blocks the affair out of his memory and commits himself to a life of denial. He cannot remember what happened, so naturally he does not understand why his relationship with Biff has changed. Willy wants Biff's affection and adoration as before, but instead the two constantly argue. Willy vacillates, sometimes criticizing Biff's laziness and ineptitude, other times praising his physical abilities and ambition.

Linda and Happy are also drawn into the cycle of denial. Linda is aware of Willy's habit of reconstructing reality; however, she also recognizes that Willy may not be able to accept reality, as shown through his numerous suicide attempts prior to the beginning of the play. As a result, Linda chooses to protect Willy's illusions by treating them as truth, even if she must ignore reality or alienate her children in doing so. Happy is also a product of Willy's philosophy. Like Willy, he manipulates the truth to create a more favorable reality for himself. For example, when Happy tells everyone that he is the assistant buyer, even though he is only the assistant to the assistant, he proves that he has incorporated Willy's practice of editing facts.

Miller based Willy's character on his uncles, Manny Newman and Lee Balsam, who were salesmen. Miller saw his uncles as independent explorers, charting new territories across America. It is noteworthy that Miller does not disclose what type of salesman Willy is. Rather than drawing the audience's attention to "what" Willy sells, Miller chooses to focus on the fact that Willy is a "salesman." As a result, Miller expands the import of Willy's situation. Willy is an explorer — conqueror of the New England territory — and a dreamer, and this allows the audience to connect with him because everyone has aspirations, dreams, and goals.

Willy's despair results from his failure to achieve his American dream of success. At one point, Willy was a moderately successful salesman opening new territory in New England, and Biff and Happy viewed him as a model father. Once Biff discovers the affair, however, he loses respect for Willy as well as his own motivation to succeed. As Willy grows older, making sales is more difficult for him, so he attempts to draw on past success by reliving old memories. Willy loses the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and this behavior alienates him from others, thereby diminishing his ability to survive in the present. As the play progresses, Willy's life becomes more disordered, and he is forced to withdraw almost completely to the past, where order exists because he can reconstruct events or relive old memories.

The play continues to affect audiences because it allows them to hold a mirror up to themselves. Willy's self-deprecation, sense of failure, and overwhelming regret are emotions that an audience can relate to because everyone has experienced them at one time or another. Although most do not commit suicide in the face of adversity, people connect with Willy because he is a man driven to extreme action. An audience may react with sympathy toward Willy because he believes he is left with no other alternative but to commit suicide. On the other hand, an audience may react with disgust and anger toward Willy, believing he has deserted his family and taken the easy way out.

Either way, individuals continue to react to Death of a Salesman because Willy's situation is not unique: He made a mistake — one that irrevocably changed his relationship with the people he loves most — and when all of his attempts to eradicate his mistake fail, he makes one grand attempt to correct the mistake. Willy vehemently denies Biff's claim that they are both common, ordinary people, but ironically, it is the universality of the play that makes it so enduring. Biff's statement, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you" is true after all.

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Home › Drama Criticism › Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on July 30, 2020 • ( 0 )

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is, perhaps, to this time, the most mature example of a myth of Contemporary life. The chief value of this drama is its attempt to reveal those ultimate meanings which are resident in modern experience. Perhaps the most significant comment on this play is not its literary achievement, as such, but is, rather, the impact which it has had on spectators, both in America and abroad. The influence of this drama, first performed in 1949, continues to grow in World Theatre. For it articulates, in language which can be appreciated by popular audiences, certain new dimensions of the human dilemma.

—Esther Merle Jackson, “ Death of a Salesman : Tragic Myth in the Modern Theatre”

It can be argued that the Great American Novel—that always elusive imaginative summation of the American experience—became the Great American Drama in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman . Along with Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night , Miller’s masterpiece forms the defining myth of the American family and the American dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the play’s only rival in American literature in expressing the tragic side of the American myth of success and the ill-fated American dreamers. A landmark and cornerstone 20th-century drama, Death of a Salesman is crucial in the history of American theater in presenting on stage an archetypal family drama that is simultaneously intimate and representative, social and psychological, realistic and expressionistic. Critic Lois Gordon has called it “the major American drama of the 1940s” that “remains unequalled in its brilliant and original fusion of realistic and poetic techniques, its richness of visual and verbal texture, and its wide range of emotional impact.” Miller’s play, perhaps more than any other, established American drama as the decisive arena for addressing the key questions of American identity and social and moral values, while pioneering methods of expression that liberated American theater. The drama about the life and death of salesman Willy Loman is both thoroughly local in capturing a particular time and place and universal, one of the most popular and adapted American plays worldwide. Willy Loman has become the contemporary Everyman, prompting widespread identification and sympathy. By centering his tragedy on a lower middle-class protagonist—insisting, as he argued in “Tragedy and the Common Man,” that “the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were”—Miller completed the democratization of drama that had begun in the 19th century while setting the terms for a key debate over dramatic genres that has persisted since Death of a Salesman opened in 1949.

Death of a Salesman Guide

Miller’s subjects, themes, and dramatic mission reflect his life experiences, informed by the Great Depression, which he regarded as a “moral catastrophe,” rivaled, in his view, only by the Civil War in its profound impact on American life. Miller was born in 1915, in New York City. His father, who had emigrated from Austria at the age of six, was a successful coat manufacturer, prosperous enough to afford a chauffeur and a large apartment over-looking Central Park. For Miller’s family, an embodiment of the American dream that hard work and drive are rewarded, the stock market crash of 1929 changed everything. The business was lost, and the family was forced to move to considerably reduced circumstances in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in a small frame house that served as the model for the Lomans’ residence. Miller’s father never fully recovered from his business failure, and his mother was often depressed and embittered by the family’s poverty, though both continued to live in hope of an economic recovery to come. For Miller the depression exposed the hollowness and fragility of the American dream of material success and the social injustice inherent in an economic system that created so many blameless casualties. The paradoxes of American success—its stimulation of both dreams and guilt when lost or unrealized, as well as the conflict it created between self-interest and social responsibility—would become dominant themes in Miller’s work. As a high school student Miller was more interested in sports than studies. “Until the age of seventeen I can safely say that I never read a book weightier than Tom Swift , and Rover Boys, ” Miller recalled, “and only verged on literature with some of Dickens. . . . I passed through the public school system unscathed.” After graduating from high school in 1932 Miller went to work in an auto parts warehouse in Manhattan. It was during his subway commute to and from his job that Miller began reading, discovering both the power of serious literature to change the way one sees the world and his vocation: “A book that changed my life was The Brothers Karamazov which I picked up, I don’t know how or why, and all at once believed I was born to be a writer.”

In 1934 Miller was accepted as a journalism student at the University of Michigan. There he found a campus engaged by the social issues of the day: “The place was full of speeches, meetings and leaflets. It was jumping with Issues. . . . It was, in short, the testing ground for all my prejudices, my beliefs and my ignorance, and it helped to lay out the boundaries of my life.” At Michigan Miller wrote his first play, despite having seen only two plays years before, to compete for prize money he needed for tuition. Failing in his first attempt he would eventually twice win the Avery Hopwood Award. Winning “made me confident I could go ahead from there. It left me with the belief that the ability to write plays is born into one, and that it is a kind of sport of the mind.” Miller became convinced that “with the exception of a doctor saving a life, writing a worthy play was the most important thing a human could do.” He would embrace the role of the playwright as social conscience and reformer who could help change America, by, as he put it “grabbing people and shaking them by the back of the neck.” Two years after graduating in 1938, having moved back to Brooklyn and married his college sweetheart, Miller had completed six plays, all but one of them rejected by producers. The Man Who Had All the Luck, a play examining the ambiguities of success and the money ethic, managed a run of only four performances on Broadway in 1944. Miller went to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, tried his hand at radio scripts, and attempted one more play. “I laid myself a wager,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I would hold back this play until I was as sure as I could be that every page was integral to the whole and would work; then, if my judgment of it proved wrong, I would leave the theater behind and write in other forms.” The play was All My Sons, about a successful manufacturer who sells defective aircraft parts and is made to face the consequences of his crime and his responsibilities. It is Miller’s version of a Henrik Ibsen problem play, linking a family drama to wider social issues. Named one of the top-10 plays of 1947, All My Sons won the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award over Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. The play’s success allowed Miller to buy property in rural Connecticut where he built a small studio and began work on Death of a Salesman .

This play, subtitled “Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem,” about the last 24 hours of an aging and failing traveling salesman misguided by the American dream, began, as the playwright recounts in his introduction to his Collected Plays , with an initial image

of an enormous face the height of the proscenium arch which would appear and then open up, and we would see the inside of a man’s head. In fact, The Inside of His Head was the first title. . . . The image was in direct opposition to the method of All My Sons —a method one might call linear or eventual in that one fact or incident creates the necessity for the next. The Salesman image was from the beginning absorbed with the concept that nothing in life comes “next” but that everything exists together and at the same time within us; that there is no past to be “brought forward” in a human being, but that he is his past at every moment. . . . I wished to create a form which, in itself as a form, would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s way of mind.

The play took shape by staging the past in the present, not through flashbacks of Willy’s life but by what the playwright called “mobile concurrency of past and present.” Miller recalled beginning

with only one firm piece of knowledge and this was that Loman was to destroy himself. How it would wander before it got to that point I did not know and resolved not to care. I was convinced only that if I could make him remember enough he would kill himself, and the structure of the play was determined by what was needed to draw up his memories like a mass of tangled roots without ends or beginning.

At once realistic in its documentation of American family life and expressionistic in its embodiment of consciousness on stage, Death of a Salesman opens with the 63-year-old Willy Loman’s return to his Brooklyn home, revealing to his worried wife, Linda, that he kept losing control of his car on a selling trip to Boston. Increasingly at the mercy of his memories Willy, in Miller’s analysis, “is literally at that terrible moment when the voice of the past is no longer distant but quite as loud as the voice of the present.” Reflecting its protagonist, “The way of telling the tale . . . is as mad as Willy and as abrupt and as suddenly lyrical.” The family’s present—Willy’s increasing mental instability, his failure to earn the commissions he needs to survive, and his disappointment that his sons, Biff and Happy, have failed to live up to expectations—intersects with scenes from the past in which both their dreams and the basis for their disillusionment are exposed. In the present Biff, the onetime star high school athlete with seeming unlimited prospects in his doting father’s estimation, is 34, having returned home from another failed job out west and harboring an unidentified resentment of his father. As Biff confesses, “everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life.” His brother, Happy, is a deceitful womanizer trapped in a dead-end job who confesses that despite having his own apartment, “a car, and plenty of women . . . still, goddammit, I’m lonely.” The present frustrations of father and sons collide with Willy’s memory when all was youthful promise and family harmony. In a scene in which Biff with the prospect of a college scholarship seems on the brink of attaining all Willy has expected of him, both boys hang on their father’s every word as he exults in his triumphs as a successful salesman:

America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ’cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own.

Triumphantly, Willy passes on his secret of success: “Be liked and you will never want.” His advice exposes the fatal fl aw in his life view that defines success by exterior rather than interior values, by appearance and possessions rather than core morals. Even in his confident memory, however, evidence of the undermining of his self-confidence and aspirations occurs as Biff plays with a football he has stolen and father and son ignore the warning of the grind Bernard (who “is liked, but he’s not well liked”) that Biff risks graduating by not studying. Willy’s popularity and prowess as a salesman are undermined by Linda’s calculation of her husband’s declining commissions, prompting Willy to confess that “people don’t seem to take to me.” Invading Willy’s memory is the realization that he is far from the respected and resourceful salesman he has boasted being to his sons as he struggles to meet the payments on the modern appliances that equip the American dream of success. Moreover, to boost his sagging spirits on the road he has been unfaithful to his loving and supportive wife. To protect himself from these hurtful memories Willy is plunged back into the present for a card game with Bernard’s father, Charley. Again the past intrudes in the form of a memory of a rare visit by Willy’s older brother, Ben, who has become rich and whose secrets for success elude Willy. Back in the present Willy is hopeful at Biff’s plan to go see an old employer, Bill Oliver, for the money to start up a Loman Brothers sporting goods line. The act ends with Willy’s memory of Biff’s greatest moment—the high school football championship:

Like a young god. Hercules—something like that. And the sun, the sun all around him. Remember how he waved to me? Right up from the field, with the representatives of three colleges standing by? And the buyers I brought, and the cheers when he came out—Loman, Loman, Loman! God Almighty, he’ll be great yet. A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!

The second act shatters all prospects, revealing the full truth that Willy has long evaded about himself and his family in a series of crushing blows. Expecting to trade on his 34 years of loyal service to his employer for a nontraveling, salaried position in New York, Willy is forced to beg for a smaller and smaller salary before he is fired outright, prompting one of the great lines of the play: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit.” Rejecting out of pride a job offer from Charley, Willy meets his son for dinner where Biff reveals that his get-rich scheme has collapsed. Bill Oliver did not remember who he was, kept him waiting for hours, and resentfully Biff has stolen his fountain pen from his desk. Biff now insists that Willy face the truth—that Biff was only a shipping clerk and that Oliver owes him nothing—but Willy refuses to listen, with his need to believe in his son and the future forcing Biff to manufacture a happier version of his meeting and its outcome. Biff’s anger and resentment over the old family lies about his prospects, however, cause Willy to relive the impetus of Biff’s loss of faith in him in one of the tour de force scenes in modern drama. Biff and Happy’s attempt to pick up two women at the restaurant interconnects with Willy’s memory of Biff’s arrival at Willy’s Boston hotel unannounced. There he discovers a partially dressed woman in his father’s room. Having failed his math class and jeopardized his scholarship, Biff has come to his father for help. Willy’s betrayal of Linda, however, exposes the hollowness of Willy’s moral authority and the disjunction between the dreams Willy sells and its reality:

Willy: She’s nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.

Biff: You—you gave her Mama’s stockings!

Willy: I gave you an order!

Biff: Don’t touch me, you—liar!

Willy: Apologize for that!

Biff: You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!

Willy’s guilt over the collapse of his son’s belief in him leads him to a final redemptive dream. Returning home, symbolically outside planting seeds, he discusses with Ben his scheme to kill himself for the insurance money as a legacy to his family and a final proof of his worth as a provider of his sons’ success. Before realizing this dream Willy must endure a final assault of truth from Biff who confesses to being nothing more than a thief and a bum, incapable of holding down a job—someone who is, like Willy, a “dime a dozen,” no better than any other hopeless striver: “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!” Biff’s fury explodes into a tearful embrace of his father. After Biff departs upstairs the significance of his words and actions are both realized and lost by the chronic dreamer:

Willy, after a long pause, astonished, elevated Isn’t that—isn’t that remarkable? Biff—he likes me!

Linda: He loves you, Willy!

Happy ,deeply moved Always did, Pop.

Willy: Oh. Biff! Staring wildly: He cried! Cried to me. He is choking with his love, and now cries out his promise: That boy—that boy is going to be magnificent!

Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Plays

Doggedly holding onto the dream of his son’s prospects, sustained by his son’s love, Willy finally sets out in his car to carry out his plan, while the scene shifts to his funeral in which Linda tries to understand her husband’s death, and Charley provides the eulogy:

Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.

Linda delivers the final, heartbreaking lines over her husband’s grave: “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. . . .”


The power and persistence of Death of a Salesman derives from its remarkably intimate view of the dynamic of a family driven by their collective dreams. Critical debate over whether Willy lacks the stature or self-knowledge to qualify as a tragic hero seems beside the point in performance. Few other modern dramas have so powerfully elicited pity and terror in their audiences. Whether Willy is a tragic hero or Death of a Salesman is a modern tragedy in any Aristotelian sense, he and his story have become core American myths. Few critics worry over whether Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero, but Gatsby shares with Willy Loman the essential American capacity to dream and to be destroyed by what he dreams. The concluding lines of The Great Gatsby equally serve as a requiem for both men:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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Critical Analysis-Death Of a Salesman

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Muh arif Dermawan. S

This research aims at describing the influence of American Dream on Willy Loman’s characterization as a husband, father, and a salesman. The research applied a library research to collect information about the Death of a Salesman, American Dream and the author, Arthur Miller In doing the analysis, the writer used the structural method and sociological approach. The data were analyzed the characterization of Willy Loman by using structural approach, the writer continued her analysis to find out the influence of American Dream on Willy Loman’s characterizations by using sociological approach. The result of the research shows that Willy Loman’s characterizations are influenced by his ambition to pursue his American Dream. Willy Loman’s dream for being successful salesman and as a father makes him disappointed after he knows that he is fired from Howard’s Company and when he realizes that Biff in 34 years old does not has a proper...

critical essay on death of a salesman

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In every short story, novel, or drama, there are characters. Characters have very important role in developing the plot of the story and also learn more on how people act they do, and sometimes, by what others say about them. The aims of this research are to finds ...

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The current research examines the elements of Idealism and Realism in Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman. Miller's play is opted through purposive sampling technique. Primary source, a Play, Death of a Salesman, and secondary sources, such as dissertations, articles, thesis, and newspapers are used as an instrument for data collection. Plato's Idealism and the realism of Aristotle are used as a framework for the present work. Idealism is revealed through the analysis of the hero, Willy Loman's Character. The protagonist misunderstands American Dream, he is a dreamer salesman. He wants to become a successful businessman, but he fails. Willy lives in illusions, while the real world is absolutely different. He is the echo of postmodern American society. Realism is an important theory identified in Miller's play, Death of a Salesman. Charley is a practical character in the play, his approach is rational, practical and realistic towards life.

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Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

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Death of a Salesman Essays

Shattered dream - the delusion of willy loman james lee, death of a salesman.

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Perceptions of Self Worth and Prominence: Spaces and Settings in Death of a Salesman Lorin Veigas

A wise and possibly very cynical man once said "Nothing fails like success." Even if one is not familiar with Gerald Nachman, or the other rebel comedians of his time, we can all appreciate the clever irony in this quotation. In the complex and...

Sales and Dreams Alex Hoffer

In Arthur Miller's Play Death of a Salesman, the dreams of the major characters are the central focus of the plot. The Lomans, particularly Willy, struggle to realize their dreams while fearing that these goals are unreachable. Yet this fear is...

Musical Motifs Marleigh Russell

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a deceptively simple play. The simplicity of the play, however, quickly dissolves into a respectful ambiguity through Miller's ingenious stage directions, nonverbal expressions and, most importantly, his...

Death of A Salesman: Shifting of the American Dream Richard Salgado

From its very infancy, the American continent was often equated with boundless opportunity. In A Description of New England John Smith characterized the early colonies of 1616 as a land of economic potential, declaring that "If a man work but...

Death of a Salesman: Psychological Criticism and Deconstruction Anonymous

Arthur Miller's American masterpiece Death of a Salesman, first presented on the stage in New York City in 1949, represents a successful literary attempt at blending the themes of social and personal tragedy within the same dramatic framework. Yet...

Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' Exemplifies how Careful Attention to the Linguistic Features of a Play tell us all we need to know about Performance Kerri Margaret Scullion - Reid

A thorough analysis of the linguistic features of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) will illustrate how, for a conscientious reader, all we need to know about performance is supplied within the written text. Focusing on the dramatist's...

Society In The Crucible and Death of a Salesman Michael Brooks

Two plays by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, both contend that society is the indifferent, sometimes brutal, force that crushes an individual. Although the plays take place in different time periods, they each convey the force...

Symbolism Portrayed Through Common Objects Karen Hill

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller uses common objects as symbols of the evolving relationship between the main characters in his play. Women’s stockings and their holes symbolize the failing relationship between Willy Loman and his wife,...

House Versus Home in The Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman Anonymous

In the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, both authors use their characters’ living space, the house, as a metaphor for the attainability of the American Dream of security, wealth, and...

Fetters of the Dream: Failure and Success in Death of a Salesman Yvette Whitaker College

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a story about the futility of self-deception, but it also examines the definition of "success" in post-WWII America and the danger of suppressing one's own inclinations to meet the expectations of others....

Biff's Self-Discovery in "Death of a Salesman" Sukayna Ibrahim 11th Grade

In Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman,” Willy Loman is an individual who strives to achieve the “American Dream” in the 1940’s. This era was characterized by America’s climb out of the Great Depression in addition to its recognition as a...

Sympathy for Willy Loman Anonymous 11th Grade

Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ is a domestic tragedy that centres around the dysfunctional Loman family, most notably Willy Loman, a failed salesman so captivated by the American Dream and his desire to be a good father that it ultimately...

Is Tragedy Possible in the Modern Society Depicted in Death of a Salesman? Anonymous College

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The Redefinition of Tragedy in Death of a Salesman Anonymous College

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Emotional Intertextuality Between Death of a Salesman and The Kite Runner Haley Paige Parson 12th Grade

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The Death of Dave Singleman: A Study of Contrasts Anonymous 11th Grade

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The Crucial Need for Feminism in a Patriarchal Society: Evaluating Death of a Salesman Sofia Gemma Corsetti 12th Grade

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Forgetting Family, Finding Freedom Sarah Noor 12th Grade

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Opposite Takes on the “American Dream” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman Kevin Andrew Fagan College

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The Use of Props in Master Harold... And the Boys and Death of a Salesman Noah David Perry 12th Grade

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Capitalism as Masculine Identity in American Theater: Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross Riley Stephen Meachem College

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Father-Son Relationships in “Death of a Salesman” and “Fences” Anonymous College

In the drama Death of a Salesman, the conflict that arises from a failing paternal-son relationship is illustrated akin also to the play Fences. Both storylines follow middle-class households in the mid-20th century and the interactions between...

Fragile and Fantastic, Fake and Flawed: Two Conflicting Views of Willy Loman Sophia Nadler College

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critical essay on death of a salesman

Death of a Salesman: A Critical Analysis

Death of a salesman: a critical appreciation, search for apt values, awareness of social realities, common man’s tragedy, story of a flesh and blood human being, willy pursues a mirage, technical dexterity, an american tragedy, the play: a coherent whole, a classical tragedy, search your questions, contact form.

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Death Of A Salesman Essays

The nuances and hard truths of the american dream.

The 30th president of the United States, on January 17, 1925, remarked, “The chief business of the American people is business!” While the quote has been paraphrased throughout the decades, Calvin Coolidge’s initial meaning has stayed largely static. Indeed, business was, and still is, the beating heart of America: the buying, the selling, and the growing prosperity of all American people. The quote also shows how true progress is made through the people, and the people’s determination to better themselves […]

American Dream in Death of a Salesman

The American dream is a gift and a curse. Many Americans want to obtain the American dream, but for most the price to pay for this dream will turn it into a nightmare. The American dream has different meanings for many people. For some people it may mean becoming wealthy, and for other it may mean living a productive life that benefits society. The one thing that they both have in common is that the individual experiencing this is usually […]

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Death of a Salesman and Freud’s Analysis

Death of a Salesman in Relation to Freud’s Analysis of Id, Ego, and Superego The complexities of human nature and familial relationships drive Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Though perhaps not deliberately meant as a psychological drama in the Freudian sense, Miller nonetheless has provided decades of analysis of human relationships via this play. The playwright created perfect vehicles for analysing human traits through a dysfunctional family whose actions and interrelationships magnify the basic Freudian concept of the human […]

Death of a Salesman: Literary Analysis

Death of a Salesman Literary Analysis What would someone expect to be the outcome of a man who has given his passionate worship to the goddess of success sold out in the American promise of equality of opportunity for anyone to achieve the highest possible financial and material comfort? Such is the man, an aging father clinging on to the assurance of the reward of customer charming, who Arthur Miller depicts in his play, Death of a Salesman. A look […]

Death of a Salesman Symbol

A stage play ought to be the point of intersection between the visible and the invisible world In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie both show us a world that is as tragic as it is beautiful. These two works seem to have abounding similarity within each other’s. They are both concern dysfunctional families, the common theme of tragedy and and the bitter sweet memories of the past. But they both have their fair […]

Alaska Symbolism in Death of a Salesman

In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman we see the negative effect of having an absent parent. The main character Willy Loman is a salesman who constantly struggles with trying to be what he considers “successful,” and “well liked.” He has two sons Biff and Happy and is married to Linda. Willy also struggles between illusion and reality; he has trouble defining and distinguishing the past from the present. Between his financial struggles and not feeling like he accomplished anything, […]

Willy Loman the Death of a Salesman

To the Fathers of the Year: Death of a Salesman and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn The way a child turns out in life is shaped by the behaviors, decisions, and actions of the adults that raised them; poor parental guidance like Biff and Huckleberry Finn set the pattern of a socially, and emotionally alienated children. To have any sense of order in a family, there should be a balanced parenting style tied with the cooperation from both the parents […]

Failure of a Godly Person to Demonstrate a Lesson

Gilgamesh aspired to escape death and searched to the ends of the Earth for immortality. Icarus had a much more mundane goal, he merely wished to see the lands below him in a more glorious fashion during his flight towards his homeland. By ignoring the lesson the story is meant to convey, the protagonists of the myths experience a great fall of some sort, Icarus’ fall much more literal. While Gilgamesh’s epic contains a multitude of lessons, the primary focus […]

Death of a Salesman Willy Death

Everyone you have met in your life has lied to someone in their lifetime, whether it be a small white lie or a lie that could change your life or someone else’s life or feelings drastically. In “The Ways We Lie” by Stephanie Ericsson and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, there are many examples of lies. Death of a Salesman begins when Willy returns from work and see’s that his sons Biff and Happy are staying at the […]

Death of a Salesman Research Topics on Linda Loman

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a play starts with flute playing in the background following the main character and his journey into the unknown. It that takes place in two settings, New York, and Boston, the play is centered around an elderly man Willy Loman and his somewhat distant family his wife Linda and their two sons, Biff and Happy, occupying in the depth of his mind. Both Willy and Linda worry about their eldest son Biff and […]

Character of Willy Loman and his Behavior

Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller, was a play written in the early 1900’s. The play focuses on Willy Loman, a loving husband and father who cannot seem to catch his big break and is frustrated with the way his life ended up. He wants to pursue the American Dream but is having a hard time making his mark on the world. Willy is focused on being well liked in attempt to become a successful salesman. It is […]

The Everyman, a Moralizing Play Dominated by Allegorical Characters

Most morality plays focus on subjects such as politics and social issues or the more dominant category of good and evil, in this case, the battle for the human soul. This play is devoted to a day that every human has to confront, judgment day. Each character, both inside and out of the protagonist help to save or obstruct the path Everyman takes to reach his salvation. The play also emphasizes grim humor as it deals with death and the […]

Is Willy Loman a Tragic Character?

In the play by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, the character Willy Loman is in my view the tragic character. His problems come from the delusions in his mind, his lack of understanding towards his family and the American Dream turning into a nightmare because of his personal flaws. His way of thinking is the biggest flaw, he is always consumed with his own desires and dreams that he is stubborn enough to ignore anything that contradicts his beliefs. […]

Capitalism in the Death of a Salesman

Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Arthur Miller alludes to the American Dream in Death of a Salesmen, which has the effect of capitalism and consumerism, through the depiction of two protagonists: Willy and Biff Loman and moves to further criticize these ideas by showing the tragic end of Willy Loman. Capitalism, consumerism, and the American Dream are interlinked ideas […]

Death of a Salesman Examples

Stories can be told in many ways while still saying the same thing. Some are plays, some are novels, some are poems. Two such examples of stories which make similar statements in opposite modes of telling are those of a salesman’s death and a man named Gatsby. Death of a Salesman is more confined to reality than The Great Gatsby in its strangeness of characters and in the structure in which the story is formed. The characters, such as Gatsby […]

Reasons of Stealing Things by Biff Loman

The purpose of this essay is to analyze the reasons of stealing things by Biff Loman. Biff is one of the main characters in the play Death of a Salesman, written by Arthur Miller, an American playwright and essayist. One of the most urgent themes in the play is the generation gap between the father and his son. The play introduces Biff to the reader as Willyr’s oldest son. He is a promising football star at high school: he is […]

The Image of Arthur Miller in the Play Death of a Salesman

A misinterpretation of the American Dream and the warped idea of success can damage the human spirit. Mental instability may transform a person with optimistic views of the future, into one whose life is filled with unhappiness and despair. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the main character, Willy Loman, considered himself to be a truly lucrative salesman who was well-liked and respected by others. The play highlighted the obsession of a man with unrealistic goals who tried […]

Willie Lohman in Arthur Miller’s Play Death of a Salesman

 Loman was an assertive salesman and no matter how hard he worked he could never catch a break. He lived in the same house for years with his two sons Biff Loman, Happy Loman, and his wife Linda Loman. Willy’s life was marked by failure and a never-ending attachment to the idea of living the American dream and hitting it big. In this story Loman’s life ended in his own hands, this occurred because his dream to have a perfect […]

Arthur Miller and his Influence on History

Arthur Miller was born in New York City on October 17, 1915. His career as a playwright began while he was a student at the University of Michigan. Several of his early works won prizes, and during his senior year, the Federal Theatre Project in Detroit performed one of his works. He produced his first great success called All My Sons in 1947. Two years later, Miller wrote Death of a Salesman, which won the Pulitzer Prize and transformed Miller […]

Death is an Aspect of Life that is Inevitable

Despite how hard someone tries, they will be acquainted with the end sooner or later. Some fear death as they tremble at the thought of being trapped in their sleep forever. There are others though, who view death differently. They believe in the afterlife — that death is merely just a door for another existence. Both John Donne’s ‘Death, be not proud’ and Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ present death as an enemy of life […]

One of the Best Novels by Frank Kafka

Frank Kafka was the oldest of six siblings. He grew up in Germany as a son of a conformed Jew. He had two of his younger brothers and all three of his sisters die in concentration camps, unfortunately. He went to the University of Prague to study law and received his doctorate in 1906. He worked in insurance until 1917 then was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was forced to quit. He passed away in 1924. His home life stood out […]

One of the most Tragic Things is the Death of a Family Member.

One of the most tragic things to occur and for people to experience in life is the death of a family member. Everyone in the family suffers, as well as extended family and friends, suffer a great deal of grief. It is completely normal to grieve in different ways, nobody is the same therefore everybody has a different way of coping with such tragedies. It is especially difficult for teenagers. Adolescence is a very fragile time in which a teen […]

Economic Attitudes in the Play Death of a Salesman

The Great Depression was a time of intense economic struggle and strife. Companies went out of business, people suffered from poverty, families had to make many sacrifices and unemployment rose at alarming rates. Families struggled to pay bills and to provide for their children. Businesses attempted but later failed to provide the resources employees needed to tackle the economic hardships head-on. White-collar workers were at a loss as their weakened businesses began to fall through the cracks. The crash of […]

Paper 2 on Death of a Salesman and Death and the King’s Horseman

Drama can be said to contain something of the ritual—something to be repeated in front of an audience for a significant occasion, event, or purpose, or simply everyday routines and patterns of behavior. In what ways have at least two plays you have studied made use of the notion of ritual in this way and to what effect? Thesis: Both Death of a Salesman and Death and the King’s Horseman address the concept of ritual, through the vehicle of duty, […]

The Main Character of the Play is the Death of the Seller

Death of a Salesman is a story that follows and mainly the main protagonist, a husband, father of two boys, and salesman, Willy Loman. The play’s name has a double meaning, the death being physically real as well as metaphorical. The play is split into two acts and is followed by a requiem. The play is displayed over the course of around twenty-four hours. Starting late on a Monday evening, transpires into the following day, Tuesday throughout the whole day, […]

Comparison between “Death of a Salesman”, “Oedipus Rex”, and “A Streetcar Named Desire”

The most remarkable association between the Death of a Salesman and Street Car Named Desire is hallucination. In the Death of a Salesman, Willy, the hero, is lost in the figment that the American dream is just feasible through shallow characteristics of affability and engaging quality. He mistakes the fantasy for philistinism and he winds up harming his family because of his inability to accomplish his fantasies. In Willy’s translation, the slippery American dream calls men to be alluring and […]

Willy Loman in an all Black Production

This summer, I would like you to play the two roles of Willy Loman in an all black production Death of a Salesman, and the role of Troy Maxson in our production of Fences. Even though the Death of a Salesman is an all black cast, Willy and the story will not be any different than the original. To master Willy, he must be played as an insecure, traveling salesman. He must always sound tired, or weary. And he has […]

Willy Loman and his American Dream

Death of a Salesman In earlier years the American dream is what everyone lived for. So many get rich schemes to come out on top was the plan. Like the music industry with Joe Jackson, his American dream was his kids and the music industry. He fought so hard and worked even harder for his children to come out on top. It worked and now his last name is the biggest household name when it comes to music. Although in […]

Plot of Death of a Salesman Play

This story is based on the Death of a Salesman as the name suggests. Upon reading this I judged the story based on the title alone and I was correct. I did not know how or what lead to the death of the salesman or his or her name. As I read the story, I made a surface conclusion it was a story about the pathetic and sad life of Willy Loman, who happens to be a salesman. Upon reading […]

The Character of Willy Loma

The character Willy Loman is a shipping clerk who sells his company’s products in different cities in the United States. However, author Arthur Miller did not disclose the specific products that Willie sold, perhaps because his role represented everyone in this situation to ensure that more viewers contacted and recognized the role. Willie is involved in a customer-based sales approach. He described this type of sales throughout the script, and he described the power of sales as pretending to sell […]

Introduction for Essay

Research paper on death of a salesman, thesis statement for death of a salesman.

Death of a Salesman” is a 20th-century movie surrounding the idea of the American Dream. The movie accomplishes this by putting its audience in the shoes of sixty-three-year-old Willy Loman, a salesman who has worked for the same company for over thirty years but has struggled to make ends meet. Over the course of six months, Willy has grown tired of life, and the movie “Death of a Salesman” documents his last day before he inevitably takes his own life. Throughout the movie, Willy brings his memories into the present, providing insight into his life experiences. Given Willy’s current situation and his memories, the audience is left wondering whether he truly accomplished what he set out to achieve. Based on the evidence provided in this essay, it can be concluded that Willy did not accomplish the American Dream.

The first reason why Willy Loman didn’t achieve the American Dream was because he didn’t expect more from himself. Willy’s mediocrity is evident from the beginning of the movie, as he has worked for the same company for 34 years without significant progress in his job. Willy’s exhaustion and admission of failure can be observed in the movie when he tells Linda, “I’m tired to death… I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda” (Death of a Salesman movie).

Argumentative Essay Examples on Death Of A Salesman

Another example of Willy not pushing himself hard enough to pursue his goals is his tendency to escape into the past. This can be observed in the movie when Willy struggles to maintain his relationship with his son Biff while dealing with the trauma of losing his job. Willy runs away by flashing back to Biff’s football game, where Biff says, “That’s right, pap… And when I take off my helmet, that touchdown is for you” (Death of a Salesman movie). Willy’s inclination to escape into the past indicates his inability to face reality and confront his challenges.

Another one of Willy’s fatal flaws is his compulsive lying, which is evident throughout the movie. The first example of Willy’s lies takes place in the middle of the play when he returns home from a sales trip and discovers that Biff stole a football from his locker room, but Willy doesn’t seem to be upset about it. Instead, he establishes a false persona in front of his sons by saying, “I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own” (Death of a Salesman, written by Arthur Miller, pg. 198). It becomes clear that Willy is lying when, later in the story, he is forced to tell Linda the truth about his exaggerated number of sales because the bills are piling up faster than he can pay them off. He admits to Linda, “People don’t seem to take to me… I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me” (Death of a Salesman, written by Arthur Miller, pg. 198).

Titles: Willy’s Lack of Self-Expectations

Willy’s arrogance and a false sense of pride contribute to his downfall, as his desire to live an unrealistic lifestyle overrides his ability to gain self-awareness. Willy’s pathological lying can be seen again later in the story when his elder son Biff walks in on him with his mistress. When confronted, Willy tells the mistress to go back to her room, claiming that they were probably done painting. When Biff continues to press Willy, he continues with his lies, saying that the mistress was a buyer who lives down the hall and buys for JH Simons while they are discussing paintings (Death of a Salesman movie). Willy’s lies have a negative impact on his family’s well-being and ultimately cost Biff his football career as he resents the sport after discovering his father’s infidelity.

Willy’s False Idea of Success

Willy’s third main flaw is that he is constantly trying to be someone else and has a false idea of what it takes to be successful. This desire to be someone else is evident in the movie when Willy argues with Howard for a sales position in New York. Willy reveals his desire to be a salesperson and recounts meeting a businessman named Dave Singleman, who could sell from a hotel room at 84 years old, over the phone, to just about anyone, and Willy wanted to be like him (Death of a Salesman movie). This desire to emulate others explains why Willy never truly advanced in his job for over 30 years. Instead of focusing on being himself, Willy was too busy trying to be Dave Singleman.

Another example of Willy trying to be someone else is seen throughout the story as he attempts to live up to his brother Ben’s idea of the American Dream. This is evident when Willy calls upon Ben at the beginning of the story and asks, “Ben, how did you do it?” The scene then changes to a happier setting, and Ben replies, “I have a faulty view of geography. I went to Alaska, then I headed due South and ended up in Africa. I walked into the jungle at 17 and came out at 21, and by God, I was rich” (Death of a Salesman movie). This demonstrates the distorted perception Willy has of Ben’s success. Midway through the movie, Willy tells Ben, “It’s not what you do, Ben, it’s who you know” (Death of a Salesman movie). Willy idolizes a skilled salesman like Ben, believing that the American Dream is achieved by becoming rich and that the only way to do so is by knowing people and being well-liked. It is evident that hard work was not a priority for Willy, leading to him losing his job.

In the end, it is evident that sixty-three-year-old Willy did not come close to accomplishing the American Dream. One word to describe Willy’s approach to the American Dream would be lazy. If Willy were not lazy, he would have pursued a promotion to alleviate his financial struggles. He would not have attempted suicide multiple times, and he would have learned to respect and be true to himself. The irony of Willy’s decisions is observed when his son Happy decides to follow in his “unhappy” father’s footsteps. If Willy truly achieved the American Dream, why did he have to run away from his loving family and caring friends?

  • Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman: Critical Essay

  • Date: Jun 17, 2019
  • Category: Death of a Salesman
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The hard work of individuals to satisfy their daily routine is normally the norm of the daily life. The society is filled with many evil with competition brewing among most of its misfortunes. There is a tendency by individual to be adventurous in their daily activities with many misfortunes bearing the headlines of their task completion. Willy Loman is the central figure in the play, Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller, and is faced with several tragedies as he is exposed cheating on his wife when travelling on the road. These tragedies are depicted in the scenes that Arthur uses to present new events within the plot of the play. This paper seeks to analyze the events within the tragedy that Willy faces and their contribution to the development of the play.

There is an interplay with the flashback scenes and travels to the current time zones in retracing the steps of the main character. In the first act, several characters are introduced with Arthur depicting Willy as a family man with a wife, Linda and two sons. However, it is not a happy home as they undergo the normal arguing and family tensions that most families experience. This scene was crucial in depicting the happy environment that siblings enjoy when they are recalled to visit their parents. The characters of these individuals are reveled as Happy, one of Willy’s sons is explained as a womanizer. With his many contacts and his business, Willy introduces himself as the salesman who relies to feed his family (Bloom, 115). In the first section, the reader is meant to believe that Willy’s family is normal in operational duties and is not faced with any predicaments. However, when the flashbacks are expressed in the play, there is an image depicted of Willy when Biff exposes his travelling activities.

Biff finds out that his father had been having an affair in Boston but opted to hide it from his family. This is a true reflection of the modern society families as they hold secrets behind their successful images. It would take an unexpected turn in events to be able to reveal the misfortunes within the happy setting. Arthur explains that Willy had lied about his successes in his business venture leading his close allies and family to consider his business fulfilling. His sons had been raised to value hard work and honesty, but the revelations within Arthur’s writings reveal the irony in his teachings. Willy is a cheat and a businessman who is plunged in debts. The plot reveals a difference in character within the two sons with Happy undertaking his father’s trade in business. It can be argued that his character of being a womanizer is a depiction of his father’s practices, as he is revealed as an unfaithful husband to Linda. Biff is the key to revealing Willy’s downfall with a radical confrontation building between the two.

Arthur’s play serves to communicate to the society that, behind every successful story, there is a twist that would depict an ironical situation. Willy is full of enthusiasm in raising his children, but all this while he had been a corrupt and selfish father. Despite his misfortune, he struggles to create a healthy and comfortable lifestyle for his family. These events are a reflection of the American society where there is a boundary created between achieving success and reality in life (Miller, 24). There is no struggle that does not bear painful experiences in achieving happiness (Sterling, 81).

The play ends with a tragedy when Willy decides to commit suicide hence the title death of a salesman (Miller, 46). He had no genuine friends to attend his funeral attended by his brother Charlie and his family. Arthur explains that there arise situations in an individual’s life when, he must put his desires aside to satisfy the family and atones for their mistakes. According to Willy, his actions would lead to an insurance compensation to his family and sparing the shame in the scandal that his life had been based. The book is inspirational as it depicts the harsh reality in the society among struggling families.

Work Cited Bloom, Harold. Arthur Millers Death of a salesman. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. London : Penguin, 1949. Sterling, Eric. Arthur Millers Death of a salesman. Amsterdam Area: Rodopi, 2008.

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Death of a Salesman Essay Examples and Topics

by Arthur Miller

Personality Analysis of Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman

The work disembowels everything that surrounds the individual: his own identity, his family environment, and his professional career. Arthur Miller, the author, chooses a man on the verge of retirement to build his representation of failure. The protagonist is one of many men: married, with…

Self-Destruction in Death of a Salesman and the Stone Angel

Though often unintentional, individuals can be responsible for their own devastating turn of events. This is best exemplified in Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller and The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence. Death of a Salesman follows the life of Willy Loman, a failing…

Suffering in Death of a Salesman

The tragic actionist death of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman causes suffering to others. Arthur Millerś 1949 play showcases the mental instability of a man with a failing dream. Due to this his wife and kids are left baffled and appalled. Although his…

Death of a Salesman -tragedy Play

Death of a Salesman is a tragedy play that focuses on the difference between the dreams of the New York family and the realities of their lives. The play was featured in the 1940s with the aim of mocking the American dreams and of the…

Character Analysis of Willy Loman in the Death of a Salesman

The play/novel I have chosen is Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. The main reason why I would teach this book is because of the plot. The protagonist is Willy Loman, he is a near retirement travelling salesman and has been for thirty years….

Hamlet and Death of a Salesman Analysis

Death of a Salesman analysis tells the story of a man who was on the verge of losing everything. Set in the backdrop of New York and Boston, Willy Lowman is an old salesman who refuses to accept the truth about his reality. Being liked…

Imagery in Death of a Salesman

I saw the play directly from Canvas by the link that is provided in the modules section. The name of the play that I saw is Death of a salesman. Arthur Miller is the playwright of this play. Thursday, 25 March is the date I…

Introducing the Great American Dream in 'Death of a Salesman American Dream'

The american dream can be defined as “a happy way of living that can be achieved by anyone by working hard and becoming successful”. The vigorous journey of the pursuit of the American Dream can be achieved by any individual who is willing to invest…

The Misguided American Dream: Criticism of 'The American Dream' in 'Death of a Salesman'

The American dream is something every American strives to achieve. “Most American believe that everyone has the right to pursue success but that only some deserve to win, based on their talent, effort, or ambition. The American dream is egalitarian at the starting point in…

Stolen Pen as a Symbol in Death of a Salesman

In Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, one major symbol that strongly contributes to the work as a whole would be the pen that Biff had stolen from Bill Oliver’s office, due to its significant turning point in the story and the representation of materialism,…

Nostalgy in a Play Death of a Dream

In the play, Death of a Salesman by Author Miller, the play focuses on the nostalgic dreams of the main character. The Lomans, especially Willy, pay particular attention to these dreams while fearing that these goals are unreachable. Yet this fear is necessary to the…

Important Quotes in Death of a Salesman

The first person I chose was Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben is Willy’s older brother. Ben has died and appears in Willy’s dreams. Willy looks at Ben as a symbol of the success that he dreams about for himself and his sons. The first quote is…

Effects of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act

Immediately following World War II, many white, middle class families achieved political and economic stability through the benefits granted by the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act. Meanwhile, groups lacking access to said assistance, due to discrimination, countered through creation of the feminist movement, Civil Rights movement and…

Dreams and Happiness in "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller

People often find their truest happiness when they are pursuing their dreams. But to find their happiness, they must first obtain an appropriate dream for themself. If one is unable to discover the appropriate dream for themself they will not be able to obtain the…

Waiting for Godot: the Elements that Make It a Tragedy

Much like realism found in art, tragedy is a style of drama that aims to bring the viewer through a series of realistic, often melancholy, events and emotions. This essay will analyze some of the elements of tragedy, particularly as defined by Aristotle, and argue…

Arthur Miller

February 10, 1949

The waning days of a failing salesman

Willy Loman, Linda Loman, Biff Loman, Happy Loma, Ben Loman, Bernard, Charley, The Woman, Howard

The theme of Death of a Salesman is Miller's criticism of capitalism. The author tries to express that the American Dream does not happen to everybody.

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Death of a Salesman

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Suggested Essay Topics

1. Willy recalls his sons’ teenage years as an idyllic past. What evidence can we find to show that the past is not as idyllic as Willy imagines it to be?

2. What evidence can we find to show that Willy may have chosen a profession that is at odds with his natural inclinations?

3. Why does Willy reject Charley’s job offer?

4. How does Willy’s interview with Howard reveal that Willy transfers his professional anxieties onto his relationship with his family and conflates the professional and personal realms of his life?

5. What evidence can we find to show that Willy misses the distinction between being loved and being well liked? What are the consequences of Willy’s failure to distinguish between the two?

6. How is Willy’s retreat into the past a form of escape from his unpleasant present reality? How does it function as a way for Willy to cope with the failure to realize his ambitions?

7. How does Willy’s desperate quest for the American Dream resemble a religious crusade?

Death of a Salesman SparkNotes Literature Guide

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  1. Death of a Salesman Critical Essays

    Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller Start Free Trial Analysis PDF Share Death of a Salesman raises many issues, not only of artistic form but also of thematic content. Dramatically...

  2. A Critical Look at 'Death of a Salesman'

    The main character in "Death of a Salesman," Willy Loman, is an open book. We learn very early on in the play that his professional life is a failure. He's the low-man on the totem pole, hence his last name, "Loman." (Very clever, Mr. Miller!)

  3. Major Themes in Death of a Salesman

    Death of a Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The three major themes within the play are denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder.

  4. A Summary and Analysis of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

    Death of a Salesman is that rare thing: a modern play that is both a classic, and a tragedy. Many of the great plays of the twentieth century are comedies, social problem plays, or a combination of the two. Few are tragedies centred on one character who, in a sense, recalls the theatrical tradition that gave us Oedipus, King Lear, and Hamlet.

  5. Death of a Salesman: Sample A+ Essay: Willy Loman's Constant

    To an unusual degree, The Death of a Salesman interweaves past and present action. Willy Loman, the play's protagonist, repeatedly revisits old memories, sometimes even conflating them with the present moment. But these memories are not the sentimental, slightly melancholy daydreams of a contented man.

  6. Death of a Salesman

    Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. The play concludes with Willy's suicide and subsequent funeral.

  7. Death of a Salesman Sample Essay Outlines

    Topic #1 Death of a Salesman encompasses two different moments in time, approximately seventeen years apart. The scenes of the earlier period occur as flashbacks and may even be considered...

  8. Analysis of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

    A landmark and cornerstone 20th-century drama, Death of a Salesman is crucial in the history of American theater in presenting on stage an archetypal family drama that is simultaneously intimate and representative, social and psychological, realistic and expressionistic.

  9. Death of a Salesman Study Guide

    Summary Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides. Death of a Salesman: Introduction A concise biography of Arthur Miller plus historical and literary context for Death of a Salesman. Death of a Salesman: Plot Summary

  10. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller Plot Summary

    Act 1 Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, returns home to Brooklyn early from a sales trip. At the age of 63, he has lost his salary and is working only on commission, and on this trip has failed to sell anything.

  11. Death of a Salesman Act 2 Summary & Analysis

    At Frank's Chop House, Happy banters with Stanley, a waiter he knows. When Biff arrives, Happy is flirting with an attractive girl, Miss Forsythe. She claims to be a cover model, while Happy says that he is a champagne salesman. Happy introduces Biff as a quarterback for the New York Giants.

  12. Critical Notes On Death Of A Salesman English Literature Essay

    Death of a Salesman, though realistic, is mostly conveyed expressionistically through Willy Loman's mind and memory. As Willy becomes more and more absorbed by incidents from his past, the action progressively takes place in his mind. The play becomes a collage of memories with rapid, surreal shifts in setting and time.

  13. (DOC) Critical Analysis-Death Of a Salesman

    The research applied a library research to collect information about the Death of a Salesman, American Dream and the author, Arthur Miller In doing the analysis, the writer used the structural method and sociological approach. The data were analyzed the characterization of Willy Loman by using structural approach, the writer continued her ...

  14. Death of a Salesman Essays

    These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman essays are academic essays for citation. Best summary PDF, themes, and quotes.

  15. Death of a Salesman: A Critical Analysis

    In Death of a Salesman the author has been able to present to us, a common man's tragedy. As its author himself says, it is an exceptionally good example of the so-called middle-class tragedy. "It depicts the fate and the final ending of a commonplace man in a commonplace environment.". This play belongs to the category of plays that ...

  16. Death of A Salesman Analysis Essay

    Death of a Salesman Literary Analysis What would someone expect to be the outcome of a man who has given his passionate worship to the goddess of success sold out in the American promise of equality of opportunity for anyone to achieve the highest possible financial and material comfort?

  17. Death of a Salesman: Critical Essay

    The play ends with a tragedy when Willy decides to commit suicide hence the title death of a salesman (Miller, 46). He had no genuine friends to attend his funeral attended by his brother Charlie and his family. Arthur explains that there arise situations in an individual's life when, he must put his desires aside to satisfy the family and ...

  18. Death of a Salesman Essay Examples and Topics at Eduzaurus

    1168. Though often unintentional, individuals can be responsible for their own devastating turn of events. This is best exemplified in Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller and The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence. Death of a Salesman follows the life of Willy Loman, a failing…. 3 Pages 1321 Words Topics: Dream, Protagonist, Tragedy.

  19. Death of a Salesman: Suggested Essay Topics

    Suggested Essay Topics. 1. Willy recalls his sons' teenage years as an idyllic past. What evidence can we find to show that the past is not as idyllic as Willy imagines it to be? 2. What evidence can we find to show that Willy may have chosen a profession that is at odds with his natural inclinations? 3. Why does Willy reject Charley's job ...