A Literary Analysis of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman

Initial Reaction

When first reading Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, I was interested in this sad, yet comical character and his daydreams. I was annoyed though because many times I was unable to distinguish whether or not the main character, Willy, was daydreaming or not and which events were actually happening. For some reason, I came to identify with his son, Happy, more than the other son Biff. I just prefered his character to the other.


Authorial Background

Arthur Miller was born October 17, 1915 in New York City. Millers first successes, All My Sons and Death of a Salesman condemned the American idea of prosperity on the grounds that few can pursue it without making dangerous moral compromises. Miller wrote his works in the post-World War Il era in which communist had the nation trembling with fear. Miller even criticized the Congressional action to root out communists in his play, The Crucible, in which he depicted the Salem witch trials.

Millers other works include The Crucible, All My Sons, and Misfits.

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Literary Period

Written in New York City, Death of a Salesman was influenced by the times Miller lived in. In the post-World War II era in which communism was on everyones mind, Miller often confronted Congresss actions against communism involving civil liberties. Miller resented the treatment given by HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Commitee.



Death of a Salesman is set in 1950s New York.

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This bustling city is the perfect setting for a family torn by the changing economy of America. Here, some people are thriving, such as Willys neighbor Charley, while others, like Willy, are struggling to make ends meet. It is in New York that Biff is unable to hold a job and that Happy is able to feed his lustful appetite for women.



Willy Loman – An insecure, self-centered traveling salesman. Willy believes sincerely in the American Dream of easy success and wealth, but he never reaches it. Nor do his sons fulfill his hope that they will succeed where he has failed. When Willy’s dreams begin to fail under the trials of his life, his mental health begins to go downhill. The overwhelming tensions caused by this disparity form the main conflict of Death of a Salesman.

Biff Loman – Willys oldest son. Biff was a popular football player in high school who had plenty of friends, both male and female. He didn’t graduate, however, because he failed math. Hes lost every job hes had since then because of his habit of stealing things. He wants to move out West and go into business with his brother Happy. He never reaches the expectations that Willy has for him.

Linda Loman – Willys wife. Linda patiently put up with Willys grand day dreams. She occasionally gets caught up in Willys banter about a better life, but most often, she is more realistic than her husband. Shes been the backbone of the family through all of Willys misguided attempts at wealth and she continues to do so until Willys collapse.



The main theme of Death of a Salesman is the American Dream. Willy believes deep down in every bone in his body in the thing called the American Dream. He knows in his heart that a well liked and personally attractive man in business will deservedly attain material comfort offered in America. This dream is contradicted by the rougher dream of hard work without complaint bringing wealth. Willys blind faith in his version of the American Dream aids his swift mental deterioration when he VII.

Plot Summary

Willy Loman, a salesman, comes home early from a business trip in the middle of the night. He complains that his daydreaming is making him go off the road. His wife tells him to ask his boss for an in town job in NYC. He goes to the kitchen and becomes involved in a memory with his son Biff. He talks so loudly in this daydream that he wakes Biff and Happy up. Both are visiting. The two worry about their father and wish to go into business out west together.

Willy witnesses a scene from his memory. Biff is the high school football captain, preparing for a big game. He is also about to fail math, but Bernard, his nerdish neighbor is helping him study. Willy confesses that he is not doing well as a salesman. He then begins daydreaming about being in a hotel room with another woman.

Back in the present, Happy comes downstairs to calm his father, but is unsuccessful. The neighbor, Charley, comes in with the same intent, but Willy gets insulted when Charley offers him a job. Meanwhile, invisible to Charley, Willy’s older brother Ben has arrived from the past. Willy is trying to have a conversation with two

people at once, from different periods of his life, and ends up quarreling with Charley, who leaves. Now completely immersed in the past, Willy shows off his teenaged boys to Ben, who invites him to move to Alaska. But Willy has convinced himself he has possibilities at home.

In the present, Willy leaves the house to go on a walk. While hes gone, his family discusses the situation. Linda, his wife, tells her sons that Willy has tried to kill himself because he was placed on commission at work and cant make any money because he cant sell anything. Willy then comes into the room with the idea of opening a sporting goods business. He sends biff to Bill Oliver to ask for ten thousand dollars in capital. All say goodnight, feeling hopeful about the future.

Willy tells Linda the next day at breakfast that he will go into the city and ask Howard, his boss, for a job in the city. Linda tells him that his sons wish to treat him to dinner at a restaurant. When meeting with Howard, things do not go well and he ends up losing his job.

Ben, Willys dead rich brother, appears again, appealing for him to join him in logging in Alaska. Lindas loyalty to Willys improbable success in business convinces him to turn it down. The family then goes to watch Biffs football game.

Back in the present again, Willy has somehow made his way to his neighbor Charley’s office, where he has been coming every week for a loan so he can pretend to Linda he’s making some money. Charley’s son Bernard is there, now a lawyer on his way to Washington to try a case. Why did you turn out so well and Biff so poorly? Willy asks.

Bernard answers that Biff could have gone to summer school to make up the math course, but instead he went to Boston to see Willy, and when he came back he had “given up his life.” What happened in Boston? Bernard wants to know. But Willy becomes defensive about it, and Bernard leaves to catch his train. Charley comes in and gives Willy money. He again offers him a job but Willy refuses, though he does finally break down and admit he’s just been fired. Willy dreamily comments that after all the years it’s ironic that “you end up worth more dead than alive.

Happy finds a lady at the restaurant. Bill Oliver kept Biff waiting all day and didnt even recognize him. Biff realized that he, his brother and father had been kidding themselves for the last 15 years. Biff stole an expensive pen from Olivers office and ran. He is determined to tell Willy the truth. Willy then slips away as the boys witness him answering the voices in his head. Willy retreats to the washroom. Biff flees the restaurant followed by Happy and two girls. Willy then relives the moment when Biff discovers him in the hotel room with his mistress.

In the present, Biff and Happy return home and are kicked out of the house by Linda for abandoning their father. Willy is in the backyard planting seeds. He is conversing with Ben about a business proposition in which kills himself to collect insurance money. Biff goes outside to discuss things with his father. They argue. Biff breaks into tears and realizes that Biff does love him. In the middle of the night, Willy drives off, ending his life to bring home money for his family.



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A Literary Analysis of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. (2022, May 11). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-literary-analysis-of-death-of-a-salesman-by-arthur-miller/

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