"Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller

Analyse av Death of a Salesman.
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Reality versus illusion

Death of A Salesman has several themes that run throughout the play. The most obvious theme is the idea of reality versus illusion. Though Linda, Biff and Happy are all unable to separate reality from illusion to some degree, Willy is the main character who suffers from this ailment. For years, Willy has believed that both he and his boys (particularly Biff) will one day be great successes. Though he’s a disrespected salesman, he calls himself the “New England man.” Though Biff has done nothing with his life by the age of thirty-four, Willy tells others and tries to make himself believe that his son is doing big things” out west. Willy’s brother, Ben, continually appears in the troubled man’s mind, offering hints on how to make it in the world of business. Willy feels that he must live up to the standard that Ben has set, but this is found to be impossible by the end of the play. Only Biff ever realizes who he is (“a dime a dozen”) and what his potential really is. He is the only member of the family to finally escape from the poisonous grasp of illusion.


American Dream

One of Miller’s secondary themes is the idea of the American Dream. Throughout his play, Miller seems to criticize this ideal as little more than a capitalist’s paradigm. Though Willy spends all of his adult life working for a sales company, this company releases the salesman when he proves to be unprofitable. Willy confronts Howard, his boss (and Miller indicates free market society), when he charges, “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit.” Here, Willy feels that Howard has gone back on his father’s word by forgetting him in his golden years, throwing away the peel after eating the orange, so to speak. Thus, Willy is unable to cope with the changing times and the unfeeling business machine that is New York.


Personality wins the day

The idea that “personality wins the day” is one such flaw in Willy’s logic. Indeed, substance, not personality or being well liked, is what wins the day. Charley and Bernard, who have success but not personality, prove to Willy that his notion is incorrect. But unfortunately, Willy never understands this, and so goes to his grave never truly realizing where he went wrong.



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



The story starts in a little house in an American city. The house is covered by large houses, “sky scrapers”. The house is small and not very good looking house. In the yard you have no tries or plants.




Willy Loman

Willy Loman is the main character, and he is a salesman. He has some serious problems in his life. Willy has big problems dividing imagination and reality. He is married with a woman called Linda, and they have 2 sons, Biff and Happy. Willy is not a successful salesman, nor a successful father. Trough his entire life he thinks his son Biff, will become a big salesman. But Biff is now almost 35 years old, and hasn’t accomplished anything yet. If you take a quick look at Willy’s last name, Loman, you can also see that it’s almost like Willy “Low Man”. That’s a fact in his life that he never wants to realise. Willy Loman is a proud man, but not a very wealthy man. Willy’s failure to recognize the anguished love offered to him by his family is crucial to the climax of his torturous day, and the play presents thus incapacity as the real tragedy. Despite this failure, Willy makes the most extreme sacrifice in this attempt to leave an inheritance that will allow Biff to fulfil the American Dream.


Biff Loman

That’s Willy Loman first born child. All his life he is been told by his father that he is going to be big and wealthy. His father always talks about how big he is and so on. Therefore Biff also starts to believe it. But after years of failure Biff on day realize that he is nothing. Biff Loman tries to tell his father that he is nothing, and that he also has to stop to believe it. Unlike Willy and Happy, Biff wants to tell the truth, not the “wanted truth”. While his father and brother are unable to accept the miserable reality of their respective lives, Biff acknowledges his failure and eventually manages to confront it. Consequently, Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, while Biff sees himself as trapped in Willy’s grandiose fantasies. Biff determines to break trough the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to come to realistic terms with his own life.


Happy Loman

Happy is very much alike with his father. Instead of telling the truth, happy will tell you what you want to hear. In therefore make you and him self happy, instead of telling the truth and be sad for a moment or two. That’s maybe why the author chosen to call him for Happy.


Happy has trough his life lived in the shadows of his brother, but doesn’t seems to have any problems with it. He is a shallow man, and likes shallow women. He is also ha Loman failure, and is not married and lives home with his parents at the age of 28. He does share Wills capacity for self-delusion, trumpeting himself as the assistant buyer at his store, when, in reality, his is only an assistant to the assistant buyer.



Charley is Willy’s neighbour and only friend. He offers Willy a job when the old salesman is fired, but Willy can’t bring himself to work for Charley, since this would be admitting failure. Throughout the play, Charley tries to give Willy constructive criticism, hoping to get him on the right track. Thus, Charley symbolizes the reality that Willy never acknowledges.



Ben is Willy’s rich, older brother who left him at an early age to make his fortune in Alaska and Africa (the wild frontiers). Many critics believe that Ben is nothing more than a figment of Willy’s imagination, yet to Willy, Ben is very real. Ben is the driving force behind Willy’s idea of success. Willy feels that, like his older brother who has struck it rich with diamond mines in Africa, he must establish himself as a rich and powerful businessman in New England. So in many ways, Ben is the symbol of the standard of success that proves too hard for Willy and his sons to match.





The story starts at present-day and Willy then lapses in and out of the past. Each flashback is somehow related the present. Very often, the contents of the flashback offer essential background knowledge for understanding why the present-day problems in the Loman family are occurring. For example, when Willy is thinking about Biff and Biff's problems, Willy is transported to the summer of Biff's senior year. The events that took place in the past expose for the reader the situations that have led up to the present-day boiling point in the Loman household.




Mythic Figures

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


The American West, Alaska, and the African Jungle

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






The woods/jungle and diamonds

Uncle Ben is the character who deals with the motif  of the jungle (sometimes referred to by Willy as 'the woods') and diamonds. These motifs are symbols. The jungle is symbolic of life, and diamonds of success. As Willy's life is crashing down around him, he says, "The woods are burning! I can't drive a car!" At the end of the play (and many other places as well) Uncle Ben refers to the jungle: "You must go into the jungle and fetch a diamond out."


The garden

The idea of planting a garden is a major motif in the play. Willy is always discussing the idea of planting a garden, in Act I on page 17 he says, "The grass don't grow anymore, you can't raise a carrot in the backyard." At the end of the play, one of his last acts in life is his futile attempt at planting seeds in the backyard of his fenced-in house. The garden is symbolic of Willy needing to leave something behind for people to remember him by. Something that people will think about and remember him as a great man. Willy never achieved success in life, and he also never planted his garden. (He does in the end of the play, but it is assumed that will not grow.)



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

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