Death of a Salesman


Institutional Affiliation:


Death of a Salesman

The play ‘Death of a Salesman’ tells the story of Willy Loman and his family. They live in New York City. Willy is employed as a salesman while his wife is a homemaker who appears to have endured Willy’s dreams and actions for a long time. They have two sons, Happy and Biff. Biff had high hopes of joining college but was unable to do so because he failed in math. Happy is the elder son who feels that Biff has overshadowed him throughout his life. He is sexually promiscuous perhaps in an attempt to gain the attention denied to him at home. Linda Loman is their mother and Willy’s wife who would do anything to make her family happy (Stanton 155).

The most dominant theme in the story is that of the American dream. The family believes that they only need to be well-liked and economic prosperity will come to them. Willy thinks that good looks are what it takes to be successful and that is why he thinks that his sons are much more likely to succeed than Bernard who is very awkward and somewhat unattractive. Such beliefs are what eventually lead to Willy’s downward spiral since he finds that the realities of life do not measure up to the dreams he had for his sons, especially Biff. Charley’s son Bernard who believed in hard work grows up to become a successful attorney while Willy’s sons grow up to become failures. Their father never instilled in them the virtues of hard work.

The theme of the American dream is used in the play because it is part of the everyday life of families in the United States then and now. The story aims to emphasize that Willy’s dream was valid, but he did not go about it in the right way. He only counted on good looks and likeability as the requirements to succeed and be wealthy. Hard work is, however, the fundamental principle in the American dream, people must be willing to put in the time and effort required to make their dreams a reality.

Betrayal is another central theme in the play. The first instance of Betrayal is when Wily has an affair with another woman and cheats on his wife with her. When Biff learns about this, he is very disappointed in his father and chooses not to live his life a per his father’s dreams. He loses all hope in his father. When Willy learns that Biff is no longer willing to capitalize on his status as the high school hero, he is furious and berates Biff. He says, “’I want you to know, on the train, in the mountains, in the valleys, wherever you go, that you cut down your life for spite!” (Miller 31). Biff feels that his father’s affair is a betrayal of the whole family and thinks that his father is a fraud and a fake. Betrayal can also be seen in the relationship between Biff and Willy. Willy is of the opinion that Biff betrayed the dreams that he had laid out for Biff’s life. He refused to follow his father’s example and instead turns out to be quite a different person from what Willy had expected him to be.

The theme of betrayal in the play shows how the actions of one person can affect others. Willy had grand plans for his sons, but he ended up being disappointed when they do not follow his example and guidance. Willy was unable to deal with this, and this made him suicidal. The theme also shows how specific actions like Willy’s affair can impact the family. Biff thinks of his father as a fake and his actions exceedingly disrespectful of his mother, Linda.

The theme of love comes out especially in the actions of Willy and Linda Loman. Willy wanted his sons to be very successful, and he had unusually high hopes for Biff. While this love can be seen to be somewhat overbearing and unrealistic, Willy believed that Biff had the potential to become much more. This is what leads to his eventual disappointment in his sons and him getting out of touch with reality. Linda Loman loves her sons as well as her husband. From the play, we can tell that she is a long-suffering woman who has borne Willy’s whims and ideas for a long time.

Willy’s actions in the play are motivated by the desire to see his sons succeed in life and business. He believes that the fact that his boys are good looking and well-liked is reason enough for them to succeed. When growing up, he failed to assert the values of hard work that is necessary for success. Biff was his particular concern, leaving Happy rather forlorn and with little attention from his parents. Willy is unable to deal with the fact that Biff may not follow the path that his father had hoped. It is this sense of disappointment that leads Willy to lose touch with reality. He is unable to “handle conflicts and the realities of life” (Paulsson 43). He had delusions of grandeur for business and wealth, and when he realizes that these are not forthcoming, he becomes suicidal.

From the play, Linda is the long-suffering wife whose responsibility it is to keep her family happy and glued together. When her sons go out with their father, and they leave him, she is furious with them. She has stood by Willy throughout his many years of wild dreams so that she sometimes believes in them. However, she is “….a much more practical woman as compared to her husband, Willy” (Stanton 156). She devotes her time and energy into caring for her family as a mother and wife. When her husband dies, we can sense some relief in her. Perhaps she is relieved that she will no longer have the tiresome tasks of listening to her husband’s visions that are far from reality.

The play’s themes and characters are well developed and give insight into what life was like at the time. It emphasizes the family and how parents should let their children become what they want rather than charting out a course for them. Willy’s character offers essential lessons on what values parents should instill in their children and how to handle conflicts especially when the realities of life prove to be entirely different from one’s thoughts and imaginations.

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur, et al. Death of a Salesman. Kultur, 2004.

Paulsson, Kristin. “Ben’s Lead Role in Willy Loman’s Suicidal Mind: Exploring Death of a Salesman via Freud.” (2016).

Stanton, Kay. “Women and the American Dream of Death of a Salesman.” Death Of A Salesman (2007): 156.

Zinman, Toby. “Death of a Salesman.” The Arthur Miller Journal 10.1 (2015): 57.