Death of a salesman
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Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller American Drama. Modern American Drama Historical Background. Great Depression (1930s to middle 1940s) Fall in stock prices , stock market crash American Dream

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Death of a Salesman

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Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller

American Drama

Modern American DramaHistorical Background

  • GreatDepression (1930s tomiddle 1940s)

    • Fall in stockprices, stock market crash

  • AmericanDream

    • Life should be betterandricherand fuller foreveryoneregardless of socialclass.

  • Afterthe WWII andGreatDepression, Americans had a surplus of goodsandservices (Theeconomicboom)

    • Inflationkeptpoorercitizensfromsavinganymoney, andsmallfarmersfaced hard times as corporatefarmersweresupportedbythegovernment.

Modern American DramaTheStyle

  • Realism is primary form of dramatic expression in the 20th century, even as experimentation in both the content and the production of plays became increasingly important.

  • Such renowned American playwrights as Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller reached profound new levels of psychological realism, commenting through individual characters and their situations on the state of American society in general.

  • The American family, and its development and disintegration, was a recurring theme of playwrights at this time, and it would dominate much American playwriting for the rest of the 20th century.

Arthur Miller

  • Son of a Jewishimmigrantfamily.

  • His father’sfailureandwithdrawalfromtheworld of business had profoundeffect on him. (WillyLoman)

  • Represents his ownrelationwith his father

  • Mostlyinterested in currentevents, socialinjustice/inequality

Death of a Salesman

  • Themasterpiece of Miller, cornerstone of contemporaryAmerican Drama

  • It has becomeone of themostperformedandadaptedplays in Americantheatricalhistory

  • Portrayingtheuniversalhopesandfears of middle-classAmerica.

  • Examiningthemyth of theAmericanDreamandtheshallowpromise of happinessthroughmaterialwealth.

Death of a Salesman

  • People can relatethistotheirowncompromisedidealsandmissedopportunities.

  • Theplaydeals in weightyemotionalissueswithoutdescendingto melodrama

  • Twoactsand a Requiempart, a realist playwithsomeelements of expressionism

    • When it depictsimaginarysequencesandportraysfortheaudiencetheinnerworkings of thecharacter’smindsandtheiremotions.

An Overview

  • The character Willy, his sons Biff and Happy in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller have lived a life reflecting the common American middle-class families with their conflicts and dreams of success. The father Willy has always been under the spell of American Dream which is about to fade away in the post-war era. His son Happy thinks nearly the same with his father unlike his older brother Biff who finds his father’s dreams vain and rejectshis father’s expectations on him.

An Overview

  • Death of a Salesman is a work belonging not only to the time it is written but also today. The family has always been the core of the society with its economic, educational and moral sides. If the family corrupts then the society will collapse. In Death of a Salesman, the fatherWilly brings up his sons disregarding the society’s norms over his dreams, he never sees that the values he believes changed and the dreams he follows do not exist anymore. He spent his entire life on believing the dream of success that never comes as it is never supported by solid reality and facts. In the end, Willy commits suicide by crashing his car and Miller concludes the lifetime tragedy with a more tragic incident.



  • A salesman, sixty-threeyearsold

  • He cannotfacetherealitythat he has misdirectedenergiesandtalentschasing a dreamthatnever had anychance of materializing.

  • Willy’sflashbacksandfantasiescomprimise a largepart of theplayandinformtheaudienceabout his past.


  • Inthescenestakingplace in present time, Willy is highlyemotional, unstable, uncertain at times, highlycontradictoryandseemsworndownby life.

  • In his flashbacksandfantasies, Willy is a morelovingfatherandhusband, a morecapableprovider, he is cheerfulilight-hearted, and self-assured.


  • He failstoliveup, with his death, tolive his familywith a sizableanount of cash, namely $20,000 life insurancepayoff, Willycommitssuicide.

  • ManycriticshaveassertedthatWilly is a modern tragichero, andthat his tragedylies in his belief in an illusoryAmericanDream.

  • WouldyoublamethesocietyforWilly’stragedy? Ifso, why? If not, why?

  • Miller assertsthatafterseeingDeath of a Salesman,theaudiencemembers

    “wereweepingbecausethecentralmatrix of theplay is.. whatmostpeopleareupagainst in theirlives.. Theywereseeingthemselves, not becauseWilly is a salesman but thesituation in which he stoodandtowhich he wasreactingagainsthim, thecentralsituation of contemporarycivilization. It is thatwearestrugglingwithforcesthatare far greaterthanwe can handle, with no equipmenttomakeanythingmeananything.”


  • Longsuffering, devotedwife

  • Speakscarefullyand has a quietmanner

  • Takescare of Willy not toraise his temperandcontinuoslypresents a cheerful, hopefulapperance.

  • She has tremendouspatienceandserves as thefamilypeacemaker.


  • Sheknowsthedreams of her husbandandsonsandknowsthattheyaredeluded but keepsbolstertheirfantasiesbelievingthatshe is doingthebest.

  • Sherepresentshumandignityandvalues: cooperative, moral, humanbehaviour as opposedtolawlessassertion of self overallothersthroughassumedsuperiority.


  • Willy’seldest son, once a highschoolfootball idol

  • In his midthirties, lost his youthfulconfidenceandenthusiasm; oftenappears as a troubled, frustrated, deeplysadmanwith a tendencytoescapeintodreams at times.

  • He wasbetrayedby his father at a veryyoungagewhen he discoveredthatWillywashaving an affair.


  • Biff, whostealsthings as an adult, blamesgisfatherfor not givinghimtheproperguidancewhen he wascaughtstealing as a child.

  • He alsoblames his fatherforinstilling in himthebeliefthatsuccesslies in theaccumulation of wealth.

  • He is veryunhappyandcannotenjoydoingtheoutdoorlaborforwhich he has a talent.


  • He has a greatloveforWillyandthatcreates in himtremendousconfusionandemotionalturmoil.

  • He ultimatelydecidestotrytoshowWillythat his dreamsandfantasiesarefalse. He observesthatWilly “neverknewwho he was” andthat he “had thewrongdreams.”


  • Theyounger of Willy’ssons; he has grownup in theshadow of his olderbrother.

  • In his earlythirties, even-temperedandamiable, a womanizer

  • He appearsmorecontentthanBiff but at theplay’send he is drawninto his father’sillusions.

  • “I ‘m gonnashowyouandeverybody else thatWillyLomandid not die in vain.”

Ben Loman

  • Willy’solderbrother, forWilly, he is theembodiment of success. (owner of timberlands in Alaskaanddiamondmines in Africa.)

  • He appears in sceneswhichtakeplace in Willy’simagination.

  • Powerful, a greatadventurer, he is everythingWillydreams of becoming.

Ben Loman

  • His primary role in theplay is toserve as a sounding board forWilly.

  • Theaudiencegains a betterunderstanding of whatdrivesWillyand of his innerthoughts.

  • Willy, excitedby his brother’sstories, responds:

    “That’sjustthespirirt I wanttoimbuethem [HappyandBiff] with. Towalkinto a jungle!”


  • Willy’sonlyfriend, and his solefinancialsupport, loaninghim “fiftydollars” a week.

  • He is a succesfulbusinessmanandtriestosaveWillyfrom his dreams, he offersWillycompassionandsupport.

    “Theonlythingyougot in thisworld is whatyou can sell. Andthefunnything is thatyou’re a salesman, andyoudon’tknowthat.”


  • The son of Charley, Willy’sonlyfriendandsupporteroutside of his family.

  • He wasquite, dependable but a top student.

  • As an adult he displaystheintelligence, self-confidence, andperceptionthathavehelpedhimbecome a succesfulattorney.

  • He contrastssharplywithBiffandHappy.


  • Howard Wagner


  • TheWoman

    -Willy has an affairwith her. He gives her expensivenylonstockingswhichwererareafter WWII.

    -Sheappears in flashbackscenes, whichserve as a piercingpainfulremindertoWilly.


  • Stanley; thewaiter at therestaurant

  • Letta; prostitute

  • MissForsythe; prostitute

  • Jenny; Howard’ssecretary


  • Appearance vs Reality

    -Willy is havingdifficultydistinguishingbetweenwhat is realandwhat he wishesreal. (Delusions)

    -Willyimaginesconversationswith his deadbrother, Ben, whichdemonstrates his fragile grip on reality.

    -BiffandHappythink of themselvessuperiortootherswithoutanyrealevidence.

Individual vs Society

  • Willystrugglestowinoverclientsandbecome a truesuccess. He worriesincessantlyabouthow he is perceivedbyothers, andblames his lack of success on variety of superficialthings;

    • Such as; thefactthat he talkstoomuchsopeople do not takehimseriously.

Individual vs Society

  • Willy’sfailure is as a result of his inabilitytoseehimselfandtheworld as theyreallyare:

    • Willy’stalentslie in areasotherthansales, andthebusinessworld no longerrewardssmooth-talking, charismaticsalesmen, but insteadlooksforspeciallytrained, knowledgeable men topromoteitsproducts.


  • Willy’squesttorealizewhat he views as theAmericanDream –the “self-mademan” whorisesout of povertyandbecomesrichandfamous- is a dominant theme in Death of a Salesman.

  • In 1920s, theAmericanDreamwasrepresentedby Henry Ford, who has a greatsuccess in theautomotiveindustry.


  • Also in 1920s, a career in saleswasbeinghailed as a wayfor a manwithouttrainingoreducationtoachievefinancialsuccess.

  • Pamphlets, lecturesandcoursespromotingstrategiesforimprovingtheskills of salesmanwerewidelydistributedandthesestrategiesfocused on teachingsalesmanhowtoeffectivelymanipulatetheirclients.

  • However in 1940s, thejob market andtheprevailingbeliefhavechangedandsalesmenrequiredspecializedknowledgeandtraining in ordertosucceed.

  • Comparetheconcept of AmericanDream in Death of a SalesmanwithPhiladelphia Here I Come.

ExtraInformation on thePlay

  • Miller includesinstructionsthattheonlysubstantialpart of the set should be theLomanhome, andallotherlocalesshould be merelyhinted at byusingchanges in lightingorsettingup a fewchairsor a table.

    Inthisway, theaudience can clearlyseewhichevents on stagearetakingplace in reality, andwhichevents on stagearetakingplace in reality, andwhicharetakingplace inside of Willy’smind.

ExtraInformation on thePlay

  • Miller’smethod of flashingbackandforthbetweenthepastandthepresent, andbetweentheimaginaryandtherealistic, allowstheaudiencetowitnesshow a lifetimedisappointment, delusion, andfailurehaveledtothecurrentsituation, andshowsfacets of eachcharacterthatwould not havebeenrevealedifonlythepresent-dayoccurences had beenportrayed.

  • Because of thewaytheplay is constructed, theaudience can seewhatthecharactershavebecomeandwhatexperiences, thoughts, andemotionsledthemtotheirpresentstate.


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