.. ne, and Id like you to try my brand. Bring her a champagne, Stanley” (Act 2, Scene 7). Most of the action takes place inside of Willys disturbed mind, as he relives crucial scenes from the past even while groping through present-day encounters. The rest of the action takes place in the kitchen and two bedrooms of Willys modest Brooklyn home. It was once in a suburban area but is now crowded in by high apartment buildings, “The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks” (Act 1, Scene 1).
The kitchen has a table in it with three chairs and a refrigerator. No other fixtures are in the kitchen. There is a living room in the house, which is not fully furnished. The boys bedroom has a bed with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed is a silver athletic trophy.
This setting shows the monetary restrictions on the Loman family. Howards office is filled with expensive things that make him feel “rich”. This setting is another way for Miller to show the spite he feels towards people who put too much emphasis on material gain. One of the things in his office is a recording machine which Howard is obsessed with, “This is the most fascinating relaxation I ever found” (Act 2, Scene 2). Franks Chop House is a small, family run business with a small dining room.
This setting is important because it serves as the location where Biff and Happy desert their father. The Boston hotel room has a bed, bathroom, and a small dresser. This setting serves as the place where Biff loses all his faith in his father, “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!” (2, 13) Willy is a broken exhausted man in his 60s, soon to end his life. He exaggerates and lies throughout his life to appear more well off. This stems from his feelings of failure. He worked steadily for thirty-six years at a job and has paid off a long-term mortgage.
Even though he has supported his family, his own huge aspirations make him feel like he has been a failure. He also has bad moral values and continuously gives his children the wrong advice. Willy had, at one point in his life, been a very confident man, but is now weak of both mind and body, as Linda expresses here, “But youre sixty years old. They cant expect you to keep traveling every week.” (1, 1). He wants Biff to love him but knows why Biff is so angry with him.
He wants Biff to have a good life so decides to kill himself and get the insurance policy for Biff and Happy. Once he sees that Biff loves him, he says “Biff, he likes me” (2, 14), with a great look of joy on his face. Biff probably changes for the best as the play progresses. From a lying, stealing person in the beginning he changes in the end to where he is reaching for a more realistic idea of what his life is all about. Biff cared for his father and was deeply hurt to see that his father, the man he admired most, was capable of infidelity and lying to his wife.
He tended to go to extremes, though. His passionate insistence, toward the end, that he is “nothing,” or that he and his father are both “a dime a dozen,” still sounds a little like the uncompromising disclaimer of the younger Biff who had sobbingly burned his sneakers. Now he sees his fathers dreams as “All, all wrong.” Yet although he still talks a little like the sports hero, he is now groping toward a more realistic, more mature self-appraisal. He realizes that neither Willy nor Happy will ever even get that far. Happy, at first, seems to understand life better than either Biff or Willy, but then it is shown that he is a very accomplished liar. He has all but convinced himself that he is slated to become his stores next merchandise manager. He cannot quiet his own scruples, he knows he is wrong when he takes bribes, and he has some sense of guilt regarding the seduction of other mens fiances, but does not stop either practice.
He refuses to face unpleasant truths and is always trying to impress people. Whatever occasional admissions he makes, he will not give up his dream world or his shabby sexual affairs. He may talk of changing his ways or getting married, but he never sounds convincing. He is finally seen rejecting Biffs invitation to start anew and prefers to justify Willys illusive dream of coming out”number-one man” (Requiem). Unlike Biff, Happy learns relatively little from witnessing his fathers collapse.
Linda is primarily a wife rather than mother in this play. If she is seen as motherly, her ministrations are for Willy rather than her sons. She is forever soothing, flattering and tactfully suggesting courses of action to Willy. She is almost always patient and kind to him, ignoring his minor outbursts and considerately accepting with grace such obvious deceptions as the burrowing of money from Charley. Linda loves Willy and regards his suffering with compassion. But she humors him as a child rather than meeting him squarely as an adult. Yet the same mild-mannered, gentle Linda can be surprisingly blunt and harsh, though, when she talks with her sons.
She once tells Happy to his face that he is a “philandering bum” (Act 1, Scene 9). After the restaurant disaster, she denounces both her sons fiercely, flings away their flowers and imperiously orders them out of the house. Her one thought is Willy. If their presence cheers him or helps him in some way, she is glad to have them around, but if what they do further upsets her already disturbed grown-up “child,” then the sons must go and not return. Bernard and Charley contrast strikingly to the Lomans.
Unlike Willy, Charley lays no claim to greatness, but is content. He goes along calmly and quietly, undistinguished but relatively content. His salvation, he once declared, is that he never took any interest in anything. That, of course, is not literally true for he shows unusually generous consideration to Willy and wants to help him, “I am offering you a job” (Act 2, Scene 6). He set himself a modest goal and is satisfied with modest achievements.
Bernard is no match athletically to the Lomans, but gets good grades and is forging ahead brilliantly. When he is last seen, he is heading to Washington, DC to plead a case in front of the Supreme Court. Willy stands in wonder as Bernard leaves and asks Charley why Bernard was not bragging, Charley replies, “He dont have to- hes gonna do it” (Act 2, Scene 5). Charley, on his part, takes issue with Willy on such vital matters as the importance of being well liked. Yet it is he who in the end defends Willy to Biff in almost melodic terms.
Willy sneered at Charley, insulted him, and then borrowed sizable sums from him, but Charley can say with vehemence, “Nobody dast blame this man” (Requiem). This father-son combination is an exact opposite of Happy and Willy, they understand right and wrong. The symbolism in Death of a Salesman is a major aspect of the story. One of the symbols, specifically, Biffs sports shoes with the University of Virginia printed on the sole, represent his confident dream of a bright future through an athletic scholarship. When his dreams are shattered, he destroys the shoes in a fit of angry bitterness.
The stockings mentioned throughout the play stand for infidelity. They represent Willys attempt to look impressive outside the home by giving a box of brand new ones to the woman he has an affair with. Linda darns her own stockings and that makes Willy feel like a bad provider for his family along with reminding him of his affair. Bens African cache of diamonds, to Willy, stands for his insurance policy. It is the great pile of gold waiting for him if he takes the opportunity.
Ben is always seen looking at his watch and this symbolizes the time that Willy has to take the opportunity. Finally, Ben says, “Time, William, time!” (Act 2, Scene 14). With that, Ben is telling Willy to go through with his decision. The opportunity that they keep mentioning is Willy committing suicide. Another symbol, Dave Singleman, the famous salesman, stands for success. He was everything that Willy ever dreamed of being.
Willy wanted his funeral to be like Singlemans, with hundreds of people showing up and telling each other how great Willy was. One literary technique that Miller used well in Death of a Salesman is foreshadowing. One time, Willy says to Charley in his office, “Funny, yknow? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (Act 2, Scene 6). Charley realizes what Willy is implying and replies to him, “Willy, nobodys worth anything dead” (Act 2, Scene 6). This shows how Willy has already made up his mind to commit suicide.
Also Willys Chevrolet and the rubber tube serve as the means for him to do that. These two things also are hints to the outcome of Willys life. Another literary technique Miller used is called flashback. The flashbacks are used as revelations of things mentioned in the present-day conversations. They serve as a tool to help the reader understand the background to the story.
Willy is often caught reliving the Boston hotel room scene, and is also sometimes reminded of the better times he had with his family when he was younger. A final literary technique Miller used well is irony. The reader sees that the problem between Willy and Biff is that Biff has lost all faith in his father. Linda often wonders why Biff hates his father so much, and never knows what is really going on. Biff: Because I know hes a fake and he doesnt like anybody around who knows! Linda: Why a fake? In what way? What do you mean? Biff: Just dont lay it all at my feet.
Its between me and him-thats all I have to say. (Act 1, Scene 9) Linda has no idea of what is behind Biffs dislike for his father, and is sometimes confused by it. One theme Miller expresses in Death of a Salesman is the corruption of modern business. Willy has worked for over 30 years for the Wagner Company, and, even though, to Howard, “Business is business” (Act 2, Scene 2), Willys plea of slightly more consideration as a human being is wrenching and serves to underscore this theme. Even Charley says that personal association does not count for much, but contradicts this when he offers his broken friend a job.
Another theme expressed is unethical practices and questionable morality. Willy seems undisturbed by the news that Biff has not been studying. He passes off some of Biffs actions, such as his cheating on exams and stealing the football, as being “examples of initiative”. Willy also tries to excuse his infidelity by saying “Shes nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.” (Act 2, Scene 13).
Willy also says nothing to Biff when he tells him that he stole a football from his school locker-room and also Olivers personalized pen. Willy, Biff, and Happy all lie repeatedly throughout the play, with only Biff feeling bad about what he had done. We see that this family falls apart and that this theme should serve as a moral to anyone who reads it. A final theme seen in Death of a Salesman is family solidarity. Early on in its history, it is seen that the family is very happy and that the two sons admire their hard-working father deeply, “We were lonesome for you pop” (Act 1, Scene 3). As the play progresses, it is shown that the whole family is unhappy, and that the bond between them all is unraveling as time passes.
To resolve their problems, and if they wanted to help each other, they would have tried to discuss their problems instead of keeping them inside and arguing with each other. Willys mental problems affected this, because he could only talk to his dead brother Ben about his family problems. If the family had stuck together, they might have pulled through Willys terrible problems. If the play All My Sons signaled the arrival of Arthur Miller as a most promising playwright, Death of a Salesman raised him to the rank of major American dramatist. He has been considered by many to be the greatest of American playwrights.
Some of Millers contemporaries, who are themselves considered as being some of Americas leading writers, have bestowed high praise upon him and his works. Gilbert W. Gabriel described Death of a Salesman as a “fine thing, finely done” (Corrigan, 95). Also, one of the most noticeable writers of all time, Euphemia Wyatt, termed it as being the, “great American tragedy” (Corrigan, 96). After reading this play a few times, the reader is left in an awe-inspired state.
It is mind-boggling to actually see the pure essence of Millers meaning. He develops themes and morals so well in his works, especially Death of a Salesman, that it is taken for granted. The messages are easily seen, but never fully understood until the reader first understands the story. Millers craftsmanship in this play is indisputable of being on the level of a masterpiece. Every aspect of the play is done magnificently well, and Miller blends these separate ideas together brilliantly. The symbolism and irony, especially, are two of the greatest aspects of the play.
Millers unorthodox style adds even more to the greatness of the play. The flashbacks he uses are, at first, a confusing part of the play, but, when read over, only enhance the powerful messages told in it. The reader understands easier the problems that Willy faces because of Millers style. Without the flashbacks, the background to his mental problems would not have been easily seen. The reader also sees the importance of the play in American society.
Death of a Salesman, among other of his works, is used as a messenger of things Miller would like to see done away with in American society. He criticizes material wealth, the lack of American family values, and the lack of mutual responsibility between people. Miller, with just putting these themes into a great story, can be considered a good writer. Everything else that he has done in his works makes him a true master of plays. Bibliography “Arthur Miller”. Microsoft Encarta. CD-ROM.
Microsoft Corporation. 1996 Corrigan, Robert W. Arthur Miller- A Collection of Literary Essays. Englewood, New Jersey: Dutton; 1969. Hayman, Ronald. Arthur Miller.
London: Heinemann Educational; 1960. MacNicholas, John. “Arthur Miller”. DLB (Volume 7, Part 2). Detroit: Bruccoli Clark Books; 1981.
PP 86-111. Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Ringwood, Victoria, Australia: Penguin Plays; 1976. Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller. New York: McKay; 1970.
Murray, Edward. Arthur Miller: Dramatist. New York: F. Unger Press; 1967. Nelson, Benjamin. Arthur Miller- Portrait of a Playwright.
New York: Grove Press; 1961. Unger, Leonard. “Arthur Miller”. American Writers- A Collection of Literary Biographies. (Volume 4). New York: Simon and Schuster MacMillan; 1974.
PP 145-169. Welland, Dennis. Arthur Miller. New York: Twayne; 1967.