He wrote plays for the stage and for radio. Arthur Miller's first success came in 1947 with All My Sons- ealt with issues of guilt and dishonesty that Miller would revisit and expand upon in some of his more memorable plays. Arthur Miller was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 for Death of a Salesman. He was also married to Marilyn Monroe (1956-61), for whom he wrote the screenplay to The Misfits. His other plays include A View from the Bridge, After the Fall and Broken Glass. Miller wrote novels, essays and short stories and was one of the most celebrated playwrights in America. His plays, a fusion of naturalistic and expressionistic techniques, continue to be widely produced. Miller's plays addressed social and political issues and helped establish the American tradition of the "common man" as tragic hero.
Death of a Salesman: Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem
Plot and structure:
2acts+ Requiem, 1st act has 12scenes, 2nd act has 14 scenes
As a flute melody plays, Willy Loman returns to his home in Brooklyn one night, exhausted from a failed sales trip. His wife, Linda, tries to persuade him to ask his boss, Howard Wagner, to let him work in New York so that he won’t have to travel. He promises to talk to Howard next day. Willy complains that Biff, his older son who has come back home to visit, has yet to make something of himself. Linda scolds Willy for being so critical, and Willy goes to the kitchen for a snack.
As Willy talks to himself in the kitchen, Biff and his younger brother, Happy, who is also visiting, reminisce about their adolescence and discuss their father’s babbling-táranie, which often includes criticism of Biff’s failure to live up to Willy’s expectations. As Biff and Happy, dissatisfied with their lives, fantasize about buying a ranch out West, Willy becomes immersed in a daydream. He praises his sons, now younger, who are washing his car. The young Biff, a high school football star, and the young Happy appear. They interact affectionately with their father, who has just returned from a business trip. Willy confides in Biff and Happy that he is going to open his own business one day, bigger than that owned by his neighbor, Charley. Charley’s son, Bernard, enters looking for Biff, who must study for math class in order to avoid failing. Willy points out to his sons that although Bernard is smart, he is not “well liked,” which will hurt him in the long run.
A younger Linda enters, and the boys leave to do some chores. Willy boasts of a phenomenally successful sales trip, but Linda coaxes him into revealing that his trip was actually only meagerly-úboho successful. Willy complains that he soon won’t be able to make all of the payments on their appliances and car. He complains that people don’t like him and that he’s not good at his job. As Linda consoles him, he hears the laughter of his mistress. He approaches The Woman, who is still laughing, and engages in another reminiscent-spomienkový daydream. Willy and The Woman flirt, and she thanks him for giving her stockings.
The Woman disappears, and Willy fades back into his prior daydream, in the kitchen. Linda, now mending stockings, reassures him. He scolds-vyhrešiť her mending and orders her to throw the stockings out. Bernard bursts in, again looking for Biff. Linda reminds Willy that Biff has to return a football that he stole, and she adds that Biff is too rough with the neighborhood girls. Willy hears The Woman laugh and explodes at Bernard and Linda. Both leave, and though the daydream ends, Willy continues to mutter to himself. The older Happy comes downstairs and tries to quiet Willy. Agitated, Willy shouts his regret about not going to Alaska with his brother, Ben, who eventually found a diamond mine in Africa and became rich. Charley, having heard the commotion-zmätok, enters. Happy goes off to bed, and Willy and Charley begin to play cards. Charley offers Willy a job, but Willy, insulted, refuses it. As they argue, Willy imagines that Ben enters. Willy accidentally calls Charley Ben. Ben inspects Willy’s house and tells him that he has to catch a train soon to look at properties in Alaska. As Willy talks to Ben about the prospect of going to Alaska, Charley, seeing no one there, gets confused and questions Willy. Willy yells at Charley, who leaves. The younger Linda enters and Ben meets her. Willy asks Ben impatiently about his life. Ben recounts his travels and talks about their father. As Ben is about to leave, Willy daydreams further, and Charley and Bernard rush in to tell him that Biff and Happy are stealing lumber- stavebné drevo. Although Ben eventually leaves, Willy continues to talk to him.
Back in the present, the older Linda enters to find Willy outside. Biff and Happy come downstairs and discuss Willy’s condition with their mother- he tried to commit suiside in order to get money from insurance company for his family. Linda scolds Biff for judging Willy harshly. Biff tells her that he knows Willy is a fake, but he refuses to elaborate-vypracovať. Linda mentions that Willy has tried to commit suicide. Happy grows angry and rebukes-napomenúť Biff for his failure in the business world. Willy enters and yells at Biff. Happy intervenes and eventually proposes that he and Biff go into the sporting goods business together. Willy immediately brightens and gives Biff a host of tips about asking for a loan from one of Biff’s old employers, Bill Oliver. After more arguing and reconciliation-zmierenie, everyone finally goes to bed.
Act II opens with Willy enjoying the breakfast that Linda has made for him. Willy ponders the bright-seeming future before getting angry again about his expensive appliances. Linda informs Willy that Biff and Happy are taking him out to dinner that night. Excited, Willy announces that he is going to make Howard Wagner give him a New York job. The phone rings, and Linda chats with Biff, reminding him to be nice to his father at the restaurant that night.
As the lights fade on Linda, they come up on Howard playing with a wire recorder in his office. Willy tries to broach-nadhodiť the subject of working in New York, but Howard interrupts him and makes him listen to his kids and wife on the wire recorder. When Willy finally gets a word in, Howard rejects his plea-žiadosť. Willy launches into a lengthy recalling of how a legendary salesman named Dave Singleman inspired him to go into sales. Howard leaves and Willy gets angry. Howard soon re-enters and tells Willy to take some time off. Howard leaves and Ben enters, inviting Willy to join him in Alaska. The younger Linda enters and reminds Willy of his sons and job. The young Biff enters, and Willy praises Biff’s prospects and the fact that he is well liked.
Ben leaves and Bernard rushes in, eagerly awaiting Biff’s big football game. Willy speaks optimistically to Biff about the game. Charley enters and teases Willy about the game. As Willy chases Charley off, the lights rise on a different part of the stage. Willy continues yelling from offstage, and Jenny, Charley’s secretary, asks a grown-up Bernard to quiet him down. Willy enters and prattles on about a “very big deal” that Biff is working on. Daunted by Bernard’s success (he mentions to Willy that he is going to Washington to fight a case), Willy asks Bernard why Biff turned out to be such a failure. Bernard asks Willy what happened in Boston that made Biff decide not to go to summer school. Willy defensively tells Bernard not to blame him.
Charley enters and sees Bernard off. When Willy asks for more money than Charley usually loans him, Charley again offers Willy a job. Willy again refuses and eventually tells Charley that he was fired. Charley scolds Willy for always needing to be liked and angrily gives him the money. Calling Charley his only friend, Willy exits on the verge-pokraj of tears.
At Frank’s Chop House, Happy helps Stanley, a waiter, prepare a table. They ogle-túžobne sa dívať and chat up a girl, Miss Forsythe, who enters the restaurant. Biff enters, and Happy introduces him to Miss Forsythe, continuing to flirt with her. Miss Forsythe, a call girl, leaves to telephone another call girl (at Happy’s request), and Biff spills out that he waited six hours for Bill Oliver and Oliver didn’t even recognize him. Upset at his father’s unrelenting-nemilosrdný misconception-zlý názor that he, Biff, was a salesman for Oliver, Biff plans to relieve- pomôct od Willy of his illusions. Willy enters, and Biff tries gently, at first, to tell him what happened at Oliver’s office. Willy blurts out that he was fired. Stunned, Biff again tries to let Willy down easily. Happy cuts in with remarks suggesting Biff’s success, and Willy eagerly awaits the good news.
Biff finally explodes at Willy for being unwilling to listen. The young Bernard runs in shouting for Linda, and Biff, Happy, and Willy start to argue. As Biff explains what happened, their conversation recedes-ustupovať into the background. The young Bernard tells Linda that Biff failed math. The restaurant conversation comes back into focus and Willy criticizes Biff for failing math. Willy then hears the voice of the hotel operator in Boston and shouts that he is not in his room. Biff scrambles-vyhrabať sa to quiet Willy and claims that Oliver is talking to his partner about giving Biff the money. Willy’s renewed interest and probing-vyšetrujúce questions irk-hnevať Biff more, and he screams at Willy. Willy hears The Woman laugh and he shouts back at Biff, hitting him and staggering-tackať sa. Miss Forsythe enters with another call girl, Letta. Biff helps Willy to the washroom and, finding Happy flirting with the girls, argues with him about Willy. Biff storms out, and Happy follows with the girls.
Willy and The Woman enter, dressing themselves and flirting. The door knocks and Willy hurries The Woman into the bathroom. Willy answers the door; the young Biff enters and tells Willy that he failed math. Willy tries to usher-vyprevadiť him out of the room, but Biff imitates his math teacher’s lisp-šušlavosť, which elicits-vyvolať smiech laughter from Willy and The Woman. Willy tries to cover up his indiscretion-indiskrétnosť, but Biff refuses to believe his stories and storms out, dejected-skľúčený, calling Willy a “phony little fake.” Back in the restaurant, Stanley helps Willy up. Willy asks him where he can find a seed store. Stanley gives him directions to one, and Willy hurries off.
The light comes up on the Loman kitchen, where Happy enters looking for Willy. He moves into the living room and sees Linda. Biff comes inside and Linda scolds the boys and slaps away the flowers in Happy’s hand. She yells at them for abandoning Willy. Happy attempts to appease-upokojiť her, but Biff goes in search of Willy. He finds Willy planting seeds in the garden with a flashlight. Willy is consulting Ben about a $20,000 proposition. Biff approaches him to say goodbye and tries to bring him inside. Willy moves into the house, followed by Biff, and becomes angry again about Biff’s failure. Happy tries to calm Biff, but Biff and Willy erupt in fury at each other. Biff starts to sob, which touches Willy. Everyone goes to bed except Willy, who renews his conversation with Ben, elated-hrdý at how great Biff will be with $20,000 of insurance money. Linda soon calls out for Willy but gets no response. Biff and Happy listen as well. They hear Willy’s car speed away.
In the requiem, Linda and Happy stand in shock after Willy’s poorly attended funeral. Biff states that Willy had the wrong dreams. Charley defends Willy as a victim of his profession. Ready to leave, Biff invites Happy to go back out West with him. Happy declares that he will stick it out in New York to validate-potrvdiť Willy’s death. Linda asks Willy for forgiveness for being unable to cry. She begins to sob, repeating “We’re free. . . .” All exit, and the flute melody is heard as the curtain falls.
protagonists • Willy Loman, Biff Loman
antagonists • Biff Loman, Willy Loman, the American Dream
Willy Loman: 63years old, exhausted of his lonely life as a salesman. Willy does not achieve the self-realization or self-knowledge typical of the tragic hero. The quasi-resolution that his suicide offers him represents only a partial discovery of the truth. While he achieves a professional understanding of himself, Willy fails to realize his personal failure and betrayal of his soul and family. He cannot grasp the true personal, emotional, spiritual understanding of himself as a literal “loman” or “low man.” Willy is too driven by his own “willy”-ness or perverse “willfulness” to recognize the slanted reality that his desperate mind has forged-vypracovať. Still, many critics, focusing on Willy’s lies, delusions, and self-deceptions, ignore the significant accomplishment of his partial self-realization. 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 this incapacity as the real tragedy. Despite this failure, Willy makes the most extreme sacrifice in his attempt to leave an inheritance that will allow Biff to fulfill the American Dream.
Biff Loman: Unlike Willy and Happy, Biff feels compelled-prinútený to seek the truth about himself. While his father and brother are unable to accept the miserable reality, Biff eventually manages to confront his failure. Even the difference between his name and theirs reflects this polarity: whereas Willy and Happy willfully and happily delude themselves, Biff bristles- ide proti stiffly-upäto at self-deception-sebaklam. Biff’s discovery that Willy has a mistress strips him of his faith in Willy. Consequently, Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, while Biff sees himself as trapped-chytený do pasce in Willy’s fantasies. After his epiphany in Bill Oliver’s office, Biff determines to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to come to realistic terms with his own life. Biff longs for the territory (the symbolically free West), materialist version of the American Dream.
Happy Loman: Happy is the stunted-zakrpatený incarnation of Willy’s worst traits and the embodiment of the lie of the happy American Dream. He is one-dimensional and static. For Happy, who has lived in the shadow of the inflated-prehnané expectations of his brother, there is no escape from the Dream’s lies. He does share Willy’s capacity for self-delusion, in reality, he is only an assistant to the assistant buyer. He does not possess a hint of the thirst for knowledge that proves Biff’s salvation-spasenie. Happy is a doomed, destined to be swallowed up by the force of blind ambition that fuels his insatiable-neukojiteľný sex drive.
Linda Loman - Willy’s loyal, loving wife. Linda suffers. Occasionally, she seems to be taken in by Willy’s self-deluded hopes for future glory and success, but at other times, she seems far more realistic and less fragile than her husband. Linda views freedom as an escape from debt, the reward of total ownership of the material goods that symbolize success and stability. Linda, by far the toughest, most realistic, and most levelheaded character in the play, appears to have kept her emotional life intact-nedotknutý. As such, she represents the emotional core of the drama.
Charley - Willy’s next-door neighbor. Charley owns a successful business and his son, Bernard, is a wealthy, important lawyer. Willy is jealous of Charley’s success. Charley gives Willy money to pay his bills, and Willy reveals at one point, choking-zadúšať back tears, that Charley is his only friend. Charley’s prognosis of the situation is logical. He recognizes Willy’s financial failure, and the job offer that he extends to Willy constitutes a commonsense solution. Still he is not terribly fond of Willy.
Linda and Charley serve as forces of reason throughout the play.
Bernard - Charley’s son. Although Willy used to mock Bernard for studying hard, Bernard always loved Willy’s sons dearly and regarded Biff as a hero. Bernard’s success is difficult for Willy to accept because his own sons’ lives do not measure up.
Ben - Willy’s wealthy older brother. Ben has recently died and appears only in Willy’s “daydreams.” Willy regards Ben as a symbol of the success.
The Woman - Willy’s mistress when Happy and Biff were in high school. The Woman’s attention and admiration boost-podporovať Willy’s fragile ego. When Biff catches Willy in his hotel room with The Woman, he loses faith in his father, and his dream of passing math and going to college dies.
Howard Wagner - Willy’s boss. Howard inherited the company from his father, whom Willy regarded as “a masterful man” and “a prince.” Though much younger than Willy, Howard treats Willy with condescension-povýšenosť and eventually fires him, despite Willy’s wounded assertions-tvrdenie that he named Howard at his birth.
Stanley - A waiter at Frank’s Chop House. Stanley and Happy seem to be friends and they banter about+ogle Miss Forsythe before Biff and Willy arrive at the restaurant.
Miss Forsythe and Letta - young women whom Happy and Biff meet at Frank’s Chop House. It seems likely that they are prostitutes, judging from Happy’s repeated comments abo ut their moral character and the fact that they are “on call.”
Jenny - Charley’s secretary.
ime: “Today,” that is, the present; either the late 1940s or the time period in which the play is being produced, with “daydreams” into Willy’s past; all of the action takes place during a twenty-four-hour period between Monday night and Tuesday night, except the “Requiem,” which takes place, presumably, a few days after Willy’s funeral
Place: According to the stage directions, “Willy Loman’s house and yard [in Brooklyn] and . . . various places he visits in . . . New York and Boston”
Point of view:
Miller often experiments with narrative style and technique. The play is mostly told from Willy's point of view, and it shows previous parts of Willy's life in his time shifts, sometimes during a present day scene. However, at times it breaks away from Willy's point of view and focuses on the other characters, Linda, Biff and Happy. During these parts of the play, the time and place stay constant without any abrupt flashbacks.
Present tense. In many ways, the play appears traditional. In other words, there are actors who interact with one another, there is a basic plot line, and the play contains standard dramatic elements such as exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, and so forth. However, Miller's manipulation of time and space creates a very non-traditional atmosphere that is unsettling but effective because it mirrors Willy's mental state. Stage directions call for a complete house for the Lomans. An audience will not simply watch the action take place in the kitchen but can observe several rooms within the home. Only characters that are talking or involved in direct action are lit on stage, all other rooms, characters, and props remain in shadow. uch movement without the benefit of time delays or dialogue transitions produces a disjointed and fragmented sequence of events, much like a dream.
When action takes place in the present, characters observe wall boundaries and enter and exit through the doors. During Willy's recollections of the past, characters do not observe wall boundaries, and the action generally takes place in the area at the front of the stage, rather than inside the house. As a result, the audience can distinguish present events from Willy's memories.
Sound is also used to create a dreamlike state for both Willy and the audience. A flute melody is associated with Willy, Ben has his own music, laughter cues the Woman, and so forth.
Tone: The tone of Miller’s stage directions and dialogue ranges from sincere to parodying, but, in general, the treatment is tender-jemný, though at times brutally honest, toward Willy’s plight-prísaha
The American Dream: Willy believes in the American Dream—that a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business will acquire-získať the material comforts offered by modern American life. But the American Dream identifies hard work without complaint as the key to success. Willy’s blind faith in his version of the American Dream leads to his rapid psychological decline when he is unable to accept the disparity between the Dream and his own life.
Abandonment: from one abandonment to the next. Willy’s father leaves him when Willy is very young, leaving him nothing. Ben departs for Alaska, leaving Willy to lose himself in a vision of the American Dream. Willy develops a fear of abandonment, which makes him want his family to conform to the American Dream. His efforts to raise perfect sons, however, reflect his inability to understand reality. The young Biff, whom Willy considers the embodiment of promise, drops Willy when he finds out about Willy’s adultery. When, at Frank’s Chop House, Willy finally believes that Biff is on the cusp-vrchol of greatness, Biff shatters-zničiť Willy’s illusions and, along with Happy, abandons the deluded-oklamaný, babbling-blabotajúci Willy in the washroom.
Betrayal: 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 associates it with “insult” and “spite”. Willy, after all, is a salesman and is unable sell him the American Dream—in which Willy believes most faithfully. Willy assumes-usudzovať that Biff’s betrayal stems- vychádzať 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 has betrayed him with his lies.
Mythic figures: Willy’s tendency to mythologize people contributes to his deluded-mylný 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 “well liked”- the very incarnation of the American Dream.
Willy fails to realize the hopelessness of Singleman’s lonely, on-the-job, on-the-road death. Trying to achieve what he considers to be Singleman’s heroic status, Willy commits himself to a pathetic death. And Happy does believe in the American Dream, it seems likely that he will end up no better off than the decidedly ungodlike Willy.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
The American West, Alaska, The African jungle: Willy’s father found success in Alaska and his brother, Ben, became rich in Africa vs. Willy’s banal Brooklyn neighborhood= 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. He escapes from both Willy’s delusions and the commercial world of the eastern United States. Biff, unlike Willy, recognizes the importance of the individual.
Seeds: Willy´s opportunity to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. His desperate attempt to grow vegetables signifies his shame about barely being able to put food on the table and having nothing to leave his children when he passes. Willy is afraid that his children will end up without anything as his father has left him. The seeds also symbolize Willy’s sense of failure with Biff. Willy’s efforts to cultivate Biff went awry-nevydarili sa.
Diamonds: represent wealth, 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. 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.
Linda’s and The Woman’s stockings: Stockings assume a metaphorical weight as the symbol of betrayal and sexual infidelity. Willy’s strange obsession with the condition of Linda’s stockings foreshadows his later flashback to Biff’s discovery of him and The Woman in their Boston hotel room. The teenage Biff accuses Willy of giving away Linda’s stockings to The Woman.
The rubber hose: gumenná hadica- a stage prop that reminds of Willy’s desperate attempts at suicide. He has apparently attempted to kill himself by inhaling gas, which is, ironically, the very substance essential to one of the most basic elements with which he must equip his home for his family’s health and comfort—heat. Literal death by inhaling gas parallels the metaphorical death that Willy feels in his struggle to afford such a basic necessity.
Genre: Play; Tragedy, social commentary, family drama
My own interpretation:
climax • The scene in Frank’s Chop House and Biff’s final confrontation with Willy at home
falling action • The “Requiem” section, although the play is not really structured as a classical drama
foreshadowing • Willy’s flute theme foreshadows the revelation of his father’s occupation and abandonment; Willy’s preoccupation with Linda’s stockings foreshadows his affair with The Woman; Willy’s automobile accident before the start of Act I foreshadows his suicide at the end of Act II
Important Quotations Explained
1. And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?
Willy poses this question to Howard Wagner in Act II, in Howard’s office. He is discussing how he decided to become a salesman after meeting Dave Singleman. He has a obsession of being well liked. Having people “remember” and “love” him is his ultimate satisfaction, because such warmth from business contacts would validate him in a way that his family’s love does not. Willy fails to see the human side of Singleman, just like his own. He envisions Singleman as a happy man but ignores the fact that Singleman was still working at age eighty-four and might likely have experienced the same financial difficulties and consequent pressures and misery as Willy.
2. I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.
Biff’s explanation to his father during the climax of their final confrontation in Act II helps him express his true identity, even though Willy cannot possibly understand. Biff is confident and somewhat comfortable as this escape from his father’s delusions allows him to follow his instincts and dreams. Whereas Willy recognizes only material success and “well liked”-ness promised by the American Dream, Biff realizes that he can be happy only outside these confines. Though his attempt to cure Willy’s delusions fails, Biff frees himself from Willy’s expectations for him. He sees the stupidity of stealing the pen and renounces the commercial world, content to enjoy the simple necessities of life.
4. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.
After the climax in Frank’s Chop House, in Act II, Willy, talking to Stanley, suddenly fixates on buying seeds to plant a garden in his diminutive, dark backyard because he does not have “a thing in the ground.” The garden functions as a last-ditch substitute for Willy’s failed career and Biff’s dissipated ambition. Willy realizes, at least metaphorically, that he has no tangible-hmatateľný proof of his life’s work. The seeds symbolize Willy’s failure in other ways as well. The fact that Willy uses gardening as a metaphor for success and failure indicates that he subconsciously acknowledges that his chosen profession is a poor choice, given his natural inclinations. Though his figurative roots are in sales (Ben claims that their father was a successful salesman), Willy never blossomed into-vykvitnúť, vyzreť the Dave Singleman figure that he idolizes.
5. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine . . . A salesman is got to dream, boy.
Charley’s speech in the requiem about the nature of the salesman’s dreams eulogizes- velebiť Willy as a victim of his difficult profession. Charley likens the salesman to a heroic, courageous sailor, “out there in the blue,” with nothing to guide him and powerful forces against which to contend-zápasiť. Charley also points out the great disparity-nerovnosť between the enormity of the salesman’s task and the piddling tools with which he is equipped: Willy had only the smile on his face and shine of his shoe. Failure faded Willy’s smile and smudged his shoe, which made it even more difficult to sell himself. But Willy still had to go out and give it his best, because “a salesman is got to dream.” Charley’s sympathy