Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Essay Example (2023)


Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is typically considered a quintessential American drama. Its realistic examination of how an average man pursues simple ambitions, and how these pursuits go to defining all the relationships in his family, is both stark and full of dimension, for Miller understands the primal connection between the working-class man and his job. The play is very much about success, or the lack thereof, but the core of the work lies in the ways multiple and frustrated dreams reverberate within all the members of the family. In Miller’s eyes, the play focuses on questions of who wields power, and who should wield power in such situations. As will be discussed, there is no single answer. However, in investigating the two viewpoints on this subject Miller believes to be at war within the play, a better knowledge of what power itself means in the context of the “American dream” may be had. Ultimately, as will be noted, the twin viewpoints of Death of a Salesman go beyond the importance of achieving commercial success and a contrasting disregard of it, because both are integral to living. Then, both views also, and more tellingly, reflect the inevitable power struggle in the hyper-masculine realm of father/son relationships.

The Views as Seen by Miller

(Video) Top 10 Notes: Death of a Salesman

Based upon Miller’s conjecture in regard to his own play, the two viewpoints central to Death of a Salesman may be identified with two of the principle characters, Willy Loman and his oldest son, Biff. Willy, although never successful in his long career as a salesman, represents a potently working-class ethic of achievement as being paramount. In Willy’s eyes, and apart from his own failures, there is nothing more affirming to a man, or more justifiably sought after, than doing well at work and being recognized for it. This relates to the political component Miller also refers to, in that this success is, in Willy’s eyes, dependent upon being liked. In this view, power comes to the man who works hard for it, and who consequently earns the right to wield it. Plainly within the play is the character’s fundamental belief that this is the proper order of things, and he cannot conceive of ambitions outside of this ideology.

In contrast, Biff is clearly disenchanted with his father’s viewpoint, which serves to define his own. He is uninterested in the kind of achievement his father values, for it is meaningless to him. It is likely that this view is at least partially generated by the boy’s lifelong observance of how seeking power in this way has brought his father nothing but frustration and disillusionment. Then, given Biff’s traumatic witnessing of his father’s adultery, it is also probable that he sees this ambition as inherently corrupt, or false. If a viewpoint may be defined as belonging to Biff, it is that happiness and fulfillment must be found outside of traditional, American work ethic pursuits. In a sense, Biff is an ancestor of the “hippie” movement that would emerge decades after Miller wrote his play. Materialism is suspect and pointless, in his eyes. Consequently, “power” as seen by his father is worthless. This translates, then, to a viewpoint that dismisses the processes of power that Willy so esteems, such as being well-liked and commanding the respect of peers.

Miller questions what the world would be like, then, if either viewpoint were adopted as the prevailing one. He refers to this debate as spiritual and psychological, as well as political, and he is certainly entitled to make the inquiry. Nonetheless, as will be explored, it seems that Miller is too concerned with surface manifestations of struggles with far deeper meaning. Power, as he indicates, is an elusive and variable thing, and one often defined only by the circumstances in which it is created. More exactly, “power” in the context of his play is more symbolic than real, and it is what it symbolizes that has the real meaning. To that end, it is necessary to look more closely at what generates these symbols of power within the two men, and why each clings to his own.

(Video) Tragic Hero in Arthur Miller’s Essay 'Tragedy and the Common Man' | Free Essay Sample


In examining the twin viewpoints of the play, one factor immediately demands attention: they are completely dependent upon one another, in order to exist at all. As noted, Biff’s views on the unimportance of worldly success are reactive. He is continually subject to Willy’s ideology, and his instincts instinctively rise up against it the more he is exposed to it. It is interesting to speculate, in fact, on what Biff’s views of life and power would be, were he not so a victim of his father’s. Conversely, the more Biff resists his views, the more Willy feels the need to reassert them. It is bad enough that Willy can barely hold onto his ideology in the face of the failures his own life has created, in terms of business; the dismissal of it by his own son, then, demands an aggressive response. Beyond this, there is also a more simple agenda fueling his viewpoint. As he believes happiness can only be had through it, he wants badly for his son to have this, despite his own inability to achieve it.

This factor of the viewpoints as actually generating one another is, ironically, reflective of the element Miller sees as central to both: power. The bulk of Death of a Salesman is, in fact, a power struggle, and it is one fought over life philosophies. Here, then, it is further seen that power is created by the people and circumstances requiring it. Were there no dispute over viewpoints in the Loman household, there would be no need to challenge, and consequently assert individual power to make a claim. As Willy and Biff collide, the duel for dominance of viewpoint actually promotes something of Willy’s own ideology, because such contests are only won through the values he most prizes: tenacity, and a will to succeed. If Willy were to “win” this power struggle, however, it would be meaningless because Biff’s views inherently place no value on such victories. Thus, the power conflict between the two men can only serve to reflect the contrasting point of view, no matter who most dominates the battle.

(Video) 'Death of a Salesman': context, play, characters, themes and symbols! | Narrator: Barbara Njau

This goes to what may be the most primal element in Miller’s play, and one that very much explains the individual viewpoints of Willy and Biff: that they are father and son. It is important to examine this, particularly as Miller questions which viewpoint may be best for the world at large. The reality is that he tapped into a conflict so basic to humanity, and so based upon senior and junior views of what matters in life, that the question he asks is submerged. In other words, it is not about which point of view would be better for the world, but about whether or not these combative differences are not inherent in the nature of man. It may be that the question Miller poses is pointless, because the tides of humanity rely on these alternating, and largely masculine, clashes of will.

Viewed in this light, Willy’s ideology is absolutely in accord with what would be expected of a man in his circumstances and of his age. He has experience of the world, and this experience has forged in him a conviction that nothing is as valued in that world as popularity and success. It is probable that his own failures have reinforced this conviction, rather than weakened it; had Willy been truly successful in his work, he would have been so within the sphere of “rightness” he prizes as to be relatively unaware of it. Unsuccessful, he stands outside, as it were, and bitterly sees more clearly the immense need to do well and be liked by all.

Two other factors greatly go to creating Willy’s viewpoint. The first is that, however it happens, he is incapable of imagining success other than in terms of social and commercial gain. This may be generational; Willy, based on the play’s timing, had to have been a product of the Great Depression, and the severity of those times would likely mark a man in this manner. Simply, when it is crucial to provide in a material way for the family, there is little to no concern over emotional or spiritual needs, or achievements. Life levels, in a sense, and Willy, for decades a pawn in the machinery of the business world, can only see through that lens. Then, there is the potent matter of his being a father. It is ordinary for fathers to want for their sons what they themselves have pursued, and what they have come to see as being the most valuable attainments in life. Willy wants happiness for his son in the only way he can conceive of happiness, which is through conquest. Not necessarily incidentally, there is probably a motive in Willy going to a masculine imperative. Real men go after success and are liked by everyone, and it is important that his son be a real man, for both their sakes. Consequently, Willy’s viewpoint, while skewed by bad experiences, is still that of the father, or the man who knows life, and who knows how hard and unforgiving it is.

(Video) Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller | Requiem

Conversely, Biff is the boy, or son, who rejects, and he can do this by virtue of the son’s place in the relationship and in the world. More precisely, Biff is not of the world, so he is not driven to meet its standards. He has had some unfortunate dealings in business already, but these have been both new and likely entered into with no enthusiasm by him. Here, again, the viewpoints of the men are strengthened by their own efforts to support them. As Willy unceasingly throws himself into the world, he validates his view of it in the action. Biff, unimpressed with commercial achievement, cannot effectively give himself to this arena, which then enhances his own views of its unimportance. As noted earlier, Biff is the “hippie”, or the one who keeps his eye more on emotional and spiritual affairs, and he may do this, in a sense, because he is obligated to as a son. That is to say, no matter the nature of a father’s viewpoint, it is ordinary for a son to automatically challenge it, in the power struggle between father and son as old as time. That Biff rejects his father’s materialism is merely a reflection of the typical substance of these duels in the America of Miller’s setting.

Going back to Miller’s question, then, there is no answer because any must be too reflective of a deeper, human conflict to serve as an answer. It is not a case of one viewpoint as being more beneficial for the world because, first of all, no single viewpoint may be. A single-minded drive to be liked and successful is empty without a core of emotional well-being and a commitment to the deeper issues of living. Similarly, a complete disregard for success and popularity is not a practical way to live in a structured society, and is by no means a guarantee of personal fulfillment, the necessities of securing survival aside. Then, these are viewpoints that are validated only by working in concert, and in that process the real meaning of power becomes more clear. If “power” is to be sought after to be wielded, it is worthwhile only when it is a power expressive of an expanded viewpoint. There is the power of success and the power of an independent spirit, but neither has meaning if the other, concerned party does not recognize it. This recognition, and subsequent appreciation, can only come when the power is based upon a full understanding of the potential value of both points of view. Ironically, then, it is no longer power in an authoritative sense, but power as a representation of the greater understanding.


(Video) Death of a Salesman – Thug Notes Summary & Analysis

In discussing his Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller ponders which of the two, principle ideologies is most beneficial to the world. He wonders about Willy’s pragmatism and determination to do well, and Biff’s defiant unconcern with such an ambition. What Miller ignores in his question is the primal foundation he himself presents, which is that of the eternal and hyper-masculine conflict in place between a father and son. He also disregards the inescapable reality that no, single viewpoint serves the world well. The two viewpoints in Death of a Salesman transcend simple evaluations of the importance of achieving commercial success, and a contrasting dismissal of it, because they are only valid when exercised as one. Moreover, they resist ranking because they reflect the inevitable power struggle in the hyper-masculine realm of father/son relationships.


What is a good thesis statement for Death of a Salesman? ›

Thesis Statement: Although Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is a classic tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, it is also a biting critique of capitalism and the empty promises of capitalism's materialistic version of the American Dream.

What type of play is Death of a Salesman explain your answer? ›

It is a two-act tragedy set in late 1940s Brooklyn told through a montage of memories, dreams, and arguments of the protagonist Willy Loman, a travelling salesman who is disappointed with his life, and appears to be slipping into senility.

What is Arthur Miller message in Death of a Salesman? ›

He knew that not everyone had equal opportunities to succeed. What does it mean to live in a society that promises a lot but guarantees nothing? Miller wrote Death of a Salesman with that question in mind. It's a play about the struggle for success and disappointment of the American Dream.

What is the central idea of Death of a Salesman essay? ›

Critical Essays Major Themes in Death of a Salesman. Death of a Salesman addresses loss of identity and a man's inability to accept change within himself and society. The play is a montage of memories, dreams, confrontations, and arguments, all of which make up the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life.

What is the main lesson of Death of a Salesman? ›

The play demonstrates how a person's self-perpetual denial can impact those around him, and include them. Ultimately, Willy's tragic end is the failure to realize the American dream (and a really bad case of sales burnout).

What is an example of a strong thesis statement? ›

A strong thesis statement is specific.

A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say: World hunger has many causes and effects.

What is a short summary of Death of a Salesman? ›

Death of a Salesman, one of Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, narrates the last 24 hours in the life of 63-year-old Willy Loman, a failed salesman who had a distorted idea of the American Dream and work ethic. The play also explores his relationship with his wife, his sons, and his acquaintances.

What is the conclusion of Death of a Salesman? ›

Finally, Willy decides that the insurance money can be beneficial for his family so he kills himself. At the end of the death of a salesman summary, we see Linda having troubles dealing with her husband's death. She does not accept his death and keep waiting for him to return from his business trip.

Is the Death of a Salesman a tragedy or not? ›

Death of a Salesman has many aspects associated with dramatic tragedy, including a flawed hero, a 'fall' into despair and events that arouse pity and fear. However, unlike traditional tragedies, the play tells of the demise of an everyday domestic figure who could represent any man – or any low man.

What does Ben symbolize in Death of a Salesman? ›

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 that he so desperately craves for himself and his sons.

How can we prove that Death of a Salesman is an American tragedy? ›

In Death of a Salesman, the tragic hero is Willy Loman. The tragic flaw that leads to his downfall is his pursuit of the American Dream in a way that makes it unattainable to him. Ultimately, Willy would have never been able to get the American Dream for himself in the ways he wanted it.

What is a meaningful quote from Arthur Miller? ›

Betrayal is the only truth that sticks. Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. A child's spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back.

What is the climax of Death of a Salesman? ›

The climax of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is when the protagonist, Willy Loman, finally realizes the truth. The play deals with his turmoil at the end of his career. His sons both are living at home, he's struggling financially, and he won't accept that his son does not want the same life...

What are the symbols in Death of a Salesman? ›

  • Seeds. Seeds represent for Willy the opportunity to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. ...
  • Diamonds. ...
  • Linda's and The Woman's Stockings. ...
  • The Rubber Hose.

How does Death of a Salesman represent the American Dream? ›

The American Dream in Death of a Salesman

Willy has acted on the belief that charisma guarantees prosperity. He has been a true believer in the American Dream and the notion that success is available to every American. Success to Willy is more than the ability to provide for himself and his family.

What happens to Happy at the end of Death of a Salesman? ›

Death of a Salesman Ending

Happy, on the other hand, is the son that chooses to live his life more like his father did. Willy's loving and supporting wife, Linda, is still oblivious to the fact that Willy was not the successful and well-liked man he portrayed himself to be.

What can you teach Death of a Salesman? ›

Objectives for Teaching Death of a Salesman
  • Discuss the idea of the American Dream and how it is represented in this play.
  • Analyze the relationships between fathers and sons within the play.
  • Identify ways in which the staging of the play is crucial to the understanding of the text.

What is an example of a thesis statement for an essay? ›

Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement: The life of the typical college student is characterized by time spent studying, attending class, and socializing with peers. The paper that follows should: Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers.

How does an essay start? ›

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order: An opening hook to catch the reader's attention. Relevant background information that the reader needs to know. A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

What is the 3 thesis statement? ›

What are the different types of thesis statements? Thesis statements can be explanatory, argumentative, or analytical.

What is the plot structure of Death of a Salesman? ›

The dramatic structure of Death of a Salesman follows the classic Freytag Pyramid model, which consists of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. However, the plot, which refers to the main story in a dramatic or literary work, moves back and forth between past to present.

What is ironic about the ending Death of a Salesman? ›

Dramatic Irony

Willy ends up committing suicide after deciding that he is not living up to his dreams, but after his funeral, we find out that he has successfully paid off the mortgage on the house. His wife, Linda, talks to him out loud saying, ''I made the last payment on the house today.

What is Willy's goal in Death of a Salesman? ›

A salesman for all of his career, Willy thinks the goal of life is to be well-liked and gain material success.

Who dies in the end of Death of a Salesman? ›

The play concludes with Willy's suicide and subsequent funeral. Miller uses the Loman family — Willy, Linda, Biff, and Happy — to construct a self-perpetuating cycle of denial, contradiction, and order versus disorder.

Who suffers most in Death of a Salesman? ›

In Miller's 'Death of a Salesman', although we see suffering from other characters, such as Linda and Happy, who strive to support and impress Willy, Willy's own suffering is the most explicit to the audience.

Who is the villain in Death of a Salesman? ›

Willy. Willy acts as the antagonist both to himself and Biff. His misguided values about success and twisted version of the American Dream coupled with his pride and knack for self-deception lead Willy to pursue the wrong life path.

Who is the most tragic character in Death of a Salesman? ›

Loman is a modern tragic hero turning the American dream into American Nightmare because of his personal flaw. For those reasons, this play can be classified as a "bourgeois" tragedy. This modern tragic hero represents individuals who try to survive and quest for self identity in a capitalistic commercialized world.

What does the rubber hose symbolize in Death of a Salesman? ›

Rubber Hose Symbol Analysis. The rubber hose is a symbol of Willy's impending suicide. Linda finds it hidden behind the fuse box in the cellar, and the "new little nipple" she finds on the gas pipe of the water heater leads her to the conclusion that Willy had planned to inhale gas.

Why is Ben on Willys mind? ›

Ben is Willy's adventurous and lucky older brother. Of course, he's dead, so he only appears in the play as a character in Willy's troubled imagination. Willy totally idolizes Ben because he was an adventurer who escaped the world of business and got rich quick by finding diamonds in the African jungle.

What do diamonds symbolize in Death of a Salesman? ›

To Willy, diamonds represent tangible wealth and the ability to pass material goods on to one's offspring, two things that Willy desperately craves. Diamonds, the discovery of which made Ben a fortune, symbolize Willy's failure as a salesman.

Who is Miller's tragic hero? ›

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, we meet Willy Loman, who has become a modern tragic hero. Willy's refusal to see the truth in his own life and the lies he tells himself and his family, ultimately lead to Willy's own self destruction.

Is there foreshadowing in Death of a Salesman? ›

Death of a Salesman also contains several instances of foreshadowing, a literary device that provides hints or clues about events that will occur in the future. The flute music that is associated with Willy Loman is one example: It hints at a revelation that occurs later in the play.

How does Death of a Salesman relate to real life? ›

Realism is extremely prevalent in the play Death of a Salesman. The characters in the play have real world problems. Lack of money is one of the problems, which is a problem for many people. There are also many conflicts within the family; related to each characters definition of success.

Why did Arthur Miller use so much irony? ›

Miller employs dramatic irony, situational irony, and hyperbole to exemplify the danger that can occur if unjust accusations continue, thus making the audience see the parallels in their own lives. Arthur Miller uses dramatic irony in The Crucible to show/demonstrate the damage that the accusations can do.

What does Arthur Miller say about tragedy and the common man? ›

Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly. In the sense of having been initiated by the hero himself, the tale always reveals what has been called his tragic flaw," a failing that is not peculiar to grand or elevated characters. Nor is it necessarily a weakness.

What is Arthur Miller trying to tell us through The Crucible? ›

The Crucible, Arthur Miller's 1953 realist play, is based on the historical events of the 1692 Salem witch hunts. Although partially fictionalised, it depicts the very real consequences of false accusations based on blind religious faith, as Miller displays the dangers of such baseless rumours.

Who is responsible for Willy's death? ›

When Willy Loman is heard racing off with his car at the end of Arthur Millers play Death of a Salesman, nobody doubts why he is doing so. He wrecks his car and kills himself to leave his family 20,000 dollars insurance money. Willy Loman is a suicide.

What changes Death of a Salesman? ›

In Arthur Miller's, Death of a Salesman, the fear of change controls Willy's decisions, creating distance between he and Biff, leading to Willy's suicide. Willy avoids change in order to maintain his false reality. Willy is unable to create a true life while being trapped in his past.

Why is it called Death of a Salesman? ›

The title also refers to the death of Willy's salesman dream—the dream to be financially successful and a father to hotshot sons. By the end of the play, Willy is flat broke and without a job. It's pretty clear that his dream of being a big-time salesman is already dead.

Who is the ghost in Death of a Salesman? ›

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman's life teems with ghosts. Prominent among these is the ghost of his older brother, Ben, with whom Willy converses at key points in the play, and most important, in the garden late on the evening of Willy's suicide.

Is Death of a Salesman about dementia? ›

As early as 1949, the character Willy Loman displays signs of dementia in the play “Death of a Salesman.” By the 1980s, several films used dementia symptoms as key plot points, as writers and directors explored the family dynamics and challenges that occur as dementia progresses.

What is the angry glow of orange in Death of a Salesman? ›

“Angry” orange light around the house is used to contrast the blue light on the house. This may represent the contrast from Willy's perception of the American dream, to the actual reality of America. “The surrounding area shows and angry glow of orange.”

What does Arthur Miller think about the American Dream? ›

The crux of Miller's point regarding the American Dream is that success and prosperity are better attained by facing the challenging situations of the reality of American life rather than romanticizing on fanciful dreams.

How is Death of a Salesman a modern tragedy? ›

“Death of a Salesman” is a modern tragedy in that the hero is neither a noble-person nor an admired individual; Willy is a poor, working class salesman. Nevertheless he is a tragic character because his tragic flaw – his false ideals of what constitutes a prosperous life – put Willy down.

What is a good thesis statement for the death penalty? ›

1. The death penalty deters individuals from committing crimes; therefore, the crime rates decrease. 2. As a respond to society's demands for justice, the death penalty as a form of retribution is justified because the criminal deserves the punishment fitted to the severity of the crime he or she committed.

What are major symbols in Death of a Salesman? ›

  • Seeds. Seeds represent for Willy the opportunity to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. ...
  • Diamonds. ...
  • Linda's and The Woman's Stockings. ...
  • The Rubber Hose.

What are 2 arguments against the death penalty? ›

Major arguments against the death penalty focus on its inhumaneness, lack of deterrent effect, continuing racial and economic biases, and irreversibility. Proponents argue that it represents a just retribution for certain crimes, deters crime, protects society, and preserves the moral order.

Is death penalty moral or ethical? ›

Is capital punishment moral? Capital punishment is often defended on the grounds that society has a moral obligation to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. Murderers threaten this safety and welfare. Only by putting murderers to death can society ensure that convicted killers do not kill again.

What is a bad example of a thesis statement? ›

Sometimes a thesis ultimately says, "we should be good," or "bad things are bad." Such thesis statements are tautological or so universally accepted that there is no need to prove the point. Bad Thesis 1: Although we have the right to say what we want, we should avoid hurting other people's feelings.

What is the thesis statement answer? ›

The thesis statement is the sentence that states the main idea of a writing assignment and helps control the ideas within the paper. It is not merely a topic. It often reflects an opinion or judgment that a writer has made about a reading or personal experience.

What is a 3 point thesis statement examples? ›

Tip. So, an example three-point thesis statement (if you were making an argument about school uniforms) would be: School uniforms should be required because they make school safer, promote school spirit and save parents money.

What 3 things should a thesis statement have? ›

A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:
  • take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree.
  • deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment.
  • express one main idea.
  • assert your conclusions about a subject.

Which sentence is a good thesis statement? ›

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay. It usually comes near the end of your introduction. Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you're writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across.

Is a thesis statement 1 sentence? ›

A thesis statement is not always one sentence; the length of the thesis depends on the depth of the essay. Some essays may require more than a single sentence. However, the statement should be as clear and concise as possible in the final draft of the essay.


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