Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1915 - )

Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller (1915
- )

Type of Work:

Dramatic play


New York and Boston; 1949

Principal Characters

Willy Loman, a disgruntled traveling salesman

Linda, his wife

Biff, Willy's favorite and most athletic

Happy, another son

Play Overveiw
(Like many plays, this one shifts back
and forth in time and place. We view much of the Loman family's daily life
through the eyes and mind of the father.)

Nobody believes more fervently in the American

Dream than Willy, yet the dream has somehow eluded him. Now he is sixty
years old, a beaten and discouraged traveling salesman, with nothing to
show for a lifetime of hard work but a small house on a crowded street
where grass doesn't grow anymore and apartment houses block his view.

Rustling about upstairs are Willy's grown
sons, Happy and Biff, home for a visit. Their presence in the house causes

Willy to reminisce on happier times; times when their growing strength
and athletic feats - especially Biff's - were a source of pride and joy
to him; times when it seemed certain that his kids would go out and conquer
the world. In this heightened and reflective state ' Willy speaks aloud
to his boys as if the two youngsters he fondly remembers from the past
had materialized in the room.

WILLY: That's just what I mean. Bernard
[the son of Willy's friend] can get the best marks in school, y'understand,
but when he gets out in the business world, y'understand, you are going
to be five times ahead of him. That's why I thank Almighty God you're both
built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business
world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.

Be liked and you will never want.

Willy's philosophy is sound and fool-proof,
he feels, but, unaccountably, it hasn't worked for him, nor for his favorite
son, Biff. Ever since graduation from high school when he inexplicably
ignored a prestigious scholarship offer to play football for the University
of Virginia, Biff had acted like a restless vagabond, moving from one place
and one job to another, unable to get a hold on life. He had also had a
run-in with the police stealing, they said.

Willy paces the kitchen floor and strolls
around the yard, trying to understand - how could a boy with such promise
have gone so wrong? However, the father is never quite able to admit any
responsibility for Biff's problems. "I never told him anything but decent
things," he rationalizes.

During the boys'visit, Willy can not help
but argue with Biff. His son's dreams are simply unacceptable. Biff's latest
scheme is to own a ranch somewhere in the West. He figures that Bill Oliver,
a man he used to work for, will loan him the ten thousand dollars to buy

Later that evening, Biff and Happy bound
down the stairs to talk with their mother, Linda. Willy comes in from the
garden just in time to hear Biff mention his plans to go see Oliver: "He
always said he'd stake me. I'd like to go into business, so maybe I can
take him up on it." Then, seeing Willy, and anxious to please his father,

Biff stammers on, emphasizing that it is a "business" he wants, not necessarily
a ranch.

Retiring to bed that night, Willy is convinced
that Biff is off to a new start. "God Almighty, he'll be great yet," he
says to Linda. "A star that magnificent can never really fade away!"

When Willy awakes the next morning, Biff
and Happy are gone - Happy to his job, Biff to speak with Bill Oliver.

Willy, still feeling the optimism of the ni ht before, is now determined
to also make his own life better. First thing he'll do is go to New York
to tell his boss that he wants to be taken off the road; life's too short
to be away from home all the time. He and his wife's future promises to
be happy. "It's changing," she tells him excitedly. "Willy, I feel it changing!"

But, once again, things don't work out
the way Willy plans. His boss, Howard - who had been named by young Willy
himself after Will had just started to work for Howard's father - is not
interested in the salesman's problems. When Willy asks that his traveling
be cut down, Howard summarily fires him. Broken, Willy stops to see his
old neighbor-buddy Charley in his office. But Willy has always been jealous
of Charley; and his "friend" isn't much comfort to him now.

CHARLEY-. Howard