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Death of a Salesman-A Death of a Dream

Updated on July 6, 2016
Lisawilliamsj profile image

Lisa is a substitute teacher who studies English Literature. She lives to write and is following her dream of becoming a professor.


The title of Arthur Miller’s a Death of a Salesman, foreshadows the tragedy that happens in this play. Although only one life is lost, there are numerous deaths for the antagonist throughout the story. First the death of his dream, second the death of his career, third the death of his sanity, and finally the death of his body.

The amount of thought that goes into this play is astounding. When Arthur Miller began writing this play, he had to come up with a setting, characters, theme, and plot. All of these things require imagination. He creates a family who love each other, but walk around pretending to be people that they are not. This comes solely from the writer’s imagination. In the same way, when someone reads the play, they too, have to use imagination to picture the house that they live in, hear the music in the background, and feel the pain that each member of this family has buried inside.

Willy is in his sixties and starting to lose touch with reality. He is a Salesman, who has spent his whole life striving for notoriety and fame. He is the antagonist in this story. The protagonist in this story is society.

Throughout the story, Willy refers to the way they will be viewed as a family, by society. The first example, is when his wife speaks of his mental breakdown. She says ”He is a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So, attention must be paid. Attention, Attention must finally be paid, to such a person” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, 2014, p. 1067).

Next when Willy gets fired, Charlie offers him a job, but he refuses to take it. He presumes that the job is, beneath what he considers his social standing. What is more, when he is in the middle of his nervous breakdown, at the restaurant, after his sons leave him; he is more concerned about what he is wearing, and if he looks okay, than the fact that he was abandoned by his sons. Finally, as he is contemplating his death, he decides to do it because it will show his son, and everyone else, what an important person he is (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, 2014).

Interestingly, the most compelling irony in the whole story, is the way Willy rationalizes his death. He says, he will show everyone how important he is, by the number of people who show up at his funeral. The sad and ironic part is that nobody, except for the main characters, comes to the funeral. This shows that Willy was an important man, but not in the way he wanted to be. He was important to his family, if only he could have seen this during his lifetime.


Linda is Willies wife. She has spent her whole life, in loving admiration, of the man she married. She has a unique way of looking past people’s rough exterior, and seeing the goodness inside. This is evident when the author writes “Linda his wife, more than loves him; she admires him. She represses his behavior because she shares in his dreams, but lacks the temperament to follow through” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, 2014, p. 1045).

In this story, the heroic character is Linda. The audience can easily set her apart from the rest of the main characters, because of strength and support she shows her family, throughout the entire story. She never has a bad word to say about her husband or her sons, and she always stays true to herself. The tragedy occurs when her husband begins to decline. As her husband tumbles downward into depression, her spirit begins to drop. At this point, she loses touch with, who she is. When her husband kills himself, she cannot cry. She is at a loss because they were so close to being free from the constraints of society. Now, she has to live her golden years alone and numb.

Biff is Willy and Linda’s oldest son. He was on the fast track to getting a full football scholarship, and achieving the fame, which always seemed to be, just, out of his fathers grasp. Unfortunately, he catches his father in the act of cheating on his mother, and decides to take a different path in life. Happy is the youngest child. He chooses to stay in their home-town, to be close to his family. He lies to his family about the position he holds at work. It appears that he lies to everyone all the time.

Charlie is an older man who lives in the same building as Willy. They have been neighbors for a long time. Although Willy has always been rude and mean to him, he views Charlie as his closest friend. This is another ironic twist that the writer puts into the story. Bernard is Charlie’s son. He grows up with Biff, and seems to admire him a great deal. Willy and his boys make fun of Bernard, and say that since he is not popular, he will never amount to anything in life. Willy drives his boys to be the most popular, they are attractive and tough, so he is convinced they will succeed in life. He is also convinced Bernard will fail, since he cares about school, and does not care what people think about him.

Ben is Willies brother. He symbolizes everything Willie lost in childhood, and the person he strives to be. This is one literary convention the author uses. Ben and Willies father left when Willy was young. He finally sees him again after he gets married, and starts his sales career. Ben offers him an opportunity to get rich and famous, but Willy turns it down.

Death of a Salesman Audio

Every single time there is a flashback, there is an internal conflict. This type of literary convention creates suspense, and compels the reader to keep reading. The reader knows what is coming, but hopes that something will change, in the end. When he flashes back to the boys, when they are young, Willy is regretting the choices he has made. He is telling himself that his (and the boys) whole life would be different, if he had not gotten caught with that woman. In addition, every single time he flashes to his dead brother, he is trying to find a way back to the money and prestige he was offered that day, so long ago.

The final literary convention that is used is Paradox. An example of this is, Willy first says the trouble with Biff is that he is lazy, then a few sentences later he says, “there’s one thing about Biff; he’s not lazy” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, 2014, p.1048). This makes the reader question Willy’s reasoning and puts an emphasis on his mental decline.

In conclusion, Death of Salesman is a well thought out tragedy. The writer uses literary conventions, to draw the reader in, and get them involved in the characters lives. This story is about so much more than just the death of Willies body. This story is about a man, who spends his whole life trying to be someone he is not, and the eventual death of his dreams.


Barnet, S., Burto, W., & Cain, W. (2014). Literature for composition: An Introduction to literature (10th ed.). New York, New York: longman.


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    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 years ago

      Hi, DJ! Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a kind comment! As a matter of fact, I did get an A on this. =) I actually have to agree with you, this was one of my least favorite pieces that I read in that class. However when compared with Yellow Wallpaper and Daddy(Sylvia Plath), this story never really had a chance! =) Thanks again for taking the time to stop by!

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 4 years ago

      Super review, Lisa. I don't remember much about the book other than

      there being so many empty dreams and disappointments in life. These

      traits, dusted liberally with the crazy powder, made the story one of my lest favorite novels.

      Lisa, you have done a marvelous job with this review. You took us right through the story line and explained the characters and their station in life. You mentioned that you were using papers form an English class.

      I do hope you pulled an 'A' with this piece of work.

      Great job, my friend!


    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 years ago

      Thank you Joe, for stopping by and leaving such a well thought out comment! I can definitely see where you are coming from. It saddens me that so many people are so obsessed with material things and keeping up their image that they miss out on being truly happy.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Lisa, you did a great job with this review. Just about every family in America can relate to some character or aspect of this tragedy. At the time it was written, the word, "Alzheimer's," had not yet found its way into daily conversations, yet everyone in the audience had a relative or knew about someone who stood on the lonely threshold of senility.

      On a sociopolitical level, whether one first saw the play (or movie) "back then" or in the present, its message of mental and moral decline mirrors what happened to Rome and what is currently happening to America.

      From a thespian standpoint, I marveled at the gifted acting of Lee J. Cobb and Dustin Hoffman in their respective Willie Loman roles. Even then, it wasn't a matter of who did the better job, but, rather, a real appreciation for the talent of Arthur Miller in challenging any actor to rise to the part.

      Thanks for sharing your take on it, Lisa.

      Aloha, my friend!


    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 years ago

      Thank you so much, Eddy!

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 years ago

      Thanks, Bill! I am in school studying English, so I decided to put some of the papers I wrote on here! I am hoping that getting back involved in the community will get my creative juices flowing again!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Brilliant and very interesting review.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You know, I don't remember the last time I saw this play, but I have enjoyed it greatly every single time. Wonderful story although sad indeed. Good review, Lisa. It's good to see you writing.