Analysis of The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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In, The Death of a Salesman a middle-aged man, named Willy, lives with his wife Linda in a small humble home surrounded by edifices of apartment buildings. One night after Willy returns from a hard day at work he discovers his two adult sons, Biff and Happy are visiting. Willy has always had high expectations of his sons, especially Biff. Biff is the elder son, and Willy expected him to be a salesman too.

However, it turned out that Happy would become more of a businessman. Willy struggles driving to work every week to the New England area from New York; he is exhausted and mentally drained. Linda urges Willy to request to be moved to New York, but Willy refuses to succumb to such helplessness. Will’s immense ego will not allow him to stop and ask for the help he needs.

Willy struggles with infidelity and has an affair. This affair creates issues between his wife and him even though she never finds out. Willy struggles with depression because he never meets his own expectations. This leads him to daydream, sucking on gas pipes, crashing his car, and other unhealthy habits; which untimely leads to his demise.


In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, Miller arranges the plot into three categories: Act One, Act Two and The Requiem. Act One reveals the issues Willy struggles with and how his family responds to them. While Act Two might start out merry, however, towards the end the audience can see how Willy has had a bad effect on not only himself but his family too.

Act two starts out happier than act one because Linda believes she is seeing progress in Willy’s attitude, although in due time Willy’s dark secrets are unleashed. For example, the loss of his job, the incredible job opportunity he had with his brother a long time ago, the gas pipe, and the affair all come to surface in this Act. The Requiem discusses the mourning process Willy’s family goes through.

The readers can predict the contents of the Requiem because the definition of Requiem states “a mass for the dead: a solemn chant for the response of the dead: musical setting or composition in honor of the dead.” (Merriam Webster) This means any form of respect and or remembrance towards a deceased individual. An example of this in the play includes, “Charley: It’s getting dark, Linda. Linda doesn’t react. She stares at the grave.

Biff: How about it, Mom? Better get some rest, heh? They’ll be closing the gate soon. Linda makes no move. Pause.” (Miller 137) This excerpt shows how profound Linda’s mourning is and how she doesn’t even react when people are speaking to her. The author presents this tragedy with a layout that would woe the audience to become invested in Willy Loman’s story by providing the shocking moments in the right places while also ensuring the right position for the more informative and happy moments as well.

Much of the tragedy’s backstory is told through the immense flashbacks and thoughts protruding through Willy Loman’s mind. These flashbacks provide the audience with a perspective of how Willy used to be before the cruel life of a salesman overtook his life.

Point of View/ Perspective

In Death of a Salesman the information prevailed is presented in third person objective. Third person objective point of view is when a story is told by a narrator who is not involved in the plot. This means the narrator knows as much about the story as the reader does. Third person objective is highly reliable because the narrator is not telling the story from their perspective which could be tampered with or one-sided.

With third person objective, especially in this case, the audience gets to receive the information they need through the inner thoughts on the characters. An example of this is Willy’s flashbacks with Biff in them. These flashbacks reveal the best and worst times of Willy since Biff was constantly around his old man. Biff was the one who found out about his dad’s affair, and Biff was the one who had to hold on to that horrific secret.

These memories showed that the demise of Willy was not just his grueling job’s fault but his own as well. This explains the strained relationship between father and son that Willy and Biff have. For reference, “The Woman: But my clothes, I can’t go out naked in the hall! (Biff 119) Biff, his weeping breaking from him. Biff: You-you gave her Mama’s stockings! His tears break through and he rises to go.” (Miller 121)

This scene shows the transition of Biffs idolization of his father and concludes why he ended up being the exact opposite of what his father wanted. This interaction leads Biff to become an inadequate student and move away to different states to work as a farm hand far, far away from his disappointing father. This perspective does not shift and stays consistent throughout the entirety of the play.

The characters are explicit in their dialogue; because the reader has direct contact with their innermost thoughts and feelings. This perspective is very effective for this story plot because the audience can understand where the character’s motives are instigating from and get more of an understanding of how each individual character feels.

Main Character

In, Death of a Salesman, Illy, the main character, is revealed through his internal thoughts. Willy’s physical appearance is revealed in the first couple of moments of the play. For example, “He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly.” (Miller 12) This tells the audience that Willy is a middle-aged man dressed in common clothes; meaning he likes to blend in with the crowd.

The emotional side of Willy Loman appears through his unique thoughts and flashbacks. The audience can assume that Willy is bipolar, meaning he gets really happy when in a good mood, and really depressed or angry when he is in a bad mood. Willy is quite a sensitive man. An example of this would be when Willy got home from work one night and Linda requested to get him some cheese before going off to bed. Wily accepted her offer but was taken aback from the switch in cheeses. Willy was expecting Swiss cheese but instead got American.

Earlier that day Linda went to the store and thought she should pick up American cheese, for a change in taste. However, Willy did not appreciate this in the slight. For reference, “Willy: Why do you get American when I like Swiss? Linda: I just thought you’d like a change- Willy: I don’t want change! I want Swiss cheese. Why am I always being contradicted?” (Miller 17) This extreme instance showcases Willy’s madness. Shortly after this incident, Willy’s mind starts to wonder, and he starts having flashbacks again.

This makes the audience question if he was really that upset over the cheese or if there was more of an underlying issue or secret that he was keeping from Linda. The author uses indirect characterization to reveal Willy Loman. Since there is no definite narrator the audience is shown Willy’s true self through his actions, speech, and thoughts. There is no doubt that Willy struggles with people not liking him. All he ever wants is to be well-liked. This quote reveals this character trait, “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 people?” (Miller 81) This indicates that Willy enjoys being well-liked and does not look for things he might personally like, but instead respected jobs.


The independent play. Death of a Salesman is set in America in New York City after the Great Depression and World War Two. These two heartbreaking moments in history explains Willy’s determination to get a good job and make a name for himself in the business world. During the play, some scenes are set in the past through Willy’s flashbacks, while others are merely set in the present day.

The audience can decipher which is present or past by the stage directions, set of the scene, and location of the actors on the stage. For example, “Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through the door at the left. But in the scenes of the past, these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping through a wall onto the forestage.” (Miller 12)

Besides New York, there is one more big location described; New England. This is the location Willy travels to each week to work and where his “lover” resides. New England represents Willy’s secrets and stresses, this place is his downfall. While New York represents the family, he has let down, and his failures. The dreary atmosphere of both settings is effective in supporting the ideas in the novel.

The only place that does not represent sadness is the view Willy receives to and from New England. Willy describes the view as “beautiful… the trees so thick, and the sun so warm.” (Miller 14) This is because this is the only place Willy is free; free from the daily hassles of home and work. He gets to sit back and lose himself in the scenery of the outdoors while driving in his car. This drive to and from work is like an escape route for Willy. The ambiguity of each setting allows the play to reach each individual personally.


In Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman, the major abstract theme being portrayed is realism. The play informs readers that no common person can ever really meet the standard of the “American Dream”. Everyone has hopes and dreams of reaching the top, but they never really end up satisfying their goal. Society has made people think that the main goal in life is to be liked and well known.

Once people put their career and reputation before their friends and family, they end up putting materialistic things first which makes them miserable. Willy Loman teaches people to be more present in reality and not get lost in the makeup world. When people start to get caught up in superficial things they end up changing who they are and the relationships they have acquired with others as well.

Society doesn’t want what is best for the average man, society is only worried about the economy. Here is how the cycle goes, about thirty years of work and then the old set gets replaced with a shiny newer set of younger individuals. For instance, Willy wanted to die because he believed that hundreds of people would travel to mourn his death. He believed he would die a legend, however, sadly this is not the case. Almost no one came to his funeral.

For reference, Willy says, “Ben that funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! I am known! He’ll see what I am” (Miller 126) This shows how incredibly blinded Willy was to the fact of how unpopular he was because, in the end, hardly anyone showed up to his funeral. Near the end of Willy’s life Willy end Biff realizes why he has gotten nowhere in life is because of his father, “Biff: And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!” (Page 131)

Biff understands that in the grand scheme of things he doesn’t mean very much and he should have been humbler and that would have provided him with a happier less egocentric life. The author believes people get too wrapped up in their ideal of a perfect life, and when people cannot reach this goal it leads one to madness.


The title of Arthur Miller’s play is Death of a Salesman. This title has very literal significance. This title is an allusion in the sense that it makes the audience throughout the story wait for the death of the main character to occur. This creates a sense of suspense in the audience. This title is a perfect four-word summary to describe the intrity of the play.

This title directly connects to the theme because it symbolizes that having an average job will become the death of a person, however, not literal but lead to an unhappiness in life. The title also references how Willy’s goal of becoming one of the best salesmen never happened. This title is stated once throughout the play. It is during the conversation between Willy and his boss Howard.

This is when Howard is trying to fire Willy but will continues to talk to Howard about his father and how he passed on. “Do you know when he died-and by the way he did the death of a salesman, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral.” (Miller 81) This indicates who Willy admired, and wanted to end up like. Willy wanted to die just like his friend, “the death of a salesman”. This title would be permeating through the readers and or audiences head throughout the play. Proposing questions such as “When is the Salesman going to die? “Why is the Salesman going to die? And “How the Salesman is going to die?”


The author’s main use of literacy mechanics is through how the author makes each of his characters talk. For instance, Willy rambles a lot and gets sidetracked very easily, while Linda has a quiet and calm voice. Miller does this to show the uneasiness of Willy’s mental state and to show how innocent Linda is during this dilemma. Miller uses pessimistic ideas to create the suppressed mood and to get his overall sad theme across to his viewers.

Another mechanic Miller is quite fond of using is idioms. An example of one used in the work is, “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!” (Miller 132) An idiom is a phrase that does not make sense if you read each word individually rather than a whole. In closing, the intelligent development of characters throughout the play makes the style of the story fairly easy to understand.

Personal Response

The play, Death of a Salesman, particular stood out to me because of its, obtrusive, bold title. This title automatically grabbed my attention which is why I was intrigued to learn more about it. I decided to read it when I found out it was a play because I thoroughly enjoy reading playwrights. I enjoyed how real this play was. Arthur Miller did not shy away from the hard points, and I appreciate that in a writer.

This piece brought to light many of the similar struggles everyday people endure. This piece had a slow start to it, which is understandable since one has to set the scene for the audience. Around the twentieth page, the audience can expect to become interested in the Loman family situation. This novel is not for lighthearted. Many of my friends are very sensitive to the content they take in. For example, watching something sad happen makes them distressed or pessimistic, and vice versa for cheerful things.

I wouldn’t suggest reading this play if one is not in a good state mentally. However, if one is stable and is not prone to act like what they see or read, I recommend it. This play brings a sense of relatability to its audience and can help some people find a coping mechanism realizing they are not alone. I am truly fascinated and eager to hear some more of Arthur Miller’s works; preferably more optimistic tales. I would also fancy seeing one of his plays in live action to see how well the characters can be portrayed. In conclusion, Arthur Miller’s heart-wrenching saga is a great source of relief for the everyday working individual, who does not fear the harsh truth being revealed.

The Author and His Times

The author of the play Death of a Salesman is a man by the name of Arthur Miller. Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915, in New York City. Miller’s father was a manufacturer of women’s coats while his mother was a school teacher. During his time with his parents, the Great Depression dragged his family into financial hardships. This comparison can be greatly parallel with the Death of a Salesman. Manufacturing, having to deal with the profit of selling, and financial disabilities occurs in Miller’s personal life while also residing presence in his play.

Miller began his writing hobby after college, however, he did not gain real success until 1944 with his play The Man Who Had All the Luck; this work received a Broadway production but only lasted four shows. Miller’s popularity skyrocketed throughout the 1940s-1965s and Death of a Salesman was one of them in 1949. Death of a salesman had around 742 live performances and won a Pulitzer Prize.

The current time period when Arthur Miller was writing his work Death of a Salesman was the beginning of World War One and the effects of the Great Depression was permeating itself throughout the lives of American people. Miller had to deal with the harsh effects of both these tragedies, and the feeling he felt protruding through his play.

One must also wonder if Willy is a representation of himself? Willy is an idolatries man who has an unsuccessful marriage and career. This might have been how Loman felt during this time since his writing career had such a buy start and his marriage was slowly going downhill. However, one would never surely know or understand how to world around an author impacted their writings.

Critical Review

In Clarice Caywood and Gene Laczniak’s article “Ethics and Personal Selling: Death of a Salesman as an Ethical Primer”, they discuss the ethical problematics that are involved in sales management. Caywood and Laczniak provide evidence that general sales practices have depended on high pressure selling to make their profit for decades now. They further explain how the play, “Death of a Salesman” brings to light the disturbing and demanding work personal selling is on their employees.

They go even further and inform their audience on the struggles salespeople go through on the daily such as making difficult decisions alone and fast. They believe that today’s salespeople need a more moral support system. In their own words, “Today’s Sales representatives need more than an ethically neutral management system.” (Caywood/Laczniak) I agree with both authors on the fact that the demands of sale representatives are too harsh nowadays. I agree with them solely because I have witnessed this effect on someone personal to me.

My father, although not a self-selling man, does work in the merchant industry. My dad is a manager at a store and although, he isn’t expected to make client decisions on his own, he still works tremendously long hours and has to drive about an hour to work every day. This relates to Willy’s long drives to and from his home each week and he is expected to work long hours as well. My dad gets into what I call his “cranky moods”. This mood occurs when a customer has been harsh or critical towards him. People do not realize they are dealing with other people and not just robots who are designed to understand their every wish.

I believe it must be extremely difficult for a salesman and or women because they have to work on their own and talk to many different people. In their profession, it is necessary to be well-liked and rise to the top or else they will not get good pay. This is one of the main reasons I believe Willy becomes obsessed with the idea of being popular and rich. He also tricks himself into believing he has numbed the pain of his harsh reality and solemn life.

Since Willy was forced to be away from his wife on business so often this leads him to need and want affection from another, because of this he begins having an affair. This concludes that business that make one be away from their family creates distance among their loved ones. The big corporations that sales representatives work for don’t take into consideration the well-being of their workers. Take for instance Willy’s boss, he did not care that he was basically killing himself to get to work each week all he wanted was for this “embarrassing man” to stay out of his company’s limelight.

For reference, “Howard: I don’t want you to represent us. I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time now.” (Miller 83) Instead of protecting Willy from hard gruesome years of work he instead puts off telling him the truth and forcing him to travel far away. Howard is a perfect example of a boss that cares nothing about his employees but just to make himself look good. Wouldn’t it have been better to just let Willy go before he wrecked himself? Right when he noticed the decline in profit from Willy why didn’t he say anything? Was it to protect Willy’s ego or his own.

This critical analysis of the play, “Death of a Salesman” demonstrates that maybe the downfall of Willy Loman is not entirely his fault. This article also makes its readers not only think of sales corruptions being unethical but also any job nowadays looking for a rise in profit, test scores, medical cases, etc., rather than the well-being of their workers. Jobs rely on their employees to make their money and keep them open, one would think they would keep better care of their main source of income.

Work Cited

  1. Caywood, C. and Laczniak, G. (2019). Ethics and Personal Selling: Death of a Salesman as an Ethical Primer. [online] Alabama Virtual Library. Available at: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=5&sid=fb271b73-b14f-49b8-a589-2a0e35d9f9c6%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=6349743&db=buh [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].
  2. Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/death-of-a-salesman-time-period-historical-context.html.
  3. U.S. Timeline, 1960-1969 – America’s Best History, americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline1940.html.
  4. Anon, (2019). [online] Available at: http://www.cje.ids.czest.pl/biblioteka/Death%20of%20Salesman%20-%20about.pdf [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].

Cite this paper

Analysis of The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. (2021, Apr 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-the-death-of-a-salesman-by-arthur-miller/

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