Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

The author:

Arthur Miller was born on 17 October 1915 in Harlem. He grew up during the American Depression and this situation affected his own family when his father's clothing factory experienced financial difficulties.

Arthur Miller himself worked briefly as an salesman. Through his small jobs he earned his way to university. He studied journalism and after graduating he began to write. On leaving university Miller briefly joined the Federal Teatre, a nation- wide organisation designed to help unemployed writers, actors, directors and designers.

Among other works he submitted was a play called "The Golden Years", which was finally produced in a radio and television version. After that he focused on radio plays while he was working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

His first Broadway play "The Man Who Had All the Luck" was a desaster and they closes it after 4 Days. With his play "All My Sons" he returned to the theatre and it was an immediate success. "Death of a Salesman" was performed in 1949 an won the Pulitzer prize. With his big success Arthur Miller was established as a playwright. Some years later he wrote "The Crucible" where he criticized the persecution of witches in the early America.

In 1957 Arthur Miller was brought before the Congressional Committee which investigated "unamerican activities" or Communism, and he refused to name anyone who expressed left-wing sympathies. He was convicted to contempt of Congress. The press respected him for his cool and dignified manner under interrogation. The conviction for contempt was reversed the following year by the Supreme Court.

It was at his point that Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe, who he was devorced 4 years later. In 1962 he married his present wife Ingeborg Morath, a photographer. Arthur Miller's career has continued and his stature as one of America's playwright has been consolidated and "Death of a Salesman" became for many his most memorable work.

The Plot:

The story starts with Willy who comes home after a few days too early from a trip. He tells his wife Linda that he was too tired and couldn't make it. He couldn't drive because he couldn't manage to keep his mind on driving. He nearly had an accident but he is too ashamed to tell his family. As his sons Biff and Happy enter, they see their father standing in the middle of the kirchen talking to his brother Ben. Willy tells them a lot about his brother and he admires him very much. The three men talk about their future and they're getting louder and louder as his friend Charlie suddenly enters, but Willy still doesn't stop talking about Ben, fascinated by his success.

Biff wants to go to Bill Oliver to ask him for a job but Happy has the idea that they should found their own sports- line "The Loman Brothers". Willy likes the idea very much and is proud, but he is just proud of Happy. Biff goes to Oliver in order to ask if he would lend him 500.000$ but he doesn't have any sort of success.

At the same time Willy goes to his boss Howard Wagner because he is tired of selling goods in towns which are far away and wide sread, so he wants Howard to give him a job in New York. He refuses the job and fires him. Now Willy stays alonein Howard's office and starts talking to Ben, he dreams of changes which he didn't take in the past.

Without a job, he has to enlarge his debts at Charlie's because he must pay the rate for his insurance. But Charlie just lent him a lot of money because Willy always lied to his family that he broke new records in selling goods and he presented Charlie's money. At Charlie's home Willy meets Bernard, a former best friend of Biff. He always stand in the shadow but now the situation is different: Bernard is a famous lawyer and Biff is is a loser with no future.

In the evening Biff and Happy meet their father because he wanted to celebrate the success of Biff's deal with Oliver. But Willy tells his sons that Howard fired him and Biff lied to his father because he doesn't want him to be disappointed. So he just tells him that he got the money. Later, Biff and Happy leave their father because they have dates with girls and Willy is all alone. He falls into the past when Biff didn't go to school and followed his father to Boston where Willy spent a night with another woman. After this tragic event the relationship between Biff and Happy was less good. After this flashback, Willy goes home.

Late at night the two boys come home and they have a fight with their mother because they left their father alone in the restaurant. They find him in the backyard where he plant a tree. Biff tells him that he will leave his home and they start arguing but then Biff tells his father that he really loves him.

Linda and her sons go to bed and only Willy stays awake. He is in the kitchen and talks again to his brother Ben. Then he gets into his car and commits suicide.


Willy Loman:

A sixty year old salesman living in Brooklyn, Willy Loman is a gregarious, mercurial man with powerful strivings and aspirations for success. However, after thirty-five years as a traveling salesman throughout New England, Willy Loman is tired and defeated by his lack of success and difficult family life. Although he has a dutiful wife, his relationship with his oldest son, Biff, is strained because of Biff's continual failures. As a salesman, Willy Loman focuses on personal details over actual measures of success, believing that it is personality and not results that garner success in the business world.

Biff Loman:

The thirty-four year old son of Willy Loman, Biff was a star high school athlete with a scholarship to UVA, but he did not attend college after failing his high school math course and not attending summer school. He did this primarily out of spite after finding his father having an affair with a woman in Boston. Since then, Biff has been a continual failure, stealing from every job he has had and even spending time in jail. Despite his failures and anger towards his father, Biff still has great concern for what his father thinks of him, and the conflict between the two characters drives the narrative of the play.

Linda Loman:

The dutiful and obedient wife to Willy and mother of Biff and Happy, Linda Loman is the one person who supports Willy Loman, despite his often reprehensible treatment of her. She is a woman who has aged greatly because of her difficult life supporting her husband, whose hallucinations and erratic behavior she contends with alone. She is the moral center of the play, occasionally stern and not afraid to confront her sons on their poor treatment of their father.

Happy Loman:

The younger of the two Loman sons, Happy Loman is seemingly content and successful, with a steady career and none of the obvious marks of failure that his older brother displays. Happy, however, is not content with his more stable life, because he has never risked failure or striven for any real measure of success. Happy is a compulsive womanizer who treats women purely as sex objects and has little respect for the many women he seduces.


The Lomans' next door neighbor and father of Bernard. Charlie is a successful businessman and exemplifies the success that Willy never could achieve. Although Willy claims that Charlie is a man who is 'liked, but not well-liked,' he owns his own business and is respected and admired. He and Willy have a contentious relationship, but Charlie is nevertheless Willy's only friend.


Bernard is Charley's only son, intelligent and industrious but without the gregarious personality of either of the Loman sons. It is this quality that makes Willy believe that Bernard will never be a true success in the business world, but Bernard nevertheless proves himself to be far more successful than Willy imagined: he is a lawyer ready to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.


Willy's older brother, Ben left home at seventeen to find their father in Alaska, but ended up in Africa, where he found diamond mines and came out of the jungle at twenty-one an incredibly rich man. Although Ben died several weeks before the present time of the play, he often appears carrying a valise and umbrella in Willy's hallucinations. Ben represents the fantastic success for which Willy has always hoped but can never achieve, as well as the lost opportunities in Willy Loman's life.

Howard Wagner:

The thirty-six year old son of Frank Wagner, Willy Loman's former boss, Howard now occupies the same position as his late father. Although Willy was the one who named Howard, he nevertheless is forced to fire Willy for his erratic behavior. Howard is preoccupied with technology; when Willy meets with him, he spends most of the meeting demonstrating his new wire recorder.

About the play:

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman stems from both Arthur Miller's personal experiences and the theatrical traditions in which the playwright was schooled. The play recalls the traditions of jewish theater that focus on family as the crucial element, reducing most aspects of the play to a family level. This is particularly evident in the family structure within the play, concerning two sons estranged from their father. This has parallels to another one of Miller's major works, "All My Sons", which premiered two years before Death of a Salesman.

Although the play premiered in 1949, Miller began writing Death of a Salesman at the age of seventeen when he was working for his father's company. In its short story form, it concerned an aging salesman who cannot sell anything, is berated by company bosses and must borrow subway change from the young narrator. The end of the manuscript contains a postscript that the salesman on which the story is based had thrown himself under a subway train.

Arthur Miller reworked the play in 1947 upon a meeting with his uncle, Manny Newman, a salesman who was a competitor at all times, even with his sons, Buddy and Abby. Miller described the Newman household as one in which one could not lose hope, and based the Loman household and structure on his uncle and cousins. There are numerous parallels between Abby and Buddy Newman and their fictional counterparts, Happy and Biff Loman: Buddy, like Biff, was a renowned high school athlete who failed high school. Miller's relationship to his cousins parallels that between the Lomans and their neighbor, Bernard.

The play was a resounding success, winning the Pulitzer Prize, as well as the Tony Award for Best Play. The Since then, the play has been revived numerous times on Broadway and reinterpreted in stage and television versions. As an archetypal character representing the failed American dream, Willy Loman has been interpreted by diverse actors.

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