Death of a Salesman Summary

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Updated: Apr 10, 2021
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Death of a Salesman Summary essay

“The tragic play Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller is a story about a salesman named Willy Loman, who spends his whole life with a deluded dream of achieving lofty goals in an unforgiving society. Willy often neglects his family’s needs, because he is so blinded by the thought of vast riches that are unattainable for him. Being a modern day tragedy, Death of a Salesman examines the effects of what can happen when a person chasing the American Dream has a mind filled with greed and deluded expectations.

The American Dream is known by people all across the world, and brings millions to America every year. “The Land of Opportunity” some say, is a chance to make millions and live out your wildest fantasies. America is known for equal opportunities and the chance to make dreams come true; unfortunately, for most people, obtaining their lofty goals is impossible. Poverty stricken and even middle class citizens have to live economically and work hard for their families in order to maintain what little treasures they have accumulated. A person can dream of having a mansion made of marble and gold with a million dollars, but in reality that is very rare and unlikely. For most, the American Dream is a small house with a white picket fence and a family that lives comfortably.

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For most people the American Dream is exactly that, a dream, but for Willy Loman this dream becomes an obsession which causes his extreme disillusionment. Willy’s thoughts are filled with a low self esteem, a love for money, and the self- made competition he has created with the three successful men that he admires most. A critical essay explains how the American Dream can effect an individual negatively or positively. The essay explains that “the downfall of Willy Loman, a salesman whose misguided notions of success result in disillusionment.” (Marowski, Danil G.; Matuz, Roger; Pollock, Sean R, 247). This gives credibility to the argument that Willy has deluded dreams of achieving goals that are impossible for him achieve.

Not only are Willy’s goals becoming increasingly hindering on his mind, but he also has issues with neglecting his family. Janet Witalec, a critic of Miller points out that his love for money “keeps him from acknowledging the value of human experience—the comforts of personal relationships, family and friends, and love” (Witalec, 145). For him, money equals satisfaction and nothing else can give him the same feeling. Although his mind is very misguided, it is obvious in the play that he realizes his own mistakes and actually does love his wife and sons. He sometimes chooses his family over making money, for example, passing up the opportunity to make money with Ben. This shows that although his priorities are confused, he also realizes what is really important.

In the end, Willy’s love for money and insecurities finally overpower him. Not being as successful and wealthy as his father and brother makes him jealous and regretful of the choices in his life. When he finally comes up with a solution, the idea is so misconstrued and, once again placing a high value on money, “when [he] realizes that his true value lies in being a good father” as Witalec explains. Instead of giving his sons his effort, “he chooses to sacrifice himself in order to give his sons the material wealth he has always desired” (Witalec, 145). He thinks that the greatest gift he could give to his family is his life insurance money, which is anything but the truth. Willy’s family only wants his effort and for him to be an active member in the family. Instead, Willy commits suicide in order for his family to achieve the materialistic gift he believes they want most, his twenty thousand dollar life insurance check.

As a result of his decision, he misses out on a happy, comfortable life and also takes himself away from his family. Truth emerges when he realizes his flaws and shows empathy as he realizes his wrong-doings. As his wife tells him that they almost have the house paid off, he states “…work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it and there’s nobody to live in it” (Miller, 2330). Here he realizes that he focused more on working than spending quality time with his kids and now that he has almost paid off his home, his children are adults. Willy makes decisions without understanding that his actions will have an effect on others. An example of this is his affair. Witalec argues that Willie cheats “out of loneliness for his wife, Linda. But [in fact]… he is driven by feelings of inadequacy and failure to seek himself outside of himself, in the eyes of others. ‘The Woman’ makes him feel that he is an important salesman and a powerful man” (Witalec, 234).

Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is a tragic character with many mental issues in a modern day play. He has many vivid dreams of a life that he never is able to attain, yet witnesses many others like his father and brother achieving the same goals with ease. Due to his love for money, low self esteem, and self absorption he neglects the things in life that can bring him the most happiness like spending quality time with the only people who really care for him, his wife and sons. Although he may not have become as rich as his father or brother, he does share one thing with them; his complete disregard for the needs of other people. Though Willy may have felt like he died for a significant purpose, he does so without fully understanding what his family actually wants and needs. As for the American Dream, it should be a goal that motivates and leads someone in the right directions of their future reality. Not used to cause disillusionment, greed, or neglect amongst families.”

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Death of a Salesman Summary. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved from