Death of a Salesman Tells the Story

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“Death of a Salesman tells the story of a dysfunctional family through the eyes of the father whose sons are grown. The family went from prosperous, to needing support as the father gets older and the truth of his character is revealed. We see Willy, the father, as a grumpy old man we find out through his unhinged flashbacks his life used to be golden, he lived the American dream. His sons were popular, he was a great salesman who brought home more than enough for his family, and his sons looked up to him like he was superhuman.

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As Willy gets older his home changes along with his perception of his family, and he struggles with the truth of the matter. He is a less than average man, and his sons are less than average men, and his wife deserves better. Willy cant let go of what used to be and wants his sons to be exactly like him. He put his life into his sons and they turned out like him, though he can’t see himself for who he is. Although Willy isn’t a good man, he still wants the best for his family as he can’t support them with his job anymore, though his alternative method of obtaining wealth does nothing but tear his family apart. Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, showcases the impact that aging can have on a man supporting his family using verbal contradiction, constant symbolism, and keyword repetition.

Miller utilises contradiction to show Willy’s struggle with the truth, and how he hides behind his old facade and cannot accept the new changes that come with his age, it lets the readers see his indecisiveness over his life and relationships. Willy loves nothing more than his sons, all he wants is for them to succeed. His sons, focusing on the eldest Biff, haven’t gotten far in life since high school. Willy is a traveling salesman, and wants for his sons to follow him into the trade, he can’t accept that it’s not what his sons want. Biff can’t keep a job; he changes jobs every spring like changing seasons and Willy cant come to terms with it. He believes his son is good and hardworking like he raised him to be, yet cannot accept the fact he can’t keep a job. He calls biff “a lazy bum” (Miller, 16), yet moments later he insists that Biff is such a hard worker “Biff is not lazy” (Miller, 16) The truth is Biff was raised to believe he could get what he wanted without working, his father let him cheat and steal and get away with it, and Biff still struggles with these urges to this day. This shows how Aging can make someone question their relationships and whether they were a good father and role model.

Willy wants his sons to succeed and it angers him when his sons continuously fail him. He wants Biff to follow in his footsteps, yet constantly tells him to risk it all like Uncle Ben. “…boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when i was twenty-one I walked out…and by God I was rich.” (Miller 48) Yet when biff wants to Venture out to find his calling Willy calls him stupid and tells him its a bad idea. Willy can’t stop thinking of the opportunity he missed when he let his brother go and find his fortune, yet won’t let his sons attempt to find their own. Willy was a salesman, is supposedly well liked and he may have once been, but with age he begins to realise that his clients weren’t his friends. The people who he said would remember him, his family legacy, the Loman name, forgot about him. He begins to question himself and wonder if he really is liked, or if they don’t like him at all. In truth nobody really cared, he was an average man with an average life, and the people he said would all attend his funeral likely forgot his name a few minutes after he left. These contradictions show they Willy is realising that his life wasn’t the dream he thought it was, his golden years faded fast and the past years he has been an actor. He has been acting like Big Salesman Willy Loman, when he cant make payments, and he cant handle his hours, and he can’t accept his sons, these contradictions show Willy is slowly realizing the truth about himself, his family, and his job.

Death of a Salesman uses symbolism to emphasise Willy’s struggle with letting go of the past, supporting his family, and continuing his families legacy, the readers can analyse the importance of specific items or people in willy’s life that impact him like his troublesome car, his father’s flute, the ever changing elm, and his successful brother Ben. When Willy has an episode of confusion and he flashbacks into the past he takes note of the Elm trees in his yard and the change they undergo. When he bought the house the elms were healthy and strong like how Willy viewed his own life, but as his world changed the elms changed too. Apartments rose around their home, blocking out the sun and enclosing them in what Willy sees as an almost concrete jungle. The two beautiful Elms he used to swing his sons on are gone, replaced with barren gray buildings. The soil won’t even grow plants anymore. The Elm is something that reminds Willy of the times when he was young, and it represents the changes Willy was forced to accept. His job is changing and getting harder, his family is growing more distant, his relationships are changing as he is getting more bitter, and as a finality his home which he is about to pay off is no longer bearing beautiful elms, but tall grey apartments that push back the sun. Often in the play a flute is heard in the distance, often when Willy is remembering something. The flute is what Willy’s father played It represents the Loman Legacy.

Willy’s father was a salesman, and Willy was a salesman, Which only makes it harder on Willy that his sons both aren’t following the legacy of the Lomans. Willy holds his family name in high regard and respects his father, he wants his sons to follow him like he did to his father when he was young. The flute is like the past to Willy, it represents his golden age and all the success his family used to have. The success of his family does not stop at Willy, Willy has a grudge against himself for the choices he left in the past. Willy’s brother Ben is a constant recurrence in Death of a Salesman. Ben represents Willy’s regrets. Ben offered for Willy to risk it all and go with him into the world to make their fortune.

At the time of Ben’s offer Willy was doing good, him and his wife didn’t want to uproot their lives for a slim chance of success, but fate was on Ben’s side and years later he owned his own African diamond mine. Willy constantly thinks about what could’ve been if only he had joined him and constantly regrets staying a salesman. Willy constantly tells his sons of Ben’s success and how they should be like him, yet refuses for his sons to be anything less than salesmen. Ben is a constant reminder of Willy’s bad decisions and his failed success. Willy’s car likely holds the most symbolism, as it is the chariot of his rise and fall. The car brings him to his work, home to his family, and eventually to his demise. As a traveling salesman his car is essentially what brought him fortune, and when he realises his luck is gone, his money is gone, and everything in his life is changing, Willy begins to try to use his car as a catalyst for demise. The metal that protected him on the road being used to bring him to death. Willy is pushed to this decision so his death looks accidental. He can no longer support his family, so he sees his death as the final option to bring his family fortune again.

Miller’s Repetition of specific words and phrases emphasise the stress Willy has gained with age, whether or not he can remember his past, support his family, or see missed opportunities from his youth, this lets readers reflect on what they have done to prepare for the future. We know how much that Willy regrets the past with his brother. The amount of times that he imagines Ben, or talks about Ben’s adventures show how much he wants to be like his brother and how much he regrets not going with him. Ben himself only repeats a few key phrases, Emphasising that Willy is probably not very close with his brother, and only sees him as a missed opportunity. All Ben does is talk about his success, and remind Willy of how he lost his opportunity and is now stuck in his drowning life. “Opportunity is tremendous in Alaska, William. Surprised you’re not up there.” (Miller, 45) Willy’s hysteria makes him see his brother as a taunting force.

Willy bullies himself with the success of his brother and constantly repeats how he lost his chance at fortune. “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy….[with greater force]: One must go in to fetch a diamond out.” (Miller, 134) Ben constantly insists that wealth must be tangible, that you must be able to feel success between your palms. This makes Willy wonder if his life’s work is actually worth anything, because his job left him nothing, and his sons who he poured his soul into also left him nothing. The constant repetition of Willy’s regrets pushes him to believe his success is nothing, and he isn’t living up to his family name. Ben makes him think about how he can no longer support his family, and he lost his chance to have wealth. How his life isn’t what he always pretends it is, his life is scraping the bottom of the jar. Ben helps him see his life isn’t white picket fences, with a jock son who follows in your footsteps. His life is a busy father who indorsed his jock son to make bad decisions, and he is disappointed that his sons continue making bad decisions into adulthood. Willy is worried that he is fading away, the words “remember” and “forget” are seen on almost every page of the play. Willy is losing track of reality, he is having trouble telling the difference between memories and real life. Willy is distraught by his rampant memories and his family sees quickly that he is having delusions. Willy forgets his own opinion and constantly contradicts himself. Aging is likely the cause of Willy’s memory issues, why he is constantly forgetting things, and confusing his memories with the real world.

Willy Loman is a man who thought he had it all, beautiful wife and kids, steady job, new home, family legacy to uphold, but he realises with age he is holding up a facade. As he ages he realises his life choices may not have been the best. His parenting choices may not have been the best. His sons aren’t what he hoped and he is continuously disappointed by them. He lost his chance at fortune. His family legacy means nothing. Nobody remembers him. Willy can’t stop living in the past, hating the changes that came with age. This showcases how Arthur Miller uses contradiction, symbolism, and repetition to show how aging can affect a man supporting his family. Age let’s you see new truths, or in Willy’s case constantly deny the truths presented to him.”

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Death of a Salesman Tells the Story. (2021, Jul 03). Retrieved from