Symbolism in Death of a Salesman

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“In psychology, a person has a threshold of how much stress they can uphold; an excessive amount of stress can lead to unsuccess, and a deficiency will lead to the same. Willy, a father of two adult kids with a wife, was exponentially spiraling into insanity due to the stress of his family and his future not coming together. He had unhealthy obsessions with his children and his car which lead to him ultimately ruining his life further. Throughout the play, there are numerous examples of foreshadowing, symbolism, pathos and imagery to display how happiness can quickly turn into madness if people have the wrong outlook on the future.

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Arthur Miller, an author of many famous book titles, portrays the complexities of mental health due to the constant comparison of the past, the present, and the future through foreshadowing, imagery, symbolism, and pathos, in his play, Death of a Salesman.

Miller immediately uses foreshadowing and symbolism to set up conflicts that will occur throughout the entire play. In the beginning, the house is described as “[a] small, fragile-seeming home,” which is an example of astounding symbolism and foreshadowing (Miller 11). The imagery used on the first and second page of the play are imperative for creating a play; a “fragile-seeming home” is both foreshadowing and imagery due to its description of how the metaphoric house appeared like, and is described like, it will crumble and the family will fall apart in the future (11). Although the house is the only thing literally fragile looking, Willy’s health was, too.

As the house was crumbling, Willy’s mental health is correlating with it as well. Willy talked about his Chevrolet on many accounts and could only hint to the reader that something detrimental will happen to it. After the initial scene layout, Willy came back home after being unsuccessful to make his way to his job, and Linda, his wife, immediately asked, “Why? What happened? Did something happen? You didn’t smash the car, did you?” (12). By introducing the car and her worry, Linda presents why the car will be a problem later in the play. Willy also talks about simonizing his car in small amounts, which makes it seem minute, but it is a monumental symbol throughout the book. He falls into nostalgia and mentions, “Oh, Ben, how do we get back to all the great times? Used to be so full of light, and comradeship… and simonizing that little red car,” while he is hitting absolute rock bottom in his mind. He wanted everything to be perfect and his way all the time, but could not do that for himself since he’s not able to make money at his job, his sons were not living up to his expectations, and he could not stop drifting into his memories. Ironically, Willy killed himself by crashing his car a short distance from his house and his family was unsurprised.

As the play’s plot thickens, Willy had has a mental breakdown at the climax of the book, and was rejected by his son. His sons, Biff and Happy, dismissed his mental health throughout the entirety of the play, and one even went as far as disowning him while Willy was having a mental breakdown, which causes the audience to feel great anger. In the bathroom, Willy was talking to his sons about topics ranging from flunking math to a stolen pen to a job all while having a mental breakdown with flooding memories of his older, more successful, brother, Ben. Since Happy had a girl he was with at that point in time, he disowned his own father in sake of his pride and love for women, causing the audience to feel immense frustration. His temporary girl says, “don’t you want to tell your father-,” but Happy interrupted and says, “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on,” as they both walked out, leaving Willy in the bathroom, delusional (115). More anger is shown to Happy when he said, “He had no right to do that. There was no necessity for it. We would’ve helped him,” which is ironic and exasperating (137). When his sons leave him in the bathroom, Willy is left alone with his thoughts and soon takes his anger out on himself, leaving the audience with resentment.

While his family seemed to have grown numb to his mental illnesses and craziness, Willy progressively got worse and eventually committed suicide. The magnificent story is demonstrated through simple rhetorical devices that make a monsterous climax and resolution about a father that suffered from an unhelped mental illnesses.”

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Symbolism in Death of a Salesman. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from