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Death of a Salesman breakdown semester 2

Death of a Salesman
Online Study Guides Presents:
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"
Willy Loman always wanted the American Dream. He had a job in sales, his dream
career, but he made little money and was underappreciated by his young boss. He had
two grown sons, but both were failures and neither liked him. He owned his own home,
but could barely afford the bills. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize
winning play, ultimately questions whether the American Dream is a false myth and
examines the price one man pays for believing in it.
Act One
A Complete Breakdown of Act One of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"
Act One, Part One
Act 1, Part 1
In the beginning of the first act, as a quiet flute plays soft music in the background, the
reader is introduced to Willy Loman, a traveling salesman in his sixties. Willy lives with
his wife Linda in a small house in Brooklyn, where they raised their two sons who are
now grown adults. Their sons, Happy and Biff, are both in their thirties but have had very
different career paths. Happy is successful in the business world, even though he admits
to doing many unethical things to make his way to the top. Biff, the older of the two,
struggles with holding a steady job and roams around the country looking for work.
Willy enters his home looking exhausted and is greeted by Linda. Linda asks him if he
has had another car accident. Willy seems annoyed and explains that nothing happened.
Linda is worried since he drove the car off a bridge once. Willy then goes on to say how
he was having trouble staying awake and how he kept dreaming while he was driving.
Linda begs him to talk to his boss, Howard Wagner, about getting a job in the city so that
he would not have to travel.
Willy seems like a very troubled man. He consistently contradicts himself and then asks
why everyone seems to contradict him. For example, when Linda tells him that she
bought a new type of cheese he becomes angry, and only a few moments later decides
that he wants some cheese. It’s clear that he has some mental distractions and that his
family worries about his wellbeing.
Willy tends to talk to himself, and his rambling wakes his visiting sons, who are staying
in their old bedroom above the kitchen. The boys reminisce about old days when they
were popular teenagers and their dad was their hero. Happy asks Biff to move back
home, and Biff tries to convince Happy to buy a ranch with him out west. Biff tells his
brother that he plans to see his old boss, Mr. Oliver, a man who always liked Biff, about
getting a loan to buy the ranch. Happy encourages his older brother by reminding him
that he is a “well liked” person. The boys still hear their father rambling about in the
kitchen below and try to fall asleep.
Act 1, Part 1
The play is set mostly in Willy Loman’s Brooklyn home. When the house was purchased,
it was a nice family home, but Arthur Miller calls it “fragile-seeming” and says, “An air
of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.” This description of the
home signifies that Willy always yearned for the ultimate American dream. Willy wants a
decent home with a large yard, but he is never willing to settle for just that. He wants nice
cars and top-of-the-line appliances. He wants successful children and everything else that
comes along with the traditional American dream. Unfortunately, Willy’s life has not
turned out as he expected it would, and the house represents his own failure to achieve
that yearned-for ideal.
As the house is described, the reader realizes that it was once a nice, small house, with a
good yard, but is now surrounded by overpowering apartment buildings in a
neighborhood that is being overrun by the city. The yard no longer gets any sunlight, and
it is impossible to plant a garden or flowers because of the buildings that surround their
house. The lack of warmth and sunshine and the inability to nurture growth symbolize the
looming threats to Willy’s dreams, which are starting to disintegrate.
Act One, Part Two
Act 1, Part 2
Willy becomes lost in his own thoughts, and eventually his daydreams of past times
become real to the reader, a style that continues through most of the play. Willy
remembers a day many years earlier while his boys are still in high school. A younger
Biff and Happy enter the kitchen after spending the day waxing their father’s car. Biff is
a star athlete and is clearly favored by his father, regardless of Happy’s many attempts to
gain Willy’s attention. Happy continues to ask his father if he has noticed his weight loss.
Biff tells his dad that he “borrowed” a football from the school, and while Willy laughs,
he tells Biff to return it. Biff mentions an upcoming football game and explains that he
borrowed the ball to practice for the big event.
Bernard, a neighbor boy, enters and begs Biff to study Math, explaining that Biff will not
graduate if he fails a math test. While Willy knows Biff should study, he is distracted
when Biff shows him the University of Virginia insignia on his shoe, suggesting that
Willy believes sports, not schoolwork, will take Biff to college. Bernard leaves and Willy
asks his boys if Bernard is “well liked.” They explain that he is liked, but not “well
liked.” Willy says he is happy that his own boys will always be “well liked,” and in turn
succeed in business, just like himself.
Linda enters the room and Willy exaggerates about how much money he has earned over
his last business trip. The original commission sum of $200 is reduced to only $70, but
Linda still seems proud of her husband. Linda then tallies up what they owe on the
various bills they must pay. Willy then starts getting upset and feels that he is disliked
because he is overweight and because he talks and jokes too much. He then compares
himself to his successful neighbor Charley, Bernard’s father, who is a man of few words.
Willy tells Linda that he misses her terribly while he’s on the road and that she is his best
Act 1, Part 2
The idea of being “well liked” consumes Willy and his sons and is a constant theme
throughout the play. The men of the Loman family use this term consistently in a way
that indicates that being liked is the most important type of success.
While consoling Biff about his lack of success in business, Happy reminds him that he is
“well liked,” as if that is the measure of success that really matters. In Willie’s daydream,
he asks his sons if young Bernard is liked, and they reply that he is “liked” but not “well
liked.” Willy is thankful that his boys are well liked, and he thinks that this will give
them the opportunities needed in life to succeed. The idea that popularity is what
determines a man’s fortunes is a perspective that Willy imparts to his sons. Unfortunately
his skewed sense of reality on how the business world really works sets his children up
for failure. He fails to instill them with morals and ethics. When the boys become men
and realize that good looks and popularity aren’t as important as their father made them
out to be, they are in for an unpleasant surprise.
In reality, Willy thinks he is well liked, but he isn’t really all that successful. The
audience begins to wonder how “well liked” he is after all. He doesn’t seem to be such a
great salesman and doesn’t appear to have many close friends.
Act One, Part Three
Act 1, Part 3
While Linda and Willy are talking, a woman’s laughter is heard from another part of the
stage. Suddenly, Willy is involved in a reverie in which he speaks with “The Woman,” a
secretary for one of his business associates. As Willy and the woman sit in a Boston hotel
room, she thanks him for the stockings he has brought her.
Willy’s thoughts return back home where he is sitting at the kitchen table with Linda
once again. Linda is mending a pair of stockings, and Willy gets angry, saying that she
should buy new ones rather than mend old stockings. She remarks on how expensive new
stockings are.
A young Bernard rushes into the house and brings up Biff failing math class once again.
Linda and Willy discuss Biff and how he stole a football. Linda also mentions that some
of the women are concerned that Biff acts too rough with girls his age. Linda leaves the
room nearly in tears as the dream of her perfect son starts to crumble. At this point,
Happy comes down from his room. As Willy notices him, he lapses back into the present
Charley comes over and begins a game of cards with Willy. He knows that Willy is
suffering and offers him a job at his company. Willy takes offense, but the men continue
to play cards. In the meantime, Willy’s older brother Ben appears in the room for another
one of Willy’s daydreams. Ben, who has since passed away, became rich from
discovering African diamond mines. Charley is concerned about Willy since he is half
playing cards and half conversing with his dead brother. Willy accuses Charley of
cheating, and Charley leaves the Loman house.
Ben talks about their father who left his sons when Willy was a toddler and Ben was a
teenager. The reader learns that their father made and sold flutes, which partly explains
the persistent flutes playing in the background of the play. Ben left to follow their father
to Alaska, but instead became rich in Africa. As Willy continues to dream, Ben wrestles a
young Biff to the ground and leaves to catch his train, even as Willy begs him to stay.
Act 1, Part 3
This portion of the play portrays the relationships that Willy has with family and friends,
but also shows how the relationships change over time. While Willy drifts in and out of
daydreams, he struggles with shifting attitudes towards him, specifically those of his own
sons. In his present life, Biff and Happy seem to treat him as a stranger and a sick,
demented man, but when Willy retreats into his dreams, his sons worship him. As
teenagers, Biff and Happy fought for their father’s attention, but now that they are grown,
they see him as a failure and are disgusted by how he has turned out.
It is clear from Willy’s daydreams about the past that he favors his more popular and
athletic son Biff. Happy fights for Willy’s attention, but Biff’s football game is Willy’s
only concern. In the present of the play, Happy is the success of the two, but Biff is still
the focus of their father’s attention, although for a different reason. Biff is unsuccessful
and floats around the country from job to job, and Willy seems to be consumed with his
son’s failures, acting as if he is responsible for them.
While Willy’s relationships with his boys have changed drastically over the past few
years, his relationship with Linda hasn’t changed a bit. She still is and always will be the
doting wife who does whatever is asked. She cooks and cleans and takes care of the bills,
while constantly waiting on Willy hand and foot, even though he has given her little to be
thankful for. In their entire life together he has shown more concern and compassion for
his children, specifically Biff, than for her but Linda loves him regardless.
Act One, Part Four
Act 1, Part 4
Act I ends with Willy’s family rushing outside after they hear him shouting. The entire
scene remains in the present with no flashbacks, but it is evident from his conversations
with his sons that Willy is troubled. Happy explains that Biff is planning to see Mr.
Oliver the next day to ask for a business loan. Willy contradicts himself many times.
Early in this part, he dictates a serious mood (forbidding others to tell jokes), but later he
tries to lighten the mood with a funny story during his meeting. When Linda tries to offer
her own advice, Willy tells her to be quiet. It is clear that she is a subservient wife and
that she does whatever he asks.
Linda tells the boys that Willy has attempted suicide several times. Very upset, she tells
them that she found a rubber hose in the basement which she believes is intended for
asphyxiation. The boys clearly are not surprised, and Biff ends the acts by removing the
rubber hosing from the basement. All the Loman men feel like their luck is going to
change the next day when Biff visits Mr. Oliver and Willy asks for a non-traveling, city
Act 1, Part 4
When Willy hears that Biff and Happy want to go into business together and that Biff is
going to ask his old boss, Mr. Oliver, for a business loan, he is ecstatic. The idea that his
sons might be successful and that they might include him in their new business scheme
would be his ultimate dream, combining success in business with the kind of closeness
with his sons that has so far eluded him. Willy tries to give Biff advice for the interview,
but consistently contradicts himself. Biff barely listens to Willy, realizing that his father
doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Willy thinks Biff calls him “crazy” and is insulted.
While Biff doesn’t explicitly call him crazy, it is clear that he thinks his father is
confused, if not disturbed.
In Willy’s most recent daydream, he worships Biff and is consumed by the fact that Biff
adores him too. He refuses to use stern words with Biff, or even to scold him for stealing
a football, because he doesn’t want Biff to stop liking him. Willy is so obsessed with the
idea of being “well liked” that he compromises his chance to be a good father.
Unfortunately, his son now sees him as an insane man who knows little about business or
anything else. Willy’s dreams continue to crumble as his worst nightmare comes true:
even his favorite son no longer likes or respects him.
Act Two
Rocketbook Presents: A Complete Breakdown of Act Two of Arthur Miller's
"Death of a Salesman"
Act Two, Part One
Act 2, Part 1
Biff and Happy leave for their morning appointments before Willy wakes up. Linda
informs her husband that the boys left together before 8:00 a.m. and that they plan to take
him out to dinner later that evening. They then discuss how they are unable to pay some
of their bills. Willy speaks briefly about buying a large house with guest houses for the
boys to come visit. He then leaves to meet his boss, Howard Wagner, and ask for a city
job for which he won’t need to travel. Howard is younger than Willy, and the son of his
Willy’s former boss.
Willy enters Howard’s office, where Howard is playing with a wire recorder he bought
just for fun. Howard shows off his new “toy” by making Willy listen to the recordings of
his family. Willy then explains that traveling is just too difficult and he asks Howard for a
job in the city. Howard says that there is nothing available. He tells Willy that he has
been thinking about him for a while now and that Willy should take some time off to rest.
Howard says that Willy should take a few months off and then come back. Although
Howard promises he will see what jobs are available when Willy returns from his leave,
it is clear that Howard is really just trying to let Willy go. The reader surmises that
Howard doesn’t want to seem cruel since Willy has been a dedicated employee. Willy
gets angry and insists that Howard’s father had promised him a better job. He even
reminds Howard that he helped name him when he was first born.
Willy then talks about an eighty-four-year-old salesman named Dave Singleman who had
the quintessential “death of a salesman” since his funeral was well attended. The man
was a salesman who made exceptional money calling people from his hotel room to sell
them on whatever it was that he was selling. It was clearly the dream life, and death, that
Willy yearned for.
Willy starts begging Howard for any job that will give him fifty, even forty dollars a
week. Howard suggests that Willy turn to his sons for help, but Willy, much too proud to
resort to that, refuses and leaves Howard’s office. Nevertheless, Willy is proud that his
sons have impressed others with the idea that they are successful young businessmen.
Even if they were, Willy refuses to give up the typical role of a father supporting his
children and wife.
Act 2, Part 1
Willy idolizes two men that he perceives as successful: his brother Ben and Dave
Singleman. While both men are rich, Willy fails to see that they may not have been
successful in other areas of life. He refuses to see that his brother became rich by dumb
luck and that he never worked hard for his earnings. He speaks of Ben’s large family, but
never talks about the relationships that he formed with his own sons. Ben is idolized
merely for the fact that he has money.
Dave Singleman was a man who was a great salesman, but he died at eighty-four while
working. Willy says that Singleman is the reason he became a salesman. Singleman had
the ultimate “death of a salesman” and was “well liked” by buyers and sellers all over the
country, but Willy fails to mention whether he was happy or had a family who loved him.
Willy idolizes men that may be successful financially, but aren’t successful in other
aspects of life. The reader realizes that a man like Charley, who has a good job and a son
who loves him, would be a better model for Willy to emulate. Central to the play’s
critique of materialism is Willy’s mistaken belief that money equals success. The implicit
contrast between Charley, on the one hand, and figures like Dave Singleman, on the other
foregrounds the fact that Willy fails to see that intangible assets other than money can
also make a man rich.
Act Two, Part Two
Act 2, Part 2
Willy goes to Charley’s office to borrow more money but falls into one of his daydreams
on his way there. In this flashback, Willy’s brother Ben asks him to come to Alaska, but
Linda defensively tells him that Willy already has a good job. Ben leaves, and Willy is
left with a young Biff, Happy, and Bernard, all on their way to Biff’s big football game.
Happy follows his older brother with his helmet and other equipment, and Bernard begs
for the chance to carry some of the items into the locker room. Happy is annoyed when
Biff agrees to let Bernard carry his shoulder pads.
When Charley stops over at the Loman house and jokes about the game, Willy is
obviously angry about his nonchalant manner. Willy is acting as if the game is the only
important thing in Biff’s life, yet Charley realizes that there is more to life than football.
Back in the present day, Willy stands outside of Charley’s office when a secretary named
Jenny finds Bernard to deal with Willy. Willy is finishing his daydream and angrily
talking to imaginary people, confusing the young girl. Willy sees Bernard and realizes
that he is a grown up, successful man and is jealous that his own sons are not. Bernard,
who is now an attorney, explains that he is stopping by the office to say goodbye to his
father since he is leaving to fight a case in Washington D.C.
As the two men talk, Willy explains that Biff is in town working on a big deal of his own.
Bernard brings up the big football game and says that Biff never was the same after that.
He also asks Willy why Biff just quit school instead of taking summer school after he
failed math class. The reader learns that after Biff received the failing grade, he went to
Boston to visit Willy, but when he returned, he destroyed his sneakers with the University
of Virginia insignia. When Bernard asks Willy what happened in Boston, Willy gets
angry and defensive and scolds Bernard for trying to blame him for his son’s lack of
Charley comes out to say goodbye to his son and brags to Willy that Bernard is fighting a
case for the Supreme Court. Willy is truly jealous of both Charley and Bernard and
yearns for a similar life.
After Bernard leaves, Willy asks Charley for money to pay his insurance bill. Charley
tells Willy he can have a job making fifty dollars a week, but Willy insists that he already
has a good job. Charley is angry that Willy won’t let go of his pride, and a sad Willy
finally gives in and explains that he no longer works for Howard. Willy then tells Charley
how being well liked is what makes a man a success; Charley disagrees, saying that
successful men like J.P. Morgan were not well liked at all. Willy leaves Charley’s office
very upset.
Act 2, Part 2
While everyone around him knows he’s a failure, Willy refuses to ask for help. His friend
Charley offers him a job, knowing that he needs the money, but Willy can’t let go of his
pride and accept the generous offer. He lies about the success of his sons, which makes
Howard believe that they can support Willy. He even lies to Bernard, Biff’s old high
school friend, to makes it seem as if Biff is a success.
Bernard and Charley represent everything that Willy has ever wanted. He wants a
thriving business and he wants his sons to have had great lives with good jobs, wives, and
children. Bernard is a lawyer and has a wife and children; in addition, he has a good
relationship with his father. The fact that Bernard is so modest about his
accomplishments that he doesn’t share that he is fighting a case for the Supreme Court
shocks Willy. He wonders why Bernard would keep that a secret and appears almost
angry that he does. Willy, never having been a success himself, is unable to fathom not
spreading the news of any accomplishment.
Act Two, Part Three
Act 2, Part 3
Happy goes to the restaurant and meets an attractive woman at the table next to him. He
says that he is a champagne salesman and tells her that Biff is a professional football
player when he arrives. Biff tells Happy about the horrible meeting that he had with Mr.
Oliver and explains that after waiting for six hours, and not being recognized by Mr.
Oliver, he stole his fountain pen and ran out of the office. He also confesses that he was
never a salesman but only a lowly shipping clerk for Mr. Oliver; Willy’s distorted stories
and exaggerations made him forget he was never a salesman. Happy begs Biff to lie to
their father and to say that Mr. Oliver is thinking about the proposition.
When Willy arrives at the restaurant, he tells the boys that he has lost his job. Biff tries to
tell the truth about what happened during his meeting, but he is constantly interrupted as
Willy refuses to believe him. In a defensive outburst, Willy says that Biff cannot blame
him for everything since it was Biff who failed math.
As Biff continues to talk about his day, Willy starts a daydream where he is in Boston, in
a hotel room with a woman. A young Biff has just failed math and jumps on a train to
visit his father in Boston. When he reaches his father’s room he tells him about the math
class. Biff hears the laughter of a woman in the bathroom and demands to know who she
is. Willy tries to lie by claiming the woman was having troubles with her hotel room and
that she is using his shower, but Biff knows the truth. As Willy tries to kick her out of the
room, she asks for the stockings he has promised her. Biff knows that the stockings
belong to his mother and begins crying since he knows what really is going on. Willy
begs Biff to listen and promises that he will call the math teacher, but Biff runs away
exclaiming that no one, not even his math teacher, will listen to a phony or a liar.
Back at the restaurant, the boys have left with the woman at the table next to them and
one of her friends. Willy is confused, but Stanley, the Chop House waiter, insists that he
go home. Willy asks where the nearest plant store is and explains that he wants to plant a
garden in his backyard.
Act 2, Part 3
Willy recalls the day Biff caught him having an affair with The Woman in Boston.
During his dinner with his sons, he is caught between listening to Biff’s story of his
interview with Mr. Oliver and with his own memory of that day in Boston.
Biff’s discovery of Willy’s affair is the turning point of the play and of Willy’s
relationship with his favored son. Biff worshiped his father, but clearly loved his mother
as he refused to condone his father’s adultery. Biff understands his father’s need for the
American dream and punishes his father by saying that he will not retake his math class
and that he will not go to college. Biff sacrifices his own career path and life in order to
hurt Willy and crush his dreams.
When Willy finishes his daydream he decides to plant a garden. It is as if he is trying to
successfully grow something since he was unsuccessful with “growing” his sons. He
wants to raise a seed into a vegetable the way he wasn’t able to raise Biff into a man. But
just like Biff, the seeds won’t grow since the house is surrounded by the overwhelming
shadows of the apartments that loom above it.
Act Two, Part Four
Act 2, Part 4
The boys return home with flowers for Linda, but she is so angry at how they treated their
father that she throws the flowers to the ground and tells them to leave the house for
good. Biff looks around for Willy and finds him outside, but Willy is again lost in a
daydream. Willy is talking to his brother Ben about an insurance proposition of $20,000.
He explains that he has consistently paid his premium, but Ben is still leery of the deal.
Biff tells Willy that he is leaving for good, confronts him with the rubber hose, and then
tells Willy that he is to blame for how he, Biff, has turned out. Biff thinks that Willy
made him too arrogant. He also explains that he has stolen from every job he has ever had
and that he once spent time in jail for stealing a suit. He also tells Linda and Willy that
Happy has a lower-status job than he has led them to believe.
Everyone except Willy heads for bed and Linda begs her husband to join her. He says he
will be up in a minute, but he never comes. He continues to talk to Ben and remarks that
Biff should be successful with $20,000, making it clear that Willy is thinking of suicide
so that his family can cash in on his insurance benefit. The act ends as Willy’s family
hears the car start and drive away.
Act 2, Part 4
Biff wants to end the relationship he has with his father in order to free himself of the
burdensome American “dream” that beneath which Willy is buried. He knows he is not a
salesman or a businessman for that matter, and he wants to live a life free from the
expectations that Willy has set for him. Biff blames Willy’s unrealistic expectations for
all of his failures and he wants to cut ties with the family so they can all go on peacefully.
The fact that Happy decides to stay in the city and to climb his way to the top shows that
he is still fighting for Willy’s attention, even as an adult.
Willy’s suicide is his final attempt to help his family and to provide for his son. Whether
he wants to die or not is unclear, but he is interested in how the $20,000 insurance payout
will help Biff. He knows that he is the reason that Biff has failed and he wants to fix it.
Willy tries to die as a hero, and believes that death is his last chance to provide the
American dream for his family.
The family attends Willy’s funeral; the only mourners are Linda, Biff, Happy, Charley,
and Bernard. Biff thinks that Willy had all the wrong dreams. Biff is glad that at least he
knows what makes him happy, even if he is not always successful.
Charley explains that Willy was always a salesman and defines him as “riding on a smile
and a shoeshine.” He explains that salesmen, just like Willy, live off of their dreams and
that’s exactly what Willy always tried to do. While Biff disagrees with these business
ideas, Happy decides he will stay and fight for his father’s dream of being number one.
As the men walk away, Linda stays at Willy’s grave and speaks to her late husband,
although unable to cry. She tells him that she made the final payment on their house and
explains that she feels like he is just on another trip and not dead. When she finally walks
away, she begins to sob, repeating the final words of the play, “We’re free.”
Charley ends the play with an important speech delivered to Biff. The speech, describing
what a salesman is, justifies Willy’s life and his dreams in many ways. Biff believes that
his father dies a sad, lonely life because he was too caught up in his unrealistic dreams.
Charley says, “And for a salesman there is no rock bottom to life,” meaning that a
salesman always has hopes that keep him looking forward to the next day. Even Happy
acknowledges this when he begs Biff to lie at dinner and to say that Mr. Oliver is
thinking about the business proposition. Happy knows that his father needed nothing
more than hope to be happy.
Charley repeats his line, “Nobody dast blame this man,” and finishes, “A salesman is got
to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.” Willy was a man who had the ultimate
American dream, and while on paper he achieved it with a house, a car, and grown
children, he never got more than the basics. As long as the people around him had more,
specifically Ben and Charley, then Willy wanted more. Every salesman wants more than
the salesman next to him, and Willy was the same way, both in business and in life.
Willy Loman yearned for the traditional “death of a salesman,” where hundreds upon
thousands of salesman, buyers, and clients would come to his funeral and speak of what a
great man he was. But Willy’s funeral was attended by only his small family and two
friends, all of whom despised Willy in some way. Willy dreamed of being wealthy,
owning his own business and of being well-liked. But in the end, he was a failure at his
job, at being a father, at being a friend, and at being a husband.
It was Willy Loman’s blind faith in the American Dream that stopped him from altering
his conception of success, kept him from being a loving father and ultimately finding
Character Descriptions
Rocketbook Presents: Character Descriptions - Arthur Miller's "Death of a
Willy Loman
Willy Loman
Willy Loman is a sad and lonely man. He has failed in every area of his life, but refuses
to believe that he is not a success. His sons despise him and his wife feels trapped in their
marriage. He makes no money and lives in a small house that is starting to fall apart. He
is starting to lose his mind and has even tried to commit suicide. Willy has nothing to live
Willy is so concerned about being well-liked, that he set his sons up for failure in a world
where popularity doesn’t matter nearly as much as work ethic. He chose a career path
because of the money he could make, not because of his passions or skills. Willy lived his
life based on the American Dream; a dream that killed him.
Willy’s dreams truly started to crumble the day his oldest son Biff caught him cheating
on his wife. Because of this experience, Biff skipped college and Willy’s dream of having
a successful son disappeared.
In the end, Willy commits suicide as a final attempt to save his family. He figures that
since he fails to provide for them in life, he’ll do so in death with an insurance payout.
Willy never succeeds in having a “death of a salesman,” a crowded funeral attended by
loved ones, clients and business associates. Instead, five people, none of whom were sad
to see him go, attend the service.
Biff Loman
Biff Loman
Biff is Willy and Linda’s oldest son. He was a star athlete in high school and as a
teenager he worshipped his father. Willy also genuinely worshipped Biff and convinced
him that being “well liked” was the key to happiness and success. As an adult, Biff can’t
hold a job and travels around the country aimlessly looking for work. His relationship
with his father is strained because as a teenager he caught his father cheating on his
mother. Biff struggles with finding himself through most of the play, but in the final
moments, he realizes that he is content with his own life, regardless of whether he is
deemed a success in the eyes of his father. Biff is happy working with his hands and
being outdoors and is satisfied with his life.
Happy Loman
Happy Loman
Happy adored Willy as a teenager, much like Biff, but because he wasn’t the star athlete
his brother was, he always yearned for his father’s attention. As an adult, Happy is
exactly what his father wanted both boys to be: a successful businessman. Even though
Happy lies and cheats, he is on his way to the top. Still, Willy seems to be more
interested in his older son, Biff. Happy is constantly trying to become exactly what Willy
wants, but he will never be Biff, so he will never be favored. Even as Biff proclaims how
he is content being free from his father’s dreams, Happy states that he plans to follow
Willy’s footsteps and become a top seller. Even after his father’s death, Happy still tries
to please him.
Linda Loman
Linda Loman
Throughout the play, Linda worships Willy, and it is not until his death that the reader
sees she is happy to be free from him. Linda has a sad and quiet life, being alone while
Willy travels for business. On top of him traveling all of the time, he makes poor money
and she has to try and pay bills with the few earnings he does bring in. All the time, she
supports Willy and tries to make him feel good about himself. Linda plays a difficult role
as Willy’s wife, and his death finally allows her to live life for herself.
Ben Loman
Ben Loman
Ben is Willy’s older brother who struck it rich merely by accident. While trying to make
his way to Alaska to follow his father, he discovered an African diamond mine and made
millions. Willy worships Ben and looks up to him as a businessman, regardless of the fact
that dumb luck made him a success.
Ben appears throughout the play as an imaginary character since he is only seen while
Willy is daydreaming. He is somewhat of an evil character who intimidates Willy’s sons
and wife, but regardless, Willy begs for his attention and support. Willy and Ben’s father
left when Ben was a teenager and Willy a toddler, and Willy seeks Ben’s approval as a
father figure, much like Happy looks for Willy’s praise.
Charley is Willy’s neighbor and friend and he symbolizes everything that Willy wishes
he had become. Charley’s son, Bernard, was a good student while a teenager and has
grown up to be a successful lawyer with a wife and children. When the boys were young,
Willy was proud that his sons were better liked than Bernard and he always thought they
would be more successful. The irony is that Bernard finds great success while Willy’s
children struggle.
Charley has his own business and makes good money and is happy with his life. He gives
Willy enough money to pay his bills, and even offers him a job, but Willy refuses, letting
his pride get in the way. Charley has it all, the house, the job, the family, and the success,
and he has truly accomplished the American dream. Willy is so insanely jealous, that he
despises Charley, even though he is Willy’s only true friend.