In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, what does the quote, "Oh my dear, you should do a lot of things, but there's nothing to do, so go to sleep," signify about Linda's character? 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Linda is forever the peacekeeper, and supportive wife and mother. Unaware of her husband's affair (a fact that has driven a wedge between Biff—who discovered it—and Willy), Linda is always trying to protect her husband. Perhaps this is because she sees how beaten down he has become in not being more like his brother Ben, whose memory he not only idolizes, but whose presence he still imagines after Ben's death. To her, he must seem particularly fragile.

As Willie's "long-suffering" and "devoted" wife, Linda is symbolic of hope—believing that with enough of her love and vigilance, Willie can survive and make it through to another day. She protects Willie in this hope—taking her sons to task with regard to how they treat their father (ironically still not knowing the source of Biff's anger toward Willy—Willy's betrayal of her):

It sounds old-fashioned and silly, but I tell you he put his whole life into you and you've turned your backs on him...Biff, I swear to God! Biff, his life is in your hands.

Linda is also aware that Willy is suicidal. A witness to a car accident that Willy had said:

...he wasn't driving fast at all, and...he didn't skid. She says he came to that little bridge, and then deliberately smashed into the railing...


...on the bottom of the water heater there's a new little nipple on the gas pipe...Every day I go down and take away that little rubber pipe. But, when he comes home, I put it back where it was...I live from day to day...

Linda is protective of all the men in her family, so it is no surprise that she acts this way with Willy and Biff. More than anything, she wants them all to be happy, even though none of them are realists; none has really had any success in life, but this does not dissuade her—she is a woman of undeniable inner-strength.

With all this, perhaps we can assume that Linda tells Biff to sleep because it is while he sleeps that he will not worry, and while he sleeps he need not fret about how fragile their family is. For Linda, her husband is her greatest love, even after so many years of marriage, and she does all she can—clinging to the hope that she can keep the family together, and keep Willy alive; however, she knows Biff cannot fix this problem either.

Kay Staton's 1991 essay, found in Willy Loman, asserts that Linda... the support that enables [the Loman men] to continue despite their failures...

The quotation reflects a strong sense of this in Linda—her unwavering support, ceaseless love, and complete and unconditional acceptance.

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Death of a Salesman

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