In Death of a Salesman, what does Willy Loman sell?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question is not answered in the play. Evidently the author did not consider it important. Or perhaps he considered it important not to specify what it was that Willy Loman was selling, because that way it suggests that Willy is throwing his life away peddling mass-produced, meretricious items that...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

This question is not answered in the play. Evidently the author did not consider it important. Or perhaps he considered it important not to specify what it was that Willy Loman was selling, because that way it suggests that Willy is throwing his life away peddling mass-produced, meretricious items that could not be as valuable as a man's life. Whatever it is, it is just some more spurious goods which American factories keep turning out endlessly and which must be endlessly consumed by the American public. Willy is just a cog in the gigantic, complex machinery of American business. He has to sell a certain amount of the product, whatever it is, in order to keep his job and pay his bills, which he is just barely managing to do. No doubt Willy has no affection for whatever it is he is selling. He can't be a very effective salesman any longer if he doesn't care about the product he is handling. He may be sick of looking at it. According to the stage directions:

From the right, Willy Loman, the Salesman, enters, carrying two large sample cases.

These seem like the cross that Willy has to bear. They beautifully and instantaneously characterize Willy Loman as a worn-out traveling salesman. They are obviously heavy. He is not selling lingerie but some kind of heavy merchandise. One might guess that the sample cases (which are bigger than ordinary suitcases) contain metal objects such as candle-holders, fake silver platters, and other such bric-a-brac. They may have been gradually going out of fashion in American homes, so that it is harder to peddle them to retailers. Willy has gotten stuck with a line of old-fashioned merchandise and a huge territory full of tight-fisted Yankee shopkeepers who deal with tight-fisted Yankee customers themselves. 

 

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team