Silhouette of a grinning person wearing a top hat with a skull-like face and a red nighttime sky in the background

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

Start Free Trial

In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Willy states: "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit!" What does this mean? Is this quotation a metaphor?

Expert Answers

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

"You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away" is a metaphor and obviously a very poor one. That is exactly what you do with an orange:you eat the orange and throw the peel away. You do the same thing with a banana. What Willy means, although he didn't express himself correctly, is that you can't treat a man as if he is an orange and toss the peel away after you have consumed all the fruit. Either Arthur Miller made a slip or else he wanted to have Willy express himself badly. If this faulty metaphor is Willy's invention, then that would show that he is getting old, that he is highly emotional during this interview, and that he doesn't understand the reality of modern-day business under capitalism. Arthur Miller probably felt strongly that under capitalism people like Willy only last as long as their employers can make a profit off of them and that they get tossed aside heartlessly when they are no longer productive. Business is highly competitive. An employer cannot afford to be softhearted. Business is business! In recent years we have seen business of all sorts "downsizing" and "outsourcing" in ways and numbers that would have been unimaginable in 1949 when the play was written. Americans by the millions have lost their jobs--and we are told that a young person should be prepared to change careers several times between entry into the work world and retirement. Death of a Salesman might be called a foreshadowing of what is happening right now. "Robotization" is a threat that still remains largely in the offing. Is anybody secure?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Arthur Miller’s play The Death of the Salesman presents a man who feels he has outlived his usefulness.  Willy Loman remembers 1928 when he was a successful salesman.  It is years later, and Willy has lost all of his confidence.  He can no longer face reality and begins to hallucinate.

When the play begins, Wiily is in his sixties.  He is unable to do his job; however, he believes that if he works at a desk, he would still be able to be useful.  When he realizes that he will never complete his dreams, he becomes more frustrated, confused, and angry. 

Life has left him behind. Barely clinging to reality, Willy knows that he is not liked or respected. As the audience learns about Willy, it is evident that he needed his father and brother’s love. The lack of family support left him insecure. Now, he speaks to his brother Ben through hallucinatory scenes. Willy says to Ben:

 “Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel – kind of temporary about myself.”

Willy has worked for the same company for thirty-four years.  In fact, the head of the company now, Howard, is the son of the man who was Willy’s boss when he first started.  Howard has no respect for Willy.  To him, Willy is an anachronism—in the wrong time and place.

For the last few months, Willy has only been paid a commission for his sales.  He makes no sales, so everything is going down for him.  He desperately hopes that he can find a job in the office and earn a small salary.

When Willy goes into talk to his boss, Howard is obsessed with his new tape recording machine.  Willy is an annoyance to him. Willy reminds Howard that he had said that he would try to find him a job in the home offices.  Surprisingly to Willy, Howard says that he has no place for him.  He tells Willy to pack up his stuff because he can no longer work there.

Howard tells Willy:

I appreciate that Willy, but there is just no spot here for you.  If I had a spot , I’d slam you right in it, but I just don’t have a single, solitary spot.

Willy rants and raves about his own father’s salesmanship. He begins to lose touch with reality.  Howard has no sensitivity and does not want to deal with Willy’s problems.  Howard turns away from Willy.

Willy stops him:

I’m talking now to you about your father! There were promises made across this desk! I put thirty-four years into this firm, Howard, and now I can’t pay my insurance. You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit!

Howard goes on to tell Willy that he does not want him to represent the firm or work for the company. When Willy talks to Howard about the deal that his father made with him, Willy uses the metaphor of the orange and the fruit to represent the time and hard work that Willy had given to the firm.   He equated the orange’s meat to the years of hard work and the peel to the shell of the man who was now left in his aging years.  He was not a fruit that could just be thrown out with the garbage.  Yet, that is exactly what Howard does.

Willy has nothing to live for now.  He believes that he is more valuable to his family dead than alive. He drives his car into a pole and kills himself.  His intention is for the life insurance money to be used by his son to start his own business.  The author ends the drama without the audience really knowing what will happen to Willy’s family.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team