Describe the main characters of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

Expert Answers

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

Arthur Miller’s award winning play Death of a Salesman created a place in theater for the anti-hero: Willy Loman.  The Loman men are players in a tragedy, but Willy is no prince or king; he is a common man.  Willy’s foibles prevent him from finding the success that he has looked for all of his adult life. Now, he has two sons who are following in his footsteps.

The Loman men deserve to be evaluated:

1. Willy Loman has tied his future to the wrong stars.  He believed that popularity, attractiveness, and luck were the keys to success. Unfortunately, Willy, the protagonist, 63, and disillusioned, has been fired after thirty-four years with his company. His ability to distinguish reality from his hallucinations enables Miller to show Willy’s troubled mental state.  In the end, Willy commits suicide to enable his son to start again with his insurance money. 

Willy: The door of your life is wide open. I am not a dime a dozen. I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!

As in everything in his life, the insurance company may refuse to pay since his death was suicidal.

2. Biff Loman is Willy’s older son. Attractive and an excellent football player, he had several scholarship offers.  He failed math and there went his college education.  Now, Biff is 34 years old and going nowhere. Believing in his father’s keys to success, Biff loses job after job, partially because he cannot stop stealing. Biff actually does care and worry about his father. Discovering that his father was having an affair, he calls Willy a liar and a fake. Although Willy is forced by Biff to see some of his own failures, Willy will never accept Biff not becoming a success. 

In fact, Willy commits suicide so that Biff can receive his life insurance of twenty thousand dollars and make something of himself. If there is any hope, there may be a chance that he can be rehabilitated and lead at least a normal life.

3. Happy Loman is the younger unattractive and overweight son of Willy.  Always overshadowed by Biff, Happy seems to be a responsible,  slightly successful, young man.  In reality, he has no self-confidence and only feels good about himself when he picks up a woman.  Happy was always the child who was left out. Now, he lives in a world of illusions and is unable to climb out of it. In contrast to Biff, Happy easily dismisses Willy. He says to the woman he has picked up in the restaurant:

"No, that's not my father. He's just a guy."

It is a brutal rejection on the part of Happy. In the final analysis, it is Happy who is lost in Willy's dreams and refuses to recognize reality. He is pictured as the weaker of the two brothers.




Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial