What color is the trophy and what does this mean in "Death of a Salesman?"  

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the stage directions at the beginning of the play, Miller specifies that "a silver athletic trophy" stands on a shelf above Willy's bed. The color specified for the trophy has several possible meanings related to the theme of the play. One might think that a silver trophy could signify coming in second rather than coming in first, which would be a gold medal or trophy. However, that doesn't seem to correlate well with the ideas in the play. The trophy was a first-place trophy; Biff, as captain of his high school football team, led his team to be the "All-Scholastic Championship Team of the City of New York" when they won the big game at Ebbets Field. 

What's notable is that the trophy that Biff won is displayed in Willy's bedroom. Biff's success is Willy's "silver lining." Even if Willy is dissatisfied with his own skills and feels "kind of temporary" about himself, he clings to the hope that Biff will be a star. That was true when Biff was in high school, and it is still true years later. Willy is upset about Biff's failures and begins to calm down when he thinks Biff may get a loan from Bill Oliver to start a company. 

Silver can also have the connotation of betrayal, as in "thirty pieces of silver," the price Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus. Biff feels betrayed by Willy because Willy has been unfaithful to his wife and Biff caught him in the act. Willy also feels betrayed by Biff because Biff didn't go to college and make something of himself. Willy feels Biff has failed just to spite him and that he has betrayed the promise of success represented by the trophy.

Finally, and most importantly, silver represents the glittery, shiny, get-rich-quick American Dream that Willy has been pursuing his whole adult life. Rather than devoting himself to substantive pursuits--doing things with his life that will make the world a better place--Willy wants to succeed based on likability. He taught his boys to value popularity over hard work and serious training. Willy has a glamorized view of success: the elderly salesman who makes a living without ever having to leave his room, just because he is well loved. Willy says to Ben, "A man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!" Chasing after the shiny thing keeps Willy from focusing on the things that truly matter. The silver trophy (in reality, probably painted plastic) represents the tantalizing prospect of achieving success without integrity and hard work--a prospect that does not live up to its promise. 

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Death of a Salesman

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