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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What do the seeds symbolize in the Death of a Salesman? What is important about him planting them when he does? Why does Willy grow them and always aspire to?

The seeds symbolize Willy's need to create something of permanence and also to do a better job with vegetable seeds than with his offspring. Metaphorically, the seeds are Willy’s other children, and he wants a chance to get it right. However, just as he failed with Biff, Linda tells him that the backyard will not be a hospitable site for a garden, which references how their family, under Willy's fathering, was not a hospitable place for happiness.

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The seeds in Death of a Salesman have a dual significance. Taken literally, they represent seeds, as Willy says, to plant and grow a garden. Willy wants to grow carrots, peas, beets and lettuce in his backyard. The significance of these particular seeds is that they will give rise to vegetables, as opposed to flowers or other non-edible plants. Metaphorically, Willy wants to nurture his family by cultivating a garden.

The seeds are also meant to show that perhaps Willy and Biff are not so different after all. Biff realizes that he is not cut out for office work or for the life of a traveling salesman. Willy never acknowledges it to himself or to his family, but he might have been better off working in another capacity rather than as a traveling salesman. He blames his failures on others, noting that if the boss's father were still controlling the company, Willy would have risen to a much higher level. This seems unlikely. More likely is that Willy never stood out as particularly adept. He might have had greater success and happiness had he recognized that he enjoys planting and working with his hands, as Biff realizes about himself.

The seeds also symbolizes creating something of permanence to leave behind. The seeds metaphorically are also Willy’s children and he wants to do a better job with them than he has with Biff. The juxtaposition of the planting scene and Biff’s announcing that he is leaving and will not return is not a coincidence. Willy has failed with his firstborn seed, Biff, and compulsively needs to plant a garden with other seeds. The discussion about the seeds is sandwiched between Linda’s mention of how handsome Biff looks in his blue suit and Biff “taking the hoe from Willy” and saying good-bye.

Just as Willy failed with his paternal planting, Linda laughingly—because she does not recognize the dual significance of the seeds—tells him that the backyard does not get enough sun and “nothing’ll grow anymore.”

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