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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
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What is the motif of the stockings in Death of a Salesman?

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The stockings motif illustrates the moral corruption into which Willy Loman has fallen. His illicit affair with a secretary—to whom he gives a gift of luxurious stockings—has damaging repercussions for Willy's relationship with Biff, the apple of his eye, the son he always believed would fulfill his hopes and dreams.

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The stockings motif illustrates the moral corruption into which Willy Loman has fallen. His illicit affair with a secretary—to whom he gives a gift of luxurious stockings—has damaging repercussions for Willy's relationship with Biff, the apple of his eye, the son he always believed would fulfill his hopes and dreams.

Stockings come to represent the chimera that Willy has been chasing all these years, but without much success: the American Dream. In chasing that dream of wealth and opportunity, he's neglected the most important people in his life: his family. It's notable that Linda has to darn her old stockings, to make do and mend. This indicates how far short of achieving the American Dream Willy really is. The devil's bargain he's made with the system of American capitalism has ensured that he's ended up with the worst of both worlds in that he has nothing to show for his moral corruption.

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The stocking motif emphasizes Willy's adultery with the secretary of one of his buyers. When he pursues an affair with "The Woman" in Boston, Willy gives her sheer stockings. In one of his mental lapses as he relives the past, she thanks him for the stockings and adds, "I love a lot of stockings." Coming out of his reverie, Willy finds himself back in reality with Linda, who sits mending her own worn stockings because "They're so expensive--" Willy responds with anger born of guilt:

I won't have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!

Toward the end of the play, Willy relives the trauma of Biff's finding him in the hotel room in Boston with The Woman. As Willy pushes her out of the room to get rid of her hoping that Biff won't understand why she is there. she demands her stockings. Willy denies he has any. She persists:

You had two boxes of size nine sheers for me, and I want them!

Willy gives them to her. Biff overhears the argument and watches as she comes back into the room to get her clothes, holding the box of stockings. Despite his father's denials, Biff does understand the woman's presence. When Willy finally admits the truth, Biff breaks into tears: "You--you gave her Mama's stockings." His pain and disillusionment are so great that his relationship with his father is altered for the remainder of their lives. The stocking motif develops the theme of Willy's guilt over his betrayal of both his wife and his son.

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