Death of a Salesman Essential Quotes by Theme: Dreams
by Arthur Miller

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Dreams

Essential Passage 1: Act 1

Before us is the SALESMAN’S house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens on to the apartment house at the side.

Arthur Miller spends some time describing the stage setting of the play, complete with commentary, because the setting, as much as the dialogue, establishes the theme of the play. It is a small, “fragile” home, cowering down among tall modern apartment buildings. It is simply furnished, with just the basics, so it is the home of a family “just getting by.” On the bedroom shelf belonging to the boys sits an athletic trophy, a reminder of past glory. The blue lighting is indicative of the dream-like state of the play, that this little house is separate from the reality of the apartment houses around it. It is a throwback to another time, before World War II, when people lived in houses, not apartments, and when the American Dream was still alive. Yet off to the side is a menacing orange light, suggesting that something is trying to invade the dream. It is a sign that the American Dream’s days are numbered.

Essential Passage 2: Act 2

BIFF: He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could’ve torn the walls down! How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and—I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk.

Biff is meeting Happy and Willy at the end of the day for a “celebration” dinner, in honor of Biff’s getting a loan from Bill Oliver, and Willy’s securing a non-traveling job in New York. However, both plans fall through. Biff had counted on Oliver’s remembering his working for him fifteen years before and procuring a loan from him in order to start a sporting goods business. Yet when Biff goes for his appointment, Oliver does not remember him at all. In the face of his dashed dreams, Biff confesses that he was never a salesman, as he had told his family. He was a lowly shipping clerk, which is not the type of experience one would need in order to get a loan to start a business. Biff had been deluding his family, and most importantly himself, all these years. He has been living in a dream.

Essential Passage 3: Requiem

BIFF: Why don’t you come with me, Happy?

HAPPY: I’m not licked that easily. I’m staying right in this city, and I’m gonna beat this racket! [He looks at BIFF, his chin set;] The Loman Brothers!

BIFF: I know who I am, kid.

HAPPY: All right, boy. I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have—to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him.

Willy Loman has died, committing suicide by intentionally wrecking his car. This is something that he has tried many times before, according to Linda, and this time he finally succeeded. Despite Willy’s fantasy of hundreds of people from all along his sales route coming to his funeral, only a handful are present to mourn. Biff is intending to go back West and try to find another job. Happy, however, is staying in...

(The entire section is 1,540 words.)