Death of a Salesman Additional Summary

Arthur Miller


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Very late one night, having that morning set out on a sales trip to Portland, Maine, Willy Loman returns to his Brooklyn home because he repeatedly drove his car off the side of the road. Now sixty-three years old, Willy has worked as a traveling salesman for the Wagner Company for more than thirty years. Of late, his sales have declined because his old customers are dying or retiring. The company takes away his salary to make him work on straight commission. His wife, Linda, comforts Willy when he returns and encourages him to ask Howard Wagner for a position in the New York office, where he will not have to travel and can once again earn a guaranteed salary.

Upstairs in their old bedroom, Willy’s sons, Biff and Happy, reminisce about their happier times as adolescents and talk about how disappointing their lives are. At thirty-four years of age, Biff has held many different kinds of jobs since leaving high school, and he feels that he is not progressing toward anything. He was a high school football star but did not win a college scholarship because he failed a mathematics course and refused to make up the credits to graduate at summer school. Biff has just returned home from working on a farm in Texas, and that morning Willy already begins criticizing him about his failure to make money and to find a prestigious profession. Biff’s younger brother, Happy, remains in New York City, working in a low-level sales position and spending most of his time seducing women. As they talk, Biff and Happy decide they can be successful and much happier if they go into business together.

While Biff and Happy talk upstairs, Willy sits in the kitchen and talks loudly to himself, reliving moments from his past: Biff preparing for an important football game, Biff and Happy cleaning the family car, Willy’s own joy in working with his hands on projects around the house, and his afternoons in a hotel room with a woman on one of his sales trips to Boston. Eventually, Willy’s neighbor, Charley, comes over from next door. As Charley and Willy talk and play cards, Willy imagines that he is talking to his older brother, Ben, who once invited Willy to join him in Alaska to make his fortune. After Charley returns home, Willy moves outside, still caught up in his imagined conversation. Linda comes back...

(The entire section is 944 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

More effectively than any other American drama, Death of a Salesman probes the nature of the American Dream and its promise of success. America was established as a new Eden, a place where one could transform the wilderness into a paradise of riches. The American myth created the pioneer hero who moved with ease to greener pastures. One side of Willy Loman is firmly grounded in this myth.

Willy’s father was a traveling man who got rich peddling gadgets in South Dakota and then headed for Alaska. Willy’s brother Ben is a true adventurer who walks into the jungles of Africa at seventeen and comes out rich. Ben, who is constantly on the move, shunning civilization and its laws, is the self-reliant hero of the American myth who conquers the wilderness and makes his fortune. As a salesman, Willy also sees himself as an adventurer who opens up new territories in New England—once the original frontier.

The play focuses on a longing for the lost Eden. Willy admires the scenery on his trips to New England. He longs to smell the lilacs and wisteria that once grew in his suburban idyll, now overshadowed by dingy apartment buildings. He wants to build a house in the country where he can raise chickens and grow things. In the end, this American Adam is reduced to the tragic figure of a down-and-out salesman planting lettuce in a barren garden in the dead of night as he deteriorates mentally and contemplates suicide.

The theme of the Edenic garden coincides with the theme of the outdoorsman and the Western myth of open spaces. Willy is not only a...

(The entire section is 648 words.)


(Drama for Students)

Act I
Death of a Salesman opens with Willy Loman returning to his New York home during the night. Hearing him...

(The entire section is 1135 words.)