Death of a Salesman Suggested Essay Topics
by Arthur Miller

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Suggested Essay Topics

Act I, Part 1
1. In this opening section we meet Willy Loman. Examine his personality and character. What influences have shaped his view of his job, his family, and the world in general? What is responsible for his tendency to change temperament quickly? What contradictions in behavior does he exhibit?

2. How does the playwright communicate Willy’s outlook and emotions to the reader or audience not only through Willy’s words but through his appearance, Linda’s reactions, the set design, and other means?

Act I, Part 2
1. Examine how Biff and Hap’s adult lives show the influence of their childhood as seen in the flashback.

2. Write an essay that discusses the way in which Willy equates “success” and conventional notions of masculinity. Has that equation proved valid for Biff and Hap?

Act I, Part 3
1. In this part of the play, we see several sides of Willy, some sympathetic and some rather unlikable. Write an essay that describes how it is possible for Willy to switch from anxious self-doubt at the beginning of the section to brash confidence at the end of it. Show how the starting and stopping of the flashbacks and imaginary conversations contribute to this change.

2. Describe how Willy has taken Ben’s life and his philosophy of the “jungle” as models for success. How has Willy shaped that philosophy to encompass life as a salesman?

Act I, Part 4
1. In this section of the play we have learned a lot about Linda Loman. Write an essay that describes the way Linda sometimes shares Willy’s wishful thinking but also exhibits independence and an awareness of Willy’s shortcomings. Describe how Linda balances these different tendencies.

2. Linda says that “attention must be paid” to Willy despite his faults. Write an essay in which you either support Linda’s claim or argue against it. If Willy is a “fake,” as Biff calls him, then does he deserve respect?

Act II, Part 1
1. Write an essay in which you describe how Willy’s love of “personality” conforms to Howard’s idea that “business is business.” As you describe the fact that both attitudes are based on competition, also point out how Willy’s concept of business is, in the end, not exactly the same as Howard’s.

2. Write an essay that discusses the way Miller seems to pair characters or to see one character in another. For example, describe how Willy reminds us of Biff when asking for a new job; how Howard is a successful version of Willy and Biff; or how Dave Singleman represents Willy’s unachieved view of himself.

Act II, Part 2
1. Contrast Willy with Ben. Willy seems to think that he leads a life somehow like Ben’s. Besides the fact that Ben is rich and Willy is not, what separates them? You might begin by comparing Ben’s willingness to travel to remote places such as Alaska and Africa with Willy’s reluctance to disrupt his own rather ordinary life.

2. Should Willy be “happy right here, right now,” as Linda says? Willy has a wife and two sons who love him, so why should he be unhappy? Examine how Willy continually plans for his own success and happiness but always seems unsatisfied, even angry. You might start by suggesting that Willy cannot meet the requirements for success that he sets for himself. Willy says “the sky’s the limit” when “it’s who you know and the smile on your face,” but who does Willy know and what has his smile earned him?

Act II, Part 3
1. Write an essay in which you use this section of the play to compare Bernard with Biff. Show how Bernard has become exactly the kind of successful and likable person that Willy wanted Biff to be.

2. Use Charley’s remark – about how it is unnecessary to boast about something if you’re going to do it – to write an essay that examines the way Willy continually says what he will do but never actually does it. Look again at Willy’s conversations with Bernard and Charley in this section and try to decide whether Willy lies when he boasts or if he actually believes what he says,...

(The entire section is 1,270 words.)