Silhouette of a grinning person wearing a top hat with a skull-like face and a red nighttime sky in the background

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

Start Free Trial

Suggested Essay Topics

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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, or both.

Act II, Part 4
1. Use this section of the play to write an essay that explores the way Miller begins and ends flashbacks, memories, or hallucinations. For instance, show how Willy’s anger with Biff’s failure to get the loan triggers his vision of Bernard telling Linda about Biff flunking math in high school. In addition, discuss the way Miller overlaps Willy’s hallucinatory lines with Biff and Hap’s regular conversation.

2. During much of the play, Biff and Hap seem very similar in the way they have both adopted Willy’s capacity for self-deception. However, the brothers are also different from each other. Use this section of the play to write an essay that contrasts Happy and Biff. You might begin by showing how Hap never really feels guilty about his own behavior in the way that Biff feels about

Act II, Part 5
1. Discuss why Biff considers Willy a “fake.” Try to show how Biff’s discovery of Willy’s affair causes Biff to lose trust in his father’s character. Suggest the way in which Willy’s dishonesty here finally opens Biff’s eyes to the hollowness of Willy’s strategies for success and being well liked. Biff now sees, for example, how his teacher will not listen to Willy because Willy is not the kind of man Biff previously thought him to be.

2. Write a paper in which you examine why Biff would feel guilty and self-hating. In this section, we learn he has reason to be disappointed in his father, so why does he continually condemn himself by calling himself something like the “scum of the earth”? The key to explaining Biff’s self-hate may lie in his fear that he cannot live up to the expectations of success he set for himself when he was young; he fears that he is a fake, like Willy. At the same time, Biff’s self-hate seems to come also from his guilt over his own desire to abandon Willy and thereby abandon his mother, too.

Act II, Part 6
1. Write a paper in which you describe why Willy believes committing suicide will provide a better life for his family. Also discuss why his plan to kill himself may not result in the wonderful resolution of all the problems that have troubled him and his family.

2. Analyze to what extent Willy is responsible for Biff’s difficulties in life. What does Biff mean when he says, “I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!” Can you find examples of Willy’s “hot air” in this section of the play and elsewhere?

1. Write a paper in which you explore the difference between Biff and Hap’s reactions to Willy’s death. Has Willy’s death changed the way they viewed him before he committed suicide? Does Hap seem more upset in the “Requiem” section than he was in Act II? Does Biff not share Hap’s anger over Willy’s suicide or does he express it differently?

2. Write a paper in which you compare the outcome of Willy’s death with the various ways Willy envisioned it earlier in the play. How does Willy’s funeral compare with Dave Singleman’s? Is Willy “worth more dead than alive,” as he said to Charley? Has Willy’s suicide turned out to be a “great proposition all around,” as Ben thought?

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Topics for Further Study