Willy Loman in Miller’s "Death of a Salesman": An analysis of character portrayal

Seminar Paper, 2004

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1 Introduction

2 Willy Loman

3 Willy’s idols

4 Willy’s future plans

5 Biff and Happy

6 Charley and Bernard

7 The rough reality

8 Linda

9 Willy’s suicide

10 Is Death of a Salesman a tragedy?

11 Conclusion


1 Introduction

Since the existence of life on earth there has been the struggle between the stronger and the weaker of all creatures. The species that had adapted best obtained the greatest chance to prevail in this “combat”. In exactly the same way we can consider the history of mankind as a surviving of the fittest.

Nowadays it is not the physique alone that decides if somebody gets above the others or not. It’s more or less the right combination of certain abilities, ambitions and values that make up the secret of success. Nevertheless we can still talk about a kind of natural selection. Although skills and knowledge can be trained, and abilities and competences can be improved by means of special learning methods, somebody who wants to be at the top must already have a certain biological and genetic qualification.

Willy Loman, the main character of the play Death of a Salesman, is a salesman past sixty years of age. In his youth he believes that he has found the secret to success .Willy is convinced that he will make it if he tries his luck in the business and starts his career in a selling firm. He never has any doubt about achieving his aim as he is of the opinion to have all traits of character and competences he needs. But in reality Willy can be considered as a looser and a poor guy who only claims himself to be at the top. He brings up his two boys in these illusions and is assured of having chosen the right way.

The paper deals on the one hand with the main character of the play himself, his dreams, illusions and wrong values that finally lead to his failure and suicide. On the other hand it treats the influence that these illusions exert on his two boys and their wrong upbringing.

2 Willy Loman

Willy Loman who represents the main character of the play is sixty-three years old. He is married with Linda, a housewife and has two grown boys named Biff and Happy. Willy is salesman by profession and in his younger years he bought a small house in Boston with a large garden for his family. Meanwhile his firm for which he has worked for about thirty-four years has taken away his salary and he has to work on straight commission in New England like a beginner.

Nowadays Willy has problems to earn his living and he constantly borrows money from his neighbor Charley, pretending to his wife that it is his salary. He further claims that he was quite successful at the beginning of his career, but if it’s true, we don’t get to know. In his memories, for example, he once says to his boys:

“[…] And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. …” (Miller, Arthur. Collected plays. 1957, 1995)

The large garden that surrounded their house has almost vanished and has been replaced by huge apartment houses that pen up the family’s domicile. Willy seems to be painfully moved by this negative change since he often mentions it.

Throughout the whole book we are told that Willy has a great deal of craft skills and in his opinion a real man is supposed to have a certain talent to handle tools. “A man who can’t handle tools is not a man.” (2002)

Willy also shows us permanently his admiration for nature. While traveling in his car he is often contemplating nature and perhaps dreaming about a life in the countryside. The fact that the neighborhood has changed and “the grass don’t grow anymore” and you can’t even “raise a carrot in the backyard” (1987) seems to move him painfully.

At the beginning of the first Act we might think that Willy Loman is an ordinary elderly businessman, who seems to be exhausted by a trip for his firm. But later on we realize that he has hallucinations and sometimes problems to distinguish between past and present. It gets quite clear that the old salesman has become senile. It is not only the fact that he isn’t able to drive a car anymore but also the constant apparition of flashbacks in which Willy sees pictures from the past, for example his older brother Ben who comes for a visit, that emphasize this statement.

Willy’s memories not only show us the possibility to go with his brother Ben to Alaska, but also the peaceful and carefree family life of former times.

From his wife Linda we hear that her husband has tried several times to commit suicide.

3 Willy’s idols

In his youth Willy had the choice between two ways of life. On the one hand he had the opportunity to lead a life in the countryside and work outdoors and on the other hand the possibility to live in the city and earn his money in the business.

The decisive point for his life was the meeting with an eighty-four year old businessman named Dave Singleman. Willy was that impressed by the fact that this man is well-known all over the country and that he had drummed merchandize in thirty-one states, that there was no more doubt about Willy’s future: His biggest desire is to become a businessman like this man and be liked or even better, be well liked wherever he goes to meet his buyers.

“His name was Dave Singleman. And he was eighty-four years old, and he’d drummed merchandise in thirty-one states. And old Dave, he’d go up to his room, y’understand, put on his green velvet slippers – I’ll never forget – and pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, he made his living. And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want.” (2021)

On the other hand Willy’s father and especially his older brother Ben, who constantly appears in Willy’s daydreams, are figures that symbolize an existence close to nature. When Willy had just started to work for his firm in Boston, Ben offers him to join him on a trip to Alaska, where a proposition was waiting for them. Willy refuses that proposal since his wife Linda assures him that they possess everything to lead a life in harmony with their two children.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Willy Loman in Miller’s "Death of a Salesman": An analysis of character portrayal
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Fachbereich Angewandte Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft)
Highlights of Mid-20th -Century American Drama
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
420 KB
Willy, Loman, Miller’s, Death, Salesman, Highlights, Mid-20th, American, Drama
Quote paper
Sarah Breitkopf (Author), 2004, Willy Loman in Miller’s "Death of a Salesman": An analysis of character portrayal, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/116436


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