Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" - The Loman Family and the Father-Son Relationship Between Willy and Biff

Term Paper, 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 2.0



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
2.1 The Author Arthur Miller
2.2 Brief Summary of Death of a Salesman
2.3 Structure and Formal Aspects

3 Characterization of the Loman Family
3.1 Willy Loman
3.2 Linda Loman
3.3 Biff Loman
3.4 Happy Loman

4 The Relationship Between Willy and Biff and Its Failure
4.1 The Relationship Between Willy and Biff
4.2 Reasons for the Failure of Their Relationship

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

He wants to live on through something - and in his case, his masterpiece is his son. I think all of us want that, and it gets more poignant as we get more anonymous in this world.[1]

This quote, said by the author of Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller in 1984, provides just a slight insight into the father-son relationship of Willy and Biff Loman which I will analyze in the present term paper in depth. Moreover, I will have a closer look at the Loman family and how they interact. Firstly, the author will be briefly introduced and the background and the reasons for writing the play are pointed out. Furthermore I will give an overview of the drama and its structure and formal aspects. After this my attention will be directed on the Loman family and I will initially focus on its members and characterize them. Then I will analyze how the relationship between Willy and Biff has developed and why it fails during the play. Finally, I will give a conclusion which will sum up the most important findings which I figured out during my analysis.

2 Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

2.1 The Author Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller was born on October 17, 1915 in New York City as one of three children[2] of a women’s clothing company owner who “lost his business in the Depression”[3]. After graduating from the Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn in 1932[4], he started working in “jobs ranging from radio singer to truck driver to clerk in an automobile-parts warehouse”[5]. His first wife was Mary

Grace Slattery who he married in 1940. After he got divorced, he immediately married Marilyn Monroe in June 1956. However, their marriage began to fall

apart soon; hence they split up in 1961. In 1962 he married Ingeborg Morath with whom he lived in Connecticut. They have one daughter, Rebecca.

Arthur Miller began to write when he was a student at the University of Michigan and after receiving his degree in 1938 he joined the Federal Theater Project in New York City.[6] His first play opened at the Broadway was The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944) and many important and successful works followed like the play All my Sons (1947) and the script for The Misfits (1967). Death of a Salesmen was opened in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize.[7] The experiences he gained after the Depression were the main reason for writing this play. Since his family lost much money during that time, he started to be interested in the connections between the individual and society and the way

the individual is responsible for the society. By dint of this interest Miller developed sensitivity for the serious deficiencies in private, social and public relations which are also shown in Death of a Salesman. [8] In order to get an impression of the content of all the works Arthur Miller wrote in his life, Rachel Galvin tried to sum it up in one sentence:

For nearly six decades, Miller has been creating characters that wrestle with power conflicts, personal and social responsibility, the repercussions of past actions, and the twin poles of guilt and hope.[9]

Arthur Miller died on February 10, 2005 in Roxbury, Connecticut at the age of 89 from congestive heart failure.[10]

2.2 Brief Summary of Death of a Salesman

The drama Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller in 1949 deals with the final twenty-four hours in the life of the salesman Willy Loman who commits suicide because of having lost his job and being disappointed with his sons.

At the beginning of the play the characters are introduced and the viewers get to know about the situation of the Loman family. Willy Loman has been working for his company for 36 years but now he can not keep up with his younger colleagues and therefore he loses his job. Moreover, Willy is disappointed with his sons Biff and Happy because they did not accomplish the success he wanted them to. Biff had been an excellent football player during his school days but when he found out that his father had a love affair with another woman his conception of life fell apart and he just became a casual worker. Willy escapes in his own daydreams because he does not want to admit his failure to his family and he wants back the good old days. When his wife Linda tells his sons that he lost his job and Biff reveals his father’s lifelong illusions, Willy can not hide his failure as a salesman and a father any longer. He decides to commit suicide, so that his sons can start a new business with the money of his life insurance.

2.3 Structure and Formal Aspects

The play Death of a Salesmen is divided into two acts, which are not subdivided into scenes, and a closing requiem. The drama takes place “in Willy Loman’s house and yard and in various places he visits in the New York and Boston of today”[11]. The Loman’s home is a “small, fragile-seeming home”[12] and it is settled amid “solid vault of apartment houses”[13]. Furthermore, this description also indicates Willy’s mental condition which is already revealed at the beginning of the play when he comes home “tired to the death”[14] and with “such strange thoughts”[15]. Altena and Aylwin agree with that statement when they say that “he [Willy Loman; note from the author ] too is threatened by modern progressive life just as his house is threatened by enormous modern buildings”[16]. To define the time when this drama takes place is slightly difficult because of the time shifts between the incidents and illusions happening in Willy’s mind and the present action. Since Willy’s memories come from the year

1928[17] when Biff was a seventeen-year-old boy[18], the present action must presumably take place in 1945 because Biff is now thirty-four years old.[19]

Death of a Salesman is subtitled with Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem which shows that this play does not have a conventional structure like traditional plays have concerning to rising action, climax, falling action and dénouement. It demonstrates to a greater extent that it is about an insight into the innermost feelings and thoughts of a human being and “the private conversations he has with his inner self”[20]. Moreover, for the reason of using expressionistic elements like the scenes dealing with Willy’s

illusions from the past, this play is not a pure realistic family drama. Kallenberg- Schröder assumes in this context that Miller used this style mixture to clarify the actions happening in Willy’s consciousness to the audience.[21]

3 Characterization of the Loman Family

3.1 Willy Loman

Willy Loman, the main character of the play, is sixty-three years old[22] and totally overstrained through his job as a salesman in New England. This already comes out at the beginning of the drama when Willy arrives at home from his trip to Yonkers and he tells his wife: “I’m tired to death. [...] I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.”[23] In addition, Willy’s exhaustion leads him to daydreams[24] and later on to disorientation and illusions of past events. He also starts to soliloquize, e.g. when he remembers Biff and Happy washing his car.[25]


[1] Arthur Miller on Willy Loman in: Michiko Kakutani, Arthur Miller : View of a Life, May 9, 1984, < > (accessed on January 11, 2008)

[2] Cf. I. Altena, A.M. Aylwin , Notes on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (London: Methuen Notes, 1976), 1

[3] Rachel Galvin, Arthur Miller Biography, <> (accessed on January 11, 2008)

[4] Altena, Aylwin, 1976, 1

[5] Galvin, Arthur Miller Biography

[6] Cf. ibid.

[7] Cf. Altena, Aylwin, 1976, 1ff.

[8] Cf. Andrea Kallenberg-Schröder, Die Darstellung der Familie im modernen amerikanischen Drama (Frankfurt am Main; Bern; New York; Paris: Lang, 1990), 14

[9] Galvin, Arthur Miller Biography

[10] Marilyn Berger, Arthur Miller, Moral Voice of American Stage, Dies at 89, February 11, 2005, <> (accessed on January 12, 2008)

[11] Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (Stuttgart: Reclam, Universal-Bibliothek, edition:1984, text by Arthur Miller: 1949), n.p. (stage direction at the beginning)

[12] Ibid., 5

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 8

[15] Ibid., 10

[16] Altena, Aylwin, 1976, 5

[17] Cf. Miller, 1949, 16

[18] Cf. ibid., 99

[19] Cf. ibid., 12

[20] Altena, Aylwin, 1976, 5

[21] Cf. Kallenberg-Schröder, 1990, 52

[22] Cf. Miller, 1949, 61

[23] Ibid., 8

[24] Cf. ibid., 8 ff.

[25] Cf. ibid., 27- 35

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Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" - The Loman Family and the Father-Son Relationship Between Willy and Biff
University of Paderborn
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Arthur Miller, Literature, Father and Son, Loman Family, Willy, Biff
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Anonymous, 2008, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" - The Loman Family and the Father-Son Relationship Between Willy and Biff, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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