Recension of Arthur Millers "Death of a Salesman"

Literature Review, 2006

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Analysis of the passage in the text (Penguin: page 25, “Willy: Bernard is not well liked, is he?” – page 27, “Willy: “What do we owe?”)
1.1. Characterization of Willy Loman
1.2. Willy’ relationship to Linda
1.3. Relationship between a father and his sons
1.3.1. Biff, the star
1.3.2. Happy, the spectator
1.4. Dialogue or monologue?

2. Relation between the passage and the drama “Death of a Salesman”
2.1. Charley – Antagonist or best friend?
2.2. Destroyed dreams
2.3. The final payment

3. Evaluation – Marxist literary criticism

4. Sources



1. Analysis of the passage in the text (Penguin: page 25, “Willy: Bernard is not well liked, is he?” – page 27, “Willy: “What do we owe?”)

This passage from the first act of Arthur Miller’s drama “Death of a Salesman” displays one of the numerous flashbacks of Willy Loman, who represents the main character and moreover a complex round character. With this reflection of the past the reader or spectator is able to share in Willy’s and his former family life; a family life that is harmonious, easy, joyful or simply all in all perfect.

1.1. Characterization of Willy Loman

For Willy this ideal world is very important as ideals are in general. He places special value on a good image, which can be seen in the very first question of the passage “Bernard is not well liked, is he?[1], which he addresses to his sons Biff and Happy. With the simile “you’re both built like Adonoises”1, which Willy is thankful for and moreover very proud of, and the statement that his sons “are going to be five times ahead of [Bernard]”1 because of their appearance, it becomes clear that he is of the opinion that attractiveness which results in “personal interest”1 and popularity is the only way to become big in business – which is pretty unrealistic already because good grades are necessary to enrol in college, and contents taught in college are in the majority of cases necessary to become big in business. It is furthermore visible that Willy builds his hopes on Biff and Happy. For them he is a role model and he seems really confident of being a good one: “Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line […].[2] He is also sure of the fact that he is well known and welcome everywhere he goes which is indicated by the following statement “’Willy Loman is here!’ That’s all they have to know […].[3] Another pleasure in Willy’s life is to share his work with his sons by telling them stories about it. He then tends to exaggerate, as it is seen in his self praise-hyperbole “knocked ’em cold in Providence, slaughtered ’em in Boston.”3, in order to bring his business success near to them.

1.2. Willy’ relationship to Linda

Willy and his wife’s Linda’s marriage seems very loving and harmonious as they address each other with really tender nicknames like “dear”3 and “sweatheart”3. Their relationship is based on a traditional distribution of roles and it becomes obvious that Willy is the head of the family when he corrects Linda “Chevrolet, Linda […]”3 after she asks him about the “Chevvy”4. This traditional relationship is furthermore perceptible in his old style politeness because he does not want his wife to heft. This moreover indicates that children have to respect their parents which Willy clarifies with the rhetorical question “since when do you let your mother carry wash up the stairs?[4]. But beside traditions their relationship is based on lies. When asked about his earnings Willy absolutely exaggerates his profit (“[…] I was selling thousands and thousands […]”4 or “I did five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston[5] ) and does not straighten it out before Linda gets too exited about the fact that his commission would clear all their debts. He then starts stumbling and confesses that not his commission but his profit amounts 200 dollars, which is probably still not the whole truth and only an attempt to not disappoint Linda (“Well – I did – about a hundred and eighty gross in Providence . Well, no – it came to – roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip.”5).

Now the traditional distribution of roles changes. Willy is now in the position where he feels to be accountable to Linda. So the ‘slaughterer of Boston’, who is admired by everyone, is actually degraded to meat stock, the weakest link. He tries to get out of this misery by blaming others for his belying performance when he excuses himself with the statement that “[…] three of the stores where half-closed for inventory in Boston”5. He then wants to distract from the bad news and presents himself in the proper light again by mentioning that he “otherwise […] woulda broke records”5.

Linda is in the position of the bookkeeper. There could be several reasons for this. Maybe Willy is not able to do this job or she wants to control him. She is interested in Willy’s work and his profit and asks questions which inconvenience him. Now she is the boss, but a really nice one, because she is still his loving wife. She is able to cover her frustration and still finds words to build him up (“Well, it makes seventy dollars and some pennies. That’s very good.”5) when he has failed. The fact that she even mentions the pennies elucidates her optimism. Probably, she is already used to his overstatements and therefore not very surprised when he eventually corrects them. An indicator for this can be found in the secondary text, the stage direction that she answers his confession “without hesitation”5. Both, Willy and Linda are concerned about their debts. Their whole conversation about his profit concludes in Willy’s question “what do we owe ?”5. He is therefore more pessimistic than his wife and highlights the serious reality again.

1.3. Relationship between a father and his sons

Both, Biff and Happy really admire their dad. For them, and especially for Biff, he is the most important person. This is indicated by Biff’s statement “ah, when Pop comes home [my friends] can wait[6]. They have great respect for Willy and would never contradict him when receiving orders like carrying the laundry (“Grab hold there, boy”6, “Where to, mom?”6). They believe like their father in the traditional old style politeness, which is not surprising as their were raised by Willy.

1.3.1. Biff, the star

Willy and Linda are very proud of their eldest son Biff which becomes visible with utterances like “The way they obey him!”6 and “Oh, the whole block’ll be at that [football] game[7]. He is very popular and therefore Willy’s ideal of a perfect son and student. Willy does not care about Biff’s grades in school but is more impressed and interested in his outward appearance and his athletic skills as a football player. Biff is aware of being special which is a result of the overwhelming attention and love he receives from his parents and especially Willy wherefore he is maybe a little too self-confident. He treats his friends as his subject when he says “I think I’ll have them sweep out the furnace room”6 and even gives them orders like with the polysyndeton “George and Sam and Frank, come out back! We’re hangin’ up the wash!”6. He does not know better, because he gets positive feedback from both Linda and Willy. They support these acts and Biff’s feeling to be in a higher position than his fellows with instigations like “[…] you better go down to your friends […]. They don’t know what to do with themselves”6 and “you better go down and tell them what do do”6. Surprising is the fact that Biff’s friends do follow his demands (“All right! Okay, Biff.”6).


[1] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 25

[2] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 25f

[3] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 26

[4] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 26

[5] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 27

[6] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 26

[7] Miller, Arthur (1961):„Death of a Salesman“. London, page 27

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Recension of Arthur Millers "Death of a Salesman"
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
Einführung in die englische Literatur
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Recension, Arthur, Miller, Death, Salesman, Einführung, Literatur
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Martina Olonschek (Author)Klaus Köhring (Author), 2006, Recension of Arthur Millers "Death of a Salesman", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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