Death of a Salesman – Act One Analysis (By Arthur Miller)

Structure of the Play

  • Non-chronological order. This is because the audience sees Willy’s reminiscences visually, e.g. Uncle Ben appearing on stage even though in present time he is dead.
  • Therefore, the structure of the play creates a dramatic effect whereby it could be related to the random thoughts or ideas of a human’s mind — how thoughts are ever scattering and thus could explain why Willy’s memories are visually included
  • Willy’s memories could also be said to be included to create more context of his current delusional attitude

The Tone

  • Conversational and steady, however Willy does have outbursts and so does Linda ultimately throughout the play.
  • Overall Willy is very delusional and by nature the tone is not too pivotal, rather his conflicting and scattering thoughts are instead.

Miller’s Diction and Language

  • Very conversational and idiosyncratic. We see Willy, and ultimately Biff for instance (socialised into speaking this way), using words like ‘y’know’ or ‘pal’, etc (full list below).
  • This makes it personalised to contemporary USA (1949).
  • The conversational tone makes it more appealing and relatable to American audiences.


1. The Leaves

  • Symbolises the garden and vegetation that previously surrounded Willy’s house, which is now cluttered with tall apartment buildings.
  • Willy when he encounters his memories

2. The Stockings

  • Symbolises Willy’s infidelity with ‘the woman’
  • Capitalistic consumerism (Miller’s underlying criticism of capitalism)
  • Where Willy gifts extra stockings to the woman, his wife is mending her only pair. This symbolises and even contradicts Willy’s statement where he says he’s making a ‘living for you and the kids’, since instead he is spending the money on consumer items for someone who is not formally a part of his family.
  • Linda’s possession of stockings constantly reminds Willy of his past infidelity and therefore he refuses to see Linda with it because it makes him feel guilty for his past decisions.

3. The Diamonds

  • Symbolises success that seems ultimately unachievable
  • The diamonds which Willy never achieved or got possession of symbolises the fact that Willy, in reality, was never successful and instead he was under the illusion of being an important person
  • Symbolises a ‘better life’, i.e. that of his brother Ben who achieved these diamonds. Willy strives to be his big brother Ben, and achieve these diamonds. Therefore, a correlation could be constructed where the diamonds could also symbolise the American Dream which Willy also attempts to attain.

4. The Buildings

  • Overpopulation
  • Capitalism (alternatively, consumerism and Miller’s critique on it)
  • The world surpassing Willy’s traditional idea of empty space. Willy’s small house could symbolise where he is used to more traditional ideas, the large and tall apartment buildings could symbolise infrastructural development while Willy’s traditional ideas are being left behind for a more easier, modern, and youthful world.
  • The building blocks out the sun from reaching Willy’s garden beside their house, therefore flowers cannot grow anymore. The flowers could symbolise Willy, where he has ultimately reached a stand-still position in life, and the sun (which could symbolise success and the American Dream), is being blocked off by buildings (which could symbolise a growing world, competition, and everything stopping him from reaching the illusion of success).

5. The Flute

  • Reminds Willy of his Father, who built flutes. Therefore, it reminds Willy of his past and how his father ultimately abandoned him.

Devices Miller Uses

1. Stage Directions

  • Miller is very expressionistic when attempting to convey his message to the audience. Stage directions make all the scenes much more vivid. This could include, for example, when both Linda and The Woman appear on stage at the same time. This could create a contrasting effect for not only Willy, but for the audience, as they acknowledge both of their presences.
  • Stage directions are also very useful in this play to show the audience of the conflict and contrasting thoughts Willy constantly faces. Certain areas of the stage are designated for past events which occur in Willy’s mind, and likewise, other areas are designated for the actions and occurrences which are happening at the time. As a result, Miller uses directions effectively to inform audience when Willy begins wandering off into his thoughts. In addition, because of the frequency of his thoughts, the audience acknowledges this more easily with the use of stage directions.

2. Lighting

  • Lighting is crucial in this play. Through the use of alternating intensities of light, Miller moves between not only scenes in the play, but also draws a contrast between Willy’s personal thoughts, past events, and current events. For instance, where The Woman appears and Linda during the same time, it is through the use of fading light that the scene focuses on either The Woman or Linda. This also is important because it creates a ceaseless and effortless motion from a current moment to one Willy is experiencing in his own mind. It is almost like a blend of thoughts and events. It also shows how current events are intertwined with Willy’s thoughts, and through the use of lights Miller makes it easier for the audience to acknowledge this.

3. Sounds

Alternative Interpretations of Phenomena

Analysis of Characters

1. Willy Loman

  • Living in a bubble of his own
  • His thoughts are ever flowing, one minute he is in reality and the next he is thinking of abstract ideas and his thoughts materialise before him
  • Through the usage of stage directions and lights this is made possible to keep his thoughts on stage and reality on stage at the same time
  • Makes it easier for the audience to differentiate what is happening in reality and what is happening in his thoughts
  • Willy is very stubborn
  • He is somewhat dominant over Linda, however in the workplace his boss is dominant over him and we see him vulnerable under his boss, and thus this shows the hierarchy of power and authority in society and through a range of social institutions, for instance in the family and in the work place and education
  • Socialised into believing that material success is be all or end all
  • The American Dream is something that he always attempted to achieve or aimed for, but in the end, never achieved and remained abstract to him and that is the true tragedy
  • Tragedy and the Common Man (Miller)
  • Socialised and socialises his children into thinking that they are very important people in society and almost somewhat indispensable
  • Irony even present in his name, ‘Loman’, almost sounding like ‘Low-man’, which signifies his position in the hierarchy of authority in society.

2. Linda Loman

  • Segregated conjugal roles
  • Patriarchal setting where Linda takes care of the home and caregiving, whereas Willy goes to his job and earns money for the house
  • Willy acts as if his infidelity is justified because he feels ‘lonely’ during trips outside of town
  • Linda is naive, but also practical and understands Willy’s different necessities and understands/can interpret his actions, gestures and words as she has lived so long with him now at this point.
  • Wants Willy to be happy and wants the overall best for him
  • Never leaves me – cannot or doesn’t want to?

3. Biff Loman

  • Socialised into the bubble thinking initially that he is very important in society
  • Realises that he is not
  • Becomes disillusioned
  • Tries to find what he finds appealing in life but does not find it
  • Highlights an area where many people do not know what to do with their lives
  • Audience may be able to relate in this aspect
  • Blames his father for putting him inside such a bubble of inflated self importance
  • Has constant arguments with his father because he thinks his father keeps attempting to socialise an inflated sense of importance of the Loman family in society, however Biff realises that their family isn’t too much of a big deal and this confuses him to the point where he has grown angry at his father for amplifying the extent of which everything exists.

4. Happy Loman

  • Considers women to be the main source of enjoyment and importance in the world
  • Doesn’t really worry or care about anything else
  • Young Happy interested in trying to gain father’s attention from Biff, which is normal for a younger brother to try and do

6. Charley

  • Willy’s friend who is much more financially successful and stable
  • Willy borrows money consistently from Charley to pay for bills and other necessities, yet comes up with excuses as to why he hasn’t paid for such services already
  • Refuses to accept Charley’s job offer
  • Shows Willy’s egoistical side and his pride

7. The Woman

  • Reminds Willy constantly of his infidelity
  • Certain dramatic effect having the woman, Linda and Willy on stage all at once
  • Willy buys her stockings, yet Linda mends her old pair, and this makes Willy feel guilty
  • Thinks Willy is unmarried
  • Adds to Willy’s conflicting thoughts

8. Uncle Ben

  • Symbolises an abstract idea that Willy was offered to go with Ben, however refused, Ben got rich, Willy didn’t
  • Willy thinks what would happen if he went with Ben and found diamonds
  • The idea of diamonds is an abstract idea – the material wealth and possession that Willy never gets a hold of
  • The idea of Ben surfaces multiple times throughout the play and almost mocks Willy because the contrast between Ben’s success and Willy’s failure is obvious

9. Bernard

  • Very intelligent, smart and hardworking boy who is also Biff’s school classmate and friend
  • Willy finds him irritating because he attains something that Biff does not have: intellectual knowledge and/or capacity
  • Ultimately, Bernard finds success in the real world however, arguably, Biff does not


Quotes to Memorise

Stage and Background

‘an angry glow of orange’ (Stage)

‘solid vault’ (Stage)

‘small, fragile-seeming home’ (Stage)


‘Oh boy, oh boy.’ (Willy)

‘Maybe it was the coffee’ (Willy)

‘[after a pause] I suddenly…’ (Willy)

‘…you understand?’ (Wily)

‘I’m tellin’ ya’ (Willy)

‘I’m dreamin’ again’ (Willy)

‘[He presses two fingers against his eyes]’ (Willy)

‘I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.’ (Willy)

‘I’m vital…’ (Willy)

‘[He starts putting on his jacket]’ (Willy)

‘He became a moody man.’ (Willy, describing Biff)

‘…he’s lazy’ (Willy, describing Biff)

‘…he’s not lazy’ (Willy, describing Biff)

‘…personal attractiveness’ (Willy, describing Biff)

‘…greatest country in the world’ (Willy)

‘My God!’ (Willy)

‘[He loses himself in reminiscences]’ (Willy)

‘Why am I always being contradicted?’ (Willy)

‘Bricks and windows, windows and bricks’ (Willy)

‘…massacred the neighbourhood’ (Willy)

‘There’s more people!’ (Willy, cutting off Linda)

‘…you’re my foundation’ (Willy, describing Linda)

‘Me? I didn’t.’ (Willy, referring to the windshields of his car)

‘That is the most remarkable thing.’ (Willy)

‘Remarkable.’ (Willy) (Repetition of the word ‘remarkable’ throughout the scene)

‘…eighty thousand miles – eighty-two thousand!’ (Willy)

‘What a simonising job!’ (Willy) (Repetition)

‘[laughing with him at the theft]’ (Willy)

‘…congratulate you on your initiative!’ (Willy)

‘If somebody else took that ball there’d be an uproar’ (Willy)

‘…but he’s not – well liked.’ (Willy, describing Charley)

‘I have friends.’ (Willy)

‘…anaemic’ (Willy, describing Bernard)

‘…but he’s not well liked.’ (Willy, describing Bernard)

‘…best marks in school’ (Willy, describing Bernard)

‘…five times ahead of him’ (Willy, talking about Biff being ‘ahead’ of Bernard)

‘…appearance’ (Willy)

‘…business world’ (Willy)

‘’Willy Loman is here’’ (Willy)

‘…Otherwise I woulda broke records.’ (Willy)

‘Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built.’ (Willy)

‘Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car!’ (Willy)

‘I’m very well liked in Hartford.’ (Willy)

‘I joke too much!’ (Willy)

‘…kiss the life outa you.’ (Willy)

‘’Cause I get so lonely’ (Willy)

‘…business is bad’ (Willy)

‘…nobody to talk to’ (Willy)

‘…I wont make a living’ (Willy)

‘You picket me, heh?’ (Willy)

‘…Well, bottoms up!’ (Willy)

‘…Now throw them out!’ (Willy, talking about Linda mending her stockings)

‘…I’ll whip him, I’ll whip him!’ (Willy)

‘I’ll whip him!’ (Willy) (Repetition)

‘Shut up!’ (Willy) (Repetition)

‘He’s got a spirit, personality…’ (Willy, talking about Biff)

‘I never in my life told him anything but decent things.’ (Willy)

‘You gotta know about vitamins and things like that.’ (Willy, talking to Charley)

‘They build up your bones. Chemistry.’ (Willy)

‘What the hell are you offering me a job for?’ (Willy)

‘Don’t insult me.’ (Willy)

‘A man who cannot handle tools is not a man.’ (Willy)

‘He died.’ (Willy, talking about Ben)

‘I’m through, I’m through!’ (Willy, talking about the game with Charley)

‘…rugged, well liked, all-around.’ (Willy)

‘No, Ben, I don’t want you to think…’ (Willy)

‘I got important contacts!’ (Willy)

‘…not for me, of course.’ (Willy)

‘I was right!’ (Willy, repetition – around six times)

‘Why do you always insult me?’ (Willy)

‘That is a one-million dollar idea!’ (Willy)

‘…civilized world.’ (Willy)

‘Stop interrupting!’ (Willy, to Linda)

‘Will you stop!’ (Willy, to Linda)

‘’Gee’ is a boy’s word.’ (Willy)

‘Will you let me talk?’ (Willy, to Linda)

‘Will you let me finish?’ (Willy, to Linda)

‘[going right through her speech]’ (Willy)

‘Loman, Loman, Loman!’ (Willy)

‘…moon moving between the buildings!’ (Willy)


‘You didn’t smash the car, did you?’

‘[taking the jacket from him]’

‘I’ll make you a sandwich’

‘I think-‘ (broken off by Willy)

‘Chevvy’ (corrected by Willy as ‘Chevrolet’)

‘Well…’ (reassuring Willy, repeated four times at the beginning of four consecutive sentences)

‘…the handsomest man’ (to Willy, superlative form of a word)

‘To me you are.’ (reduced to Linda – is Linda Willy’s world?)

‘They’re so expensive-‘ (Linda talking about her stalkings/Willy feels guilt because while Linda mends her old stockings Willy is buying extra pairs for ‘The Woman’/Capitalism)

‘Twelve, thirteen years ago.’

‘…low and blue’

‘Then make Charley your father, Biff.’

‘But he’s a human being’ (reinforcing Tragedy of a Common Man)

‘…old dog’

‘A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man’ (read ‘Tragedy and the Common Man by Miller and this line will make much more sense)

‘Are they any worse than his sons?’

‘…one a philandering bum-‘

‘He won’t be all right.’

‘He’s dying, Biff.’

‘He’s been trying to kill himself.’

‘-weren’t -weren’t -accidents’

‘He loved you!’

‘Stop interrupting’ (Willy TO Linda: this repeats throughout this scene and is important/refer to Linda character analysis)

‘Will you let me talk?’ (Willy TO Linda)

‘Will you let me finish?’ (Willy TO Linda)


‘big Betsy’

‘…measly manner of existence.’

‘…it always turns out the same.’

‘…I just – I’m like a boy.’

‘Are you content?’ (asking Happy)

‘Why? You’re making money, aren’t you?’ (capitalism)

‘You know that, don’t you, pal?’

‘He always, always wiped the floor with you.’ (to Linda about Willy)

‘He’ll be alright.’ (about Willy)

‘It’s between me and him-‘ (about Willy)

‘Oh, Jesus, I’m going to sleep!’

‘Gee, I don’t know-‘

‘You know, with ten thousand bucks…’


‘…five hundred women’

‘He – talks to himself’

‘…you’re an idealist!’ (to Biff)

‘The Loman Brothers’


‘…over-developed sense of competition’

‘…gorgeous creatures’

‘I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?’ (repetition and trying to capture Willy’s attention from Biff)

‘crowd girls’

‘That – jerk’

The Woman

‘I picked you.’ (to Willy)

‘You just kill me, Willy.’

‘And thanks for the stockings,’


‘…Regents! That’s a state exam!’

‘…doesn’t study!’ (about Biff)


‘…no bones in a heartburn.’

‘Don’t get insulted.’ (repetition)


‘And by God I was rich.’

‘Principally diamond mines.’

‘…only a few minutes-‘

‘His flute. He played the flute.’ (about his father)

‘…Ohio, and Indiana, Michigan, Illinois’


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