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Reference Guide

Death of a Salesman - Reference Guides

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• A foil is a character who can be compared to and contrasted
with another character
Death Of A Salesman
• Two act play with a requiem; there are no scene divisions
(scenes have been added to make it easier to follow the plot)
Occurs in the 48 hours after Willy Loman has returned home
early from a sales trip
Written in a style which blends the past with the present,
eliminating boundaries of time and space
Published and produced in 1949
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949
Born 1915 in Harlem, New York
Wrote many plays, essays, and a novel; also directed plays
Just the Facts Symbols
• A waiter at Frank’s Chop House who chats with Happy and
• Minor character
The two women who are picked up by Happy in a restaurant
• Minor characters
The woman with whom Willy had his affair in Boston
• Minor character; however, she has a significant impact on the
plot development
Willy’s dead brother; appears in the play
• Embodies the epitome of success to Willy; he is wealthy and
well-liked (he acquired his wealth almost instantly, which is
what fascinates Willy the most about his success)
• Embodies Willy’s desire for escape; according to Willy, he had
all the answers
Willy’s boss at the Wagner company
• Son of the original owner whom Willy once knew
• Puts Willy on straight commission once his sales decrease
• Fires Willy without compassion or regard to his history
• Charley’s secretary
• Minor character
• Son of Charley and neighbor of the Lomans
• Foil to childhood friend, Biff
• Bernard is an extremely successful attorney; he achieved his
success through hard work
• Next-door-neighbor and very close friend of the Lomans
• Successful businessman; he achieved his success through
hard work
• Loans Willy money each month after he is put on commission
• Father to Bernard; foil to Willy
• 32-year-old son of Willy and Linda, brother to Biff
Admires and defends Biff
• Works in a department store; he is waiting to become the
merchandise manager
• He wants the American Dream (i.e., a house, a car, a wife)
• Feels rejected by Willy who favors Biff over Happy
Womanizer; he cannot settle down emotionally
• 34-year-old son of Willy and Linda, brother to Happy
• Lived and worked on a ranch; he came home to find
something else
All-American football star in high school
• Never graduated from high school; failed math
• Since high school, he has gone wrong (e.g., he stole a suit,
went to jail)
• Acquires enhanced self-knowledge throughout the play;
he sees his own shortcomings
• Rejects Willy Loman as a phony
• Sympathetic, loyal, and downtrodden wife of Willy; mother to
Biff and Happy
• Embodies values of a stay-at-home American woman
• Insists on maintaining Willys respect
• Encourages Willy to deceive and lie to save his pride
• Makes her sons feel guilty for not taking care of Willy
• Manages the household; organizes the finances and budget
• Protagonist and modern tragic hero
• Husband to Linda, father to Biff and Happy
• 63 years old; travelling salesman for the Wagner firm
• Placed on straight commission; he is deemed to be less
valuable to the company
• Talks to himself; his talks are often directed at Biff or his dead
brother, Ben
• Lacks self-knowledge; never admits to failure
• Immature; he has a strong desire to be liked
• Loves his family; however, he cheats on his wife, Linda
• Bernard and Biff grew up together without the advantage of
inherited money
• Bernard achieves the American Dream and becomes a
successful lawyer, while Biff is a failure
• Charley is a successful, hard-working, self-made man
• He contrasts with his neighbor, Willy, who is an unsuccessful,
ineffectual travelling salesman
• Howard is the wealthy, young inheritor and boss of the Wagner
• He contrasts greatly with Biff, Willy Lomans unsuccessful,
misguided son
• As the suburbs are eaten up by the enlarging city, trees are
eventually replaced by ugly apartment blocks, as seen from
Willy’s backyard
• Cars, furnaces, recording machines, and refrigerators become
integral parts of society; they do not come with guarantees and
often break down
• Memories of rural America are suggested through the flute
music that is associated with Willy’s father, a pioneering flute
• Willy is a modern tragic hero, similar to Shakespeare’s
King Lear and Oedipus
• He falls due to a tragic error; Willy’s error is being blinded by
the myth of the American Dream
• This modern tragic hero is a common man, rather than a king
or a great man
• Willy travels through ignorance, suffering, and enlightenment
• Unfortunately, his enlightenment (i.e., that his death is more
valuable to his family than his life) is realized through his
eventual suicide
• Examines the elusive yearning for the American Dream
The advantages and disadvantages of the American Dream are
explored; consider ambition, drive, and inherited wealth vs.
mortgages, loans, extramarital affairs, and suicide attempts
Elements of the American Dream are de-mythologized;
the ideal car, house and family of four do not bring happiness
• Issues of fatherhood are explored (e.g., leaving a legacy or an
inheritance, blind adoration of one’s children)
• Biff rejects his father’s philosophy of life, while Happy supports
and mimics it
• Three father/son pairs are provided in the play (i.e., Charley
and Bernard, Wagner and Howard, Willy and his boys)
Symbol of infidelity and declining prosperity
Willy Loman sells stockings for a living
• Linda Loman mends her stockings, which makes Willy
uncomfortable; he gives them freely to his mistress
Epitomizes the mechanization of American society
• Howard Wagners favorite new invention (at the beginning of
Act Two) plays back the voices of Howard’s wife and children
Parallels Willys internal voices and symbolizes his breakdown;
the voices lead to his mental degeneration
Music has major significance in the play
Leitmotifs (i.e., particular pieces of music used to represent
certain characters or moods) are used to introduce and
accompany several characters and situations
• Flute music conjures up memories of Willys father, the pioneer
flute maker; it generates the happiness and joy of a simpler
and more innocent time in America
• The Boys Music plays each time there is a scene or a memory
involving the boys
• Sexy music signals danger and illicit love; it plays while Willy
has an affair and while the boys pick up women in the bar
Ben’s music plays each time the character appears; it signals
success and longing
• Willys suicide scene is conveyed through collapsed discords
and sound effects
A death march introduces the requiem scene
Means of Willy’s suicide; central to Willy’s livelihood and
• An element in the typical American Dream; the car is the
conventional symbol of mobility and freedom
• Elm trees surrounding Willy’s house, in the past, represented a
suburban oasis
• Symbolic of growth and potential; as Willy deteriorates, nothing
grows in his garden
The jungle represented a world of opportunity in which Ben
became wealthy
• The jungle of business and society traps and conquers Willy
Willys distress call involves trees (“The woods are burning. ”)
• Willy explains that some of his early car accidents were due to
the fact that he was admiring the scenery and trees
• An unsuccessful travelling salesman, Willy Loman, is trapped in
his pursuit of the American Dream
• His two sons inherit different life philosophies
• Happy follows in his father’s footsteps and pursues illusions
• Biff finally gains insight into the dangers and follies of living in
a dream world
• Willys wife, Linda, strives to improve Willys deteriorating
mental health and hold her family together
Main Plot
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