Death of a Salesman – Summary

Death of a Salesman is a stage play written by American playwright Arthur Miller


It is important to bear that the story is told through the mind and memory of Willy Loman and there is a constant back and forth between two periods ,1928 and 1942.The first period is one of the happiness and contentment when Willy Loman is young and dynamic and the children ,Biff and Happy are running about in shorts ;the second is one of gloom and discontent – Willy is now old and ,virtually out of a job and the children are grown up and gone their different ways. The play is thus structured in such a way to show the pleasures of the past ,the dreams and hopes the characters had and how these aspirations had turned sour. Willy Loman had built his life in such a way that he had finally trapped himself in an impossible situation.

Willy Loman ,the protagonist in the play was a travelling salesman in the services of the wagnor company for 34 years. When his old boss died, his son Howard took over the administration of the company. Willy’s family consists of three other members ,his wife Linda, Biff,the elder son and Happy, the younger son.

Willy unexpectedly returned on the same day he had left for New England territory on a business tour. Linda felt that her husband is thoroughly exhausted both physically and mentally and he has almost reached the breaking point. Willy, who is 63, has driven the car off the road twice or three times and when he reached home he was found to be panic stricken, desolate and shattered.

Willy liked his eldest son Biff,who was well-known as a football champion. Though he is 34, it is unfortunate that he could not settle in life. Inspite of the fact that three colleges offered him scholarship in recognition of his proficiency in football, he did not join any college. Happy, the women chaser also could not settle in life.

For the next two days, immediately after his unexpected return, Willy’s mind was rather disturbed with thoughts of today’s realities inter mingled with yesterday’s half forgotten episodes. He felt that it was mistake on his part not to have followed his elder brother Ben ,who dared his way into the diamond minds of Africa and amassed fabulous wealth . Willy’s guilty consciousness pricked him at the flash back scene of Boston hotel room, when his son Biff makes a surprise visit and finds his father having an affair with a strange lady .After this episode, Biff seemed to hold a grudge against his father and could never again bring himself to trust Willy. As suggested by Linda, Willy visits Howard, the young Boss and request for a change of job in the New York City office as he is physically and mentally incapacitated as a travelling sales man. When the request was unceremoniously turned down by Howard and Willy dismissed from service he protest “You cannot eat orange and throw the peel away; man is not a piece of fruit”. Willy is very much frustrated and disillusioned at the behavior of capitalists who lacked the human milk of kindness, sympathy and gratitude. Biff’s attempt to raise a loan from Bill Oliver , the proprietor of sports goods company also failed. Oliver, who once liked Biff immensely, now refused to recognise him now because Biff has stolen a fountain pen, Charley ,Willy’s neighbour extended a helping hand in those days of adversity. He ,not only advanced a loan to him but also offered him a job to him. But Willy refused to accept it with a false sense of dignity. The two sons invited the father for a dinner party at a prominent restaurant in the city. But Happy picked up two call girls and left the place along with Biff, leaving Willy alone. Willy felt humiliated and this experience was shocking and unbearable when Biff and Happy returned home, Linda ordered them out of the house by the next morning. She was planning to commit suicide on a particular night. Willy was left alone while all others went upstairs. He has insured his life for 20,000 dollars. Once he dies, the family will be entitled to receive the amount from the insurance company. So Willy got into his car and drove madly through darkness, only to kill himself. His funeral was attended only by Linda, the two sons, charley and his son Bernard. Linda could not stand the strain of separation from her beloved husband; but still she stooped down and dropped flowers on the grave of Willy

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