Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller

Three-Act Plot Analysis

For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.

Act I

In the first act, Willy comes home early from his work trip because he is no longer able to drive. For a traveling salesman, this means he also can’t do his job. Things are falling apart and money is a problem. His wife, Linda, encourages him to ask his boss for a non-traveling job. However, Willy’s mental health isn’t so good, and his sons are noticing that he’s talking to himself more than is socially acceptable. Willy’s mental wanderings are preoccupied with Biff’s aimlessness and inability to find success in business. To please his dad, Biff decides to ask a former employer, Bill Oliver, for a business loan the next day in order to start a small business. As a result, both Willy and Biff go to sleep with a plan and high hopes of the next day bringing financial and business success.

Act II

The following morning, Biff leaves to talk to Oliver and Willy heads to his boss’s office to ask for a job transfer. Oliver refuses to see Biff for more than a few seconds and Biff definitely doesn’t get a loan. Biff realizes that he was totally deluded and steals Oliver’s pen. Meanwhile, Willy has approached his boss to get a non-traveling job, and has totally failed. He ends up begging to keep his original traveling gig, but is fired instead. Depressed about his failed dreams of success, Willy attempts to hide from his son’s failures as well. Biff continues to try to force the truth on his father. The argument ends with Willy understanding that Biff loves him. However, Act II still ends with the big suicide (Willy’s).

Act III

While the Requiem isn’t designated as Act III in the play, it functions as essentially the same thing. (Note that in the playbill, seeing the title "Requiem" instead of "Act III" is further confirmation that someone dies. You know, in case the title of the play were not enough for you.) The Requiem takes place at Willy’s funeral. Here, Biff declares that his father pursued the wrong dream and didn’t know himself. Biff refuses to live life as his father did. Happy, however is defensive and buys into his dad’s misguided dreams. Linda, on the other hand, can’t figure out why her husband killed himself, especially since she just made the last payment on their house that day. Linda is still clueless.

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