Study Guide

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller in Ecocriticism

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Ecocriticism jumps at any text flashing a bit of green, be it a novel, a poem, or a stage drama. And Arthur Miller flashes us some very well-placed bits of nature in Death of a Salesman. So our favorite nature-minded thinkers have a lot to dig into in this text.

The play itself follows the story of Willy Loman, an older man who's losing his job as a salesman, and that whole process kind of makes him lose his mind. All he can think about is helping his son Biff become successful and well-liked.

Biff was a high school quarterback, after all. Everyone who's anyone knows that when you're a teenage football star, the American dream is just one short pass-play away. Right? Right…? Sigh. How wrong-headed we can be.

But what's ecological about the very human disappointments of Willy Loman, a guy who just wants to be liked by his peers and his family and, for once, be recognized for his efforts? His madness, that's what. As Willy loses his marbles toward the end of the play, he becomes obsessed with planting a garden.

He gets super, super interested in how the city has overtaken green spaces. Some part of his mushy brain understands that it's the pressures of modern life that are making him nutso. It's his lack of real and metaphorical roots that're getting him down. Hm.

Willy sounds exactly like the kind of guy that cantankerous nature-writer Ed Abbey described in Desert Solitaire

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