Study Guide

Death of a Salesman Quotes

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Act One
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more.

    HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh?

    WILLY: Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not liked. He’s liked, but he’s notwell liked. (Act 1)

    Amidst his preoccupation with financial survival, Willy insists he will make it big some day and have the home life that he wants. Almost more important to him than actual successful business deals is being liked. Over the course of the play, however, we learn that Willy isn't particularly well liked at all. This is just another one of his delusions.

    WILLY: Like a young god. Hercules—something like that. And the sun, the sun all around him. Remember how he waved to me? Right up from the field with the representatives of three colleges standing by? And the buyers I brought, and the cheers when he came out—Loman, Loman, Loman! God Almighty, he’ll be great yet. A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away. (Act 1)

    Willy clings to memories of the distant past to find hope for the future. What's interesting is that we see and hear of these past events through Willy's distorted lens. There's really no telling if anything was ever as wonderful as he paints it.

    Linda Loman

    LINDA: He’ll find his way.

    WILLY: Sure. Certain men just don’t get started till later in life. Like Thomas Edison, I think. Or B.F. Goodrich. One of them was deaf. [He starts for the bedroom doorway.] I’ll put my money on Biff. (Act 1)

    Willy clings to his hope that Biff will settle down and become a major business success despite the unlikelihood of such an event. This desperate hope is what eventually leads him to commit suicide by the end of the play. He goes to his death with the delusional idea that Biff will one day be a famous businessman.

    LINDA: I’m just wondering if Oliver will remember him. You think he might?

    WILLY [coming out of the bathroom in his pajamas]: Remember him? What’s the matter with you, you crazy? If he’d stayed with Oliver he’d be on top by now! Wait’ll Oliver gets a look at him. You don’t know the average caliber any more. The average young man today—[he’s getting into bed]—is got a caliber of zero. Greatest thing in the world for him was to bum around. (Act 1)

    Willy's comments cross the line from hopefulness about the future to the suggestion that his aspirations are already reality. He clings to the delusional idea that Biff is somehow superior to the average young man.

    Act Two
    Happy Loman

    HAPPY: Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something! (Act 2)

    Happy's statement reflects a fundamental understanding of his father's need to dream as a means of escape. Is Willy's family in some ways responsible for furthering his delusions? Or are they only trying to make their father happy?

    HAPPY: All right, boy. I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have—to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him. (Act 2)

    Hoping to re-elevate his father's memory, Happy asserts that Willy had the right aspirations, and he will take on his father's dreams to prove it. What do you think is in the future for Happy? Will he become what his father always wanted to be? Or is he destined for the same sort of tragic death?

    Charley

    CHARLEY: Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory. (Act 2)

    Charley insists that, being a salesman with an unsure future, Willy could not have avoided dreaming his absurd dreams. Do you think this is true? Is it impossible to be a salesman and not be totally delusional?

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could’ve torn the walls down! How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and—I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk. (Act 2)

    Biff points out that because of excessive dreaming and fantasizing about a better future, he had lost his grounding in reality. When he forces his father to face this reality, it leads to Willy's destruction.

    BIFF [crying, broken]: Will you let me go for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens? (Act 2)

    Biff attributes the tension and distress in his family to the irreconcilable gap between Willy's absurd dreams and reality. He longs to be released from Willy's dreams, so that he can create his own—ones that are based on the reality of his situation.

    BIFF: He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.

    HAPPY [almost ready to fight Biff]: Don’t say that!

    BIFF: He never knew who he was. (Act 2)

    Dreaming is so central an aspect of Willy's character that Happy nearly fights Biff to defend it. Unlike his brother, Happy still wants to believe in Willy.

    Willy Loman

    WILLY: You wait, kid, before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…

    LINDA: You’ll do it yet, dear. (Act 2)

    Despite all evidence to the contrary, Willy maintains that they will escape their current financial situation and create something new. We wonder, though, if Linda is as delusional as her husband. Does she really believe that there is a house in the country in their future?

    WILLY: [the last to leave, turning to Charley]: I don’t think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life.

    CHARLEY: Willy, when are you going to grow up?

    WILLY: Yeah, heh? When this game is over, you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your face. They’ll be calling him another Red Grange. Twenty-five thousand a year. (Act 2)

    Willy's hopefulness that the game will turn out well for Biff is based on the belief that Biff has already won the game, performed flawlessly, and is headed for a professional football career. This kind of baseless optimism eventually destroys Willy and seems to seriously damage his sons.

    Linda Loman

    LINDA: Biff was very changed this morning. His whole attitude seemed to be hopeful. He couldn’t wait to get down town to see Oliver.

    WILLY: He’s heading for a change. There’s no question. There simply are certain men who take longer to get solidified. How did he dress? (Act 2)

    Linda and Willy cling to even the slightest indication of change as definite proof of a better future to come. It's really sad that all their dream and hopes for themselves and their children have come down to this.

    WILLY: Gee whiz! That’s really somethin’. I’m gonna knock Howard for a loop, kid. I’ll get an advance and I’ll come home with a New York job. Goddammit, now I’m gonna do it!

    LINDA: Oh, that’s the spirit Willy! (Act 2)

    Willy experiences occasional moments of extreme optimism that contrast with similarly extreme moments of depression. The back and forth between these highs and lows is what eventually tears him apart.

    Ben

    LINDA: You’re doing well enough, Willy!

    BEN [to Linda]: Enough for what, my dear?

    LINDA [frightened of Ben and angry at him]: Don’t say those things to him! Enough to be happy right here, right now. [To Willy, while Ben laughs] Why must everybody conquer the world? You’re well liked and the boys love you and someday—[to Ben]—why, old man Wagner told him just the other day that if he keeps it up he’ll be a member of the firm, didn’t he, Willy? (Act 2)

    Linda expresses concern that Willy's massive aspirations are getting the better of him. She seems afraid that if Willy latches on to his brother's big dreams of success, then she may never see her husband again.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Act One
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side… (Act 1)

    Willy feels trapped and confined even in his own home. He feels stifled by the fact that there are so many people right on top of him.

    WILLY: I got an awful scare. Nearly hit a kid in Yonkers. God! Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time! Ben! That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate! What a mistake! He begged me to go. (Act 1)

    Willy feels trapped in his life of financial struggle in New York and longs for escape. He assumes that escape from the city will also mean escape from his current failures at work.

    Ben

    BEN: At that age I had a very faulty view of geography, William. I discovered after a few days that I was heading due south, so instead of Alaska I ended up in Africa.

    LINDA: Africa!

    WILLY: The Gold Coast!

    BEN: Principally diamond mines.

    LINDA: Diamond mines!

    BEN: Yes, my dear. But I’ve only a few minutes—

    WILLY: No! Boys! Boys! [Young Biff and Happy appear] Listen to this. This is your Uncle Ben, a great man! Tell my boys, Ben! (Act 1)

    Willy's and Linda's fascination with far-off lands is closely linked with their desire for escape and financial security. To Willy especially, Ben's exploits represent a lifestyle that is totally free, yet totally successful.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF [with enthusiasm]: Listen, why don’t you come out West with me?

    HAPPY: You and I, heh?

    BIFF: Sure, maybe we could buy a ranch. Raise cattle, use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open. (Act 1)

    Happy and Biff fantasize about escape from the city and their lives in the business world. The world of manual labor is a welcome change to the rat race of city life. In the big scheme of things, though, is the life of the working class really any more free?

    Linda Loman

    LINDA: We should’ve bought the land next door.

    WILLY: The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow anymore, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?

    LINDA: Yeah, like being a million miles from the city. (Act 1)

    Linda and Willy's reflections reveal their craving for escape from their urban neighborhood. They long for the days when the neighborhood was more green. Throughout the play, urbanization and commercialism are linked to ideas of confinement.

    Act Two
    Ben

    BEN: Now, look here, William. I’ve bought timberland in Alaska and I need a man to look after things for me.

    WILLY: God, timberland! Me and my boys in those grand outdoors! (Act 2)

    With the mere mention of timberland, Willy is lost in fantasies of freedom in the great outdoors, suggesting his desperation for escape. He sees life in the wilderness as a chance to really be his own man; however, he's too attached to the ways of city life to go through with such a dream.

    BEN: You’ve got a new continent at your doorstep, William. Get out of these cities, they’re full of talk and time payments and courts of law. Screw on your fists and you can fight for a fortune up there.

    WILLY: Yes, yes! Linda, Linda! (Act 2)

    The American West is depicted as free of confinements and thus ripe with opportunity and prosperity. How realistic is this depiction? Is this reality, or just another dream?

    Linda Loman

    LINDA [buttoning up his jacket as he unbuttons it]: All told, about two hundred dollars would carry us, dear. But that includes the last payment on the mortgage. After this payment, Willy, the house belongs to us.

    WILLY: It’s twenty-five years!

    LINDA: Biff was nine years old when we bought it.

    WILLY: Well, that’s a great thing. To weather a twenty-five year mortgage is—

    LINDA: It’s an accomplishment. (Act 2)

    Willy and Linda celebrate their proximity to financial security as a kind of freedom and escape. In many ways, they feel chained by financial concerns and debt.

    LINDA [laughing]: That’d be wonderful. But not enough sun gets back there. Nothing’ll grow anymore.

    WILLY: You wait, kid, before its all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens.

    LINDA: You’ll do it yet, dear.

    [Willy walks out of his jacket. Linda follows him.]

    WILLY: And they’ll get married, and come for a weekend. I’d build a little guest house. 'Cause I got so many fine tools, all I’d need would be a little lumber and some peace of mind. (Act 2)

    Willy and Linda perceive escape from their urban neighborhood as freedom. The entire play seems to be infused with a longing for a simpler lifestyle. What do you think: is the life of a farmer in the country more free than the life of a salesman in the city?

    Biff Loman

    WILLY [suddenly conscious of Biff, turns and looks up at him, then begins pocking up the packages of seeds in confusion]: Where the hell is that seed? [indignantly] You can’t see nothing out here! They boxed in the whole goddamn neighborhood!

    BIFF: There are people all around here. Don’t you realize that?

    WILLY: I’m busy. Don’t bother me. (Act 2)

    Willy's frustration at feeling trapped in his own home only shortly before his suicide reflects his profound desire for freedom and escape. Does his suicide provide that escape, or is it just the biggest trap of all?

    Requiem
    Linda Loman

    LINDA: Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help me, Willy, I can’t cry. It seems to me that you’re just on another trip. I keep expecting you. Willy, dear, I can’t cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and I search and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And they’ll be nobody home. [A sob rises in her throat] We’re free and clear. [Sobbing more fully, released] We’re free. [Biff comes slowly toward her] We’re free… We’re free… (Requiem)

    Linda's refrain of "we're free" after her comments about mortgage payments implies the linkage of freedom with economic security in Death of a Salesman. The play seems to be making a larger comment on the American system of capitalism. Are we as Americans trapped by our longing for financial gain? Does our focus on material things keep us from truly being free?

  • Pride

    Act One
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through. (Act 1)

    Willy's exaggerated sense of pride suggests his underlying insecurity and desperate concern over meeting his own inflated expectations. It's highly likely that this unfortunate but annoying personality trait is the very reason why everybody makes fun of him. Ironically, it may just stand in the way of him achieving anything to be proud of.

    WILLY: You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh? (Act 1)

    Despite evidence that Willy has few friends and is unsuccessful, his inflated sense of pride leads him to insist he is well-liked. Biff and Happy are completely enamored with their father when they are young; they totally buy into Willy's B.S. Later on, however, his failures become all too clear.

    WILLY [continuing over Happy’s line]: They laugh at me, heh? Go to Filene’s, go to the Hub, go to Slattery’s. Boston. Call out the name Willy Loman and see what happens! Big shot!

    BIFF: All right, Pop.

    WILLY: Big!

    BIFF: All right! (Act 1)

    Willy's pride reflects his increasing blindness to reality. He insists on pretending like he's really successful when it's just not true. In some ways this is really understandable, and it makes Willy seem totally human. It's probably a really hard thing to admit that your entire life has been a total flop.

    WILLY [sitting down at the kitchen table]: Huh! Why did she have to wax the floors herself? Every time she waxes the floors she keels over. She knows that! (Act 1)

    Willy's disgust at Linda waxing the floors herself suggests his false pride about their economic status. They clearly cannot afford to hire someone to wax their floor, yet he constantly wants to pretend that this isn't so.

    Charley

    CHARLEY: You want a job?

    WILLY: I got a job, I told you that. [After a slight pause] What the hell are you offering me a job for?

    CHARLEY: Don’t get insulted.

    WILLY: Don’t insult me. (Act 1)

    Willy has always tried to act like he is cooler than Charley. In reality, though, he's always been really jealous of his neighbor. When Charley offers Willy a job, it hurts Willy's pride. If people know that he's working for Charley, then there will be no denying the fact Charley has done better in lifeand Willy's delusional pride just won't allow that.

    Linda Loman

    LINDA: Willy, dear. Talk to them again. There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York.

    WILLY: They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England. (Act 1)

    Willy falsely insists that he is a critical player in his business in order to bolster his sense of self-worth. Even though his sales haven't been good for a while, he argues that he is a really important man.

    Act Two
    Charley

    CHARLEY: I offered you a job. You can make fifty dollars a week. And I won’t send you on the road.

    WILLY: I’ve got a job.

    CHARLEY: Without pay? What kind of a job is without pay? [He rises] Now look kid, enough is enough. I’m no genius but I know when I’m being insulted.

    WILLY: Insulted!

    CHARLEY: Why don’t you want to work for me?

    WILLY: What’s the matter with you? I’ve got a job! (Act 2)

    Despite the complete absurdity of refusing Charley's job offer (considering his financial circumstances), Willy's pride prevents him from accepting. Willy is determined to pretend like he doesn't need Charley's help even while he's asking for it.

    Willy Loman

    HOWARD: Where are your sons? Why don’t your sons give you a hand?

    WILLY: They’re working on a very big deal.

    HOWARD: This is no time for false pride, Willy. You go to your sons and tell them that you’re tired. You’ve got two great boys, haven’t you?

    WILLY: Oh, no question, no question, but in the mean time… (Act 2)

    Howard recognizes Willy's pride as means of hiding from reality. Though Howard does wash his hands of Willy in this scene, in a way he's trying to help the old salesman. If Willy would only recognize the reality of his situation, he'd be able to get by.

    WLLY [the last to leave, turning to Charley]: I don’t think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life.

    CHARLEY: Willy, when are you going to grow up?

    WILLY: Yeah, heh? When this game is over, Charley, you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your face. They’ll be calling him another Red Grange. Twenty-five thousand a year. (Act 2)

    Willy's exaggerated sense of pride about Biff is an extension of his own fears and insecurities. If Biff turns out to be a failure, then Willy will feel like he's a failure as well. Like many parents, much of Willy's personal pride is based on the success of his children.

    WILLY: I—I just can’t work for you, Charley.

    CHARLEY: What’re you, jealous of me?

    WILLY: I can’t work for you, that’s all, don’t ask me why.

    CHARLEY [angered, takes out more bills] You been jealous of me all your life, you damned fool. Here, pay your insurance. [He puts the money in Willy’s hand].

    WILLY: I’m keeping strict accounts. (Act 2)

    Willy's sense of pride irrationally prevents him from accepting a job working for Charleybut allows him to accept loans he will undoubtedly be unable to repay. Charley is an incredibly generous guy, considering how badly Willy treats him.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: I stole myself out of every good job since high school!

    WILLY: And whose fault is that?

    BIFF: And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! That’s whose fault it is!

    WILLY: I hear that!

    LINDA: Don’t, Biff! (Act 2)

    Biff recognizes that false pride is a barrier to success. The failures of his life have made it impossible for him to ignore the fact that he's just not as cool as his father always tried to make him believe he was. Where is the line between instilling your children with a good self-image and making them too big-headed for their own good?

  • Betrayal

    Act One
    Linda Loman

    LINDA: I’m—I’m ashamed to. How can I mention it to him? Every day I go down and take away that little rubber pipe. But when he comes home, I put it back where it was. How can I insult him that way? I don’t know what to do. I live from day to day boys. I tell you, I know every thought in his mind. It sounds so old-fashioned and silly, but I tell you he’s put his whole life into you and you’ve turned your backs on him. [She is bent over the chair, weeping, her head in her hands]. Biff, I swear to God! Biff, his life is in your hands! (Act 1)

    Linda feels that her sons have betrayed their father by turning their backs on him. Here, she insinuates that that betrayal is a big part of what has driven Willy to contemplate suicide.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: Because I know he’s a fake and he doesn’t like anybody around who knows!

    LINDA: Why a fake? In what way? What do you mean?

    BIFF: Just don’t lay it all at my feet. It’s between me and him—that’s all I have to say. (Act 1)

    Biff feels betrayed by his father's affair, but refuses to tell Linda. Does he do this out of loyalty to his father, or is he just trying to protect Linda from the truth? Is he, in a way, betraying his mother by not telling her the truth of his father's infidelity?

    Willy Loman

    WILLY [noticing her mending]: What’s that?

    LINDA: Just mending my stockings. They’re so expensive!

    WILLY [angrily, taking them from her]: I won’t have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!

    [Linda puts the stockings in her pocket] (Act 1)

    Willy lashes out at Linda about her mending stockings because it reminds him of his affair and betrayal of her. We wonder if Linda ever suspected Willy's betrayal. What do you think? Are there any clues in the play that hint at this?

    WILLY: How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!

    LINDA: He’s finding himself, Willy.

    WILLY: Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace! (Act 1)

    Willy considers Biff's failure in business as a betrayal of his expectations. It is ironic, however, that, throughout the play, Willy seems to long for just the sort of simpler lifestyle that his son has created for himself. Could it be that Willy's feelings of betrayal are in some ways linked to feelings of jealousy toward his son?

    Act Two
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: Charley, I’m strapped. I’m strapped. I don’t know what to do. I was just fired.

    CHARLEY: Howard fired you?

    WILLY: That snotnose. Imagine that? I named him. I named him Howard.

    CHARLEY: Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can’t sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that. (Act 2)

    Charley questions Willy's insistence that Howard's actions were a betrayal. He tries to get Willy to understand the harsh realities of capitalism.

    WILLY: Don’t you want to be anything?

    BIFF: Pop, how can I go back?

    WILLY: You don’t want to be anything, is that what’s behind it?

    […]

    WILLY: Are you spiting me?

    BIFF: Don’t take it that way! Goddamnit!

    WILLY [strikes Biff and falters away from the table]: You rotten little louse! Are you spiting me? (Act 2)

    Willy perceives Biff's business failure as a personal betrayal, an attempt to punish him for his earlier love affair. Willy's guilt over his affair leads him to make lots irrational and damaging decisions.

    Biff Loman

    WILLY: She’s nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.

    BIFF: You—you gave her Mama’s stockings! [His tears break through and he rises to go] (Act 2)

    Unable to fully lash out at his father, Biff focuses his anger on the stockings. The stockings are used as a symbol of betrayal throughout the play.

    BIFF: There’ll be no pity for you, you hear it? No pity!

    WILLY [To Linda]: You hear the spite!

    BIFF: No, you’re going to hear the truth—what you are and what I am!

    LINDA: Stop it!

    WILLY: Spite! (Act 2)

    Willy's accusation that Biff is spiting him stems from his knowledge that his son felt betrayed by his affair.

    BIFF: Exactly what is it you want from me?

    WILLY: I want you to know on the train, in the mountains, in the valleys, wherever you go that you cut down your life in spite.

    BIFF: No, no!

    WILLY: Spite, spite is the word of your undoing! And when you’re down and out remember what did it. When you’re rotting somewhere beside the railroad tracks, remember, and don’t you dare blame it on me! (Act 2)

    Willy assumes that Biff's betrayal of his expectations is intended as a punishment for his betrayal of Biff's trust when Willy had an affair. Here, Willy tries desperately to separate himself from his own guilt about both Biff's failure in life and the reality of his infidelity.

  • Appearances

    Act One
    Willy Loman

    WILLY [with pity and resolve]: I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up. When he walked down the street… [He loses himself in reminiscences.] (Act 1)

    Willy attributes Biff's former popularity and success to his smile. Now, however, it seems that Biff's smile and good looks just haven't been enough to get him to a stable place in life. Yes, it seems that Biff's attractiveness just hasn't gotten him that far.

    WILLY: I’m fat. I’m very—foolish to look at, Linda. I didn’t tell you, but Christmas time I happened to be calling on F.H. Stewarts, and a salesman I know, as I was going in to see the buyer I hear him say something about—walrus. And I—I cracked him right across the face. I won’t take that. I simply will not take that. But they do laugh at me. I know that.

    LINDA: Darling…

    WILLY: I gotta overcome it. I know I gotta overcome it. I’m not dressing to advantage, maybe. (Act 1)

    Willy assumes his business problems have to do primarily with his appearance. It doesn't seem to occur to him that his real problem may be that people see right through his flimsy, image-obsessed personality. The play may be pointing out that people of real substance are the ones who get real respect.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF [deciding]: Lend me ten bucks, will ya? I want to buy some new ties.

    HAPPY: I’ll take you to a place I know. Beautiful stuff. Wear one of my stripped shirts tomorrow. (Act 1)

    Biff and Happy's emphasis on Biff's appearance distracts them from more relevant reality (the fact that Oliver won't recognize Biff). They've somehow deluded themselves into believing that, if Biff looks good enough, Oliver will start forking over the moneyeven though he hasn't seen Biff in years.

    Happy Loman

    HAPPY [enthralled]: That’s what I dream about Biff. Sometimes I wanna just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddamned merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outlift and outrun anybody in that store, and I have to take orders from those petty, common sons of bitches till I can’t stand it anymore. (Act 1)

    Happy's compulsion to tear off his clothes and attack his coworkers in the office may reflect his frustration with the importance of appearances. Though Happy is pretty obsessed with looking good himself, it seems that sometimes he wants to rip it all away and act like an animal.

    Act Two
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: He’s heading for a change. There’s no question, there simply are certain men that take longer to get—solidified. How did he dress?

    LINDA: His blue suit. He’s so handsome in that suit. He could be a—anything in that suit! (Act 2)

    Once again we see that Linda and Willy's fixation on Biff's physical appearance as the source of his success denies the importance of other qualities and virtues. They seem to have completely forgotten that Biff once stole from Oliver and that that might matter more than the fact that he's now wearing a nice suit.

    WILLY: Yeah. Sing to me. [Linda hums a soft lullaby]. When that team came outhe was the tallest, remember?

    LINDA: Oh, yes. And in gold. (Act 2)

    Willy and Linda place great importance on Biff's appearance when he was a high school football star, as if that had something to do with his talent. The very fact that he was so attractive made them positive that he would one day be successful.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Act One
    Linda Loman

    WILLY: Oh, I’ll knock ‘em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.

    [They move onto the forestage]

    LINDA: Oh, don’t be foolish.

    WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.

    LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy.

    [Willy moves to the edge of the stage. Linda goes into the kitchen and starts to darn stockings.]

    WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. (Act 1)

    Willy contradicts himself by saying that he is both well-liked and ignored, suggesting that he frequently deceives himself about his success. However, the truth seems to always be just under the surface. This tortures him and eventually drives him insane— literally.

    LINDA: I’m just wondering if Oliver will remember him. You think he might?

    WILLY [coming out of the bathroom in his pajamas]: Remember him? What’s the matter with you, you crazy? If he’d stayed with Oliver he’d be on top by now! Wait’ll Oliver gets a look at him. You don’t know the average caliber any more. The average young man today—[he’s getting into bed]—is got a caliber of zero. Greatest thing in the world for him was to bum around. (Act 1)

    Willy's statements function only to boost his and Linda's morale as they completely deny the reality that Biff was merely a shipping clerk when he worked for Oliver. Do you think Linda buys this? Is she as immersed in Willy's self-deception as she appears?

    LINDA: How’d the Chevy run?

    WILLY: Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built.

    […]

    LINDA: No, they did a wonderful job. Then you owe Frank for the carburetor.

    WILLY: I’m not going to pay that man! That goddamn Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car! (Act 1)

    Stepping out of the myths he's created about himself and realizing his true financial situation, Willy immediately expresses a complete change of opinion about his car. This helps to show just how flimsy Willy's idea and assertions can be.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: I guess so. I know something about it and—

    WILLY: He knows something about it! You know sporting goods better than Spalding for God’s sake! How much is he giving you?

    BIFF: I don’t know, I didn’t even see him yet, but—

    WILLY: Then what’re you talkin’ about?

    BIFF [getting angry]: Well, all I said was I’m gonna see him, that’s all! (Act 1)

    Willy deceives himself into believing that Biff has already sealed a deal that his son has not yet even acted on. Willy's self-deception eventually drives Biff to lash out at his father.

    BIFF: I guess so. I know something about it and— 

    WILLY: He knows something about it! You know sporting goods better than Spalding for God’s sake! (Act 1)

    Willy is deceiving himself yet again. You're probably not surprised. Here, he is attempting to convince Biff that, because Biff was a high school football star, he knows more about sporting goods than professionals in the industry. Umm, not so much, Willy.

    Willy Loman

    WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through.

    […]

    WILLY: A hundred and twenty dollars! My God, if business doesn’t pick up I don’t know what I’m gonna do! (Act 1)

    While Willy continues see himself as successful and well-liked, reality occasionally forces him to acknowledge his financial problems. It's hard to ignore it when you just don't have enough money to pay for what you need.

    WILLY [turning to Ben]: Business is bad, it’s murderous. But not for me, of course. (Act 1)

    Willy continually lies outright in order to try and impress Ben and make himself feel better. We wonder if Ben believes any of this— probably not. We're guessing that part of the reason that Willy isn't all that well-liked is because most people can see right through him.

    Ben

    BEN: And good luck with your—what do you do?

    WILLY: Selling.

    BEN: Yes. Well… [He raises his hand in a farewell to all.]

    WILLY: No, Ben. I don’t want you to think… [He takes Ben’s arm to show him.] It’s Brooklyn, I know, but we hunt too.

    BEN: Really, now.

    WILLY: Oh, sure, there’s snakes and rabbits and—that’s why I moved out here. Why, Biff can fell any one of these trees in no time! Boys! Go right over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand. We’re gonna rebuild the entire front stoop right now! Watch this, Ben! (Act 1)

    Desperate to impress Ben, Willy lies through his teeth and begins to believe what he is saying. How often do people really go hunting in Brooklyn? Notice too, that he encourages his boys to steal from the construction site next door so that he can show how manly he and his sons are. By encouraging them to live dishonestly, Willy undermines the moral character of his sons.

    Act Two
    Happy Loman

    HAPPY: His name is Biff. You might’ve heard of him. Great football player.

    GIRL: Really? What team?

    HAPPY: Are you familiar with football?

    GIRL: No. I’m afraid I’m not.

    HAPPY: Biff is a quarterback with the New York Giants.

    GIRL: Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? [She drinks]

    HAPPY: Good health.

    GIRL: I’m happy to meet you.

    HAPPY: That’s my name. Hap. It’s really Harold, but at West Point they called me Happy.

    GIRL [now really impressed]: Oh, I see. How do you do? (Act 2)

    Happy shamelessly boosts his own self-esteem and deceives the girl the same way he deceives himself. In many ways, he really is a lot like his father. Could this be part of the reason Willy seems to gravitate more toward Biff than Happy? Is hanging around Happy too much like looking in a mirror?

    HAPPY: No, it’s a little celebration. My brother is—I think he pulled off a big deal today. I think we’re going into business together.

    STANLEY: Great! That’s the best for you. Because a family business, you know what I mean?—that’s the best. (Act 2)

    Happy deceives himself into thinking that he and Biff already have a major success to celebrate. Much like his father, he chooses to exaggerate and bend the truth to try to impress people.

    HAPPY: What the hell!

    WILLY: Tell me what happened!

    Biff [to Happy]: I can’t talk to him!

    [A single trumpet note jars the ear. The light of green leaves stains the house, which holds the air of night and a dream. Young Bernard enters and knocks on the door of the house.] (Act 2)

    Willy is only able to cope with the reality the Biff lays before him by escaping entirely into his delusions. The increasing harshness of his life is causing him to sink deeper and deeper into his own dream world.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF [to Happy]: The man don’t know who we are! The man is gonna know! [To Willy]: We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!

    HAPPY: We always told the truth!

    BIFF [turning on him]: You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant aren’t you?

    HAPPY: We’ll I’m practically—

    BIFF: You’re practically full of it! We all are! And I’m through with it. [To Willy]: Now hear this Willy, this is me. (Act 2)

    Biff desperately struggles to demand truth amid the chronic deception that his family maintains. He takes a stand against all the lies, leading to tragic consequences.

    BIFF [crying, broken]: Will you let me go, for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?

    [. . .]

    WILLY: Oh, Biff! [staring wildly] He cried! Cried to me. [He is chocking with his love, and now cries out his promise] That boy—that boy is going to be magnificent! (Act 2)

    Despite Biff's admission that he is a failure, Willy convinces himself that Biff will still make it big. Willy follows this delusion to his death, killing himself in order to help his son. Does this death bring some sympathy for Willy? Does he die a hero of some sort? Or is it just the logical end to a life of deception?

    BIFF: He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could’ve torn the walls down! How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and—I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk. (Act 2)

    Biff is angry not at having deceived others, but at having deceived himself. The humiliation at Oliver's office is a breaking point for him. After this experience, he seems determined to not deceive himself again.

    BIFF: Let’s talk quietly and get down to the facts, huh?

    WILLY [as though Biff had been interrupting]: Well, what’s happened? It’s great news, Biff. Did he take you into his office or’d you talk in the waiting room?

    BIFF: Well he came in, see, and—

    WILLY [with a big smile]: What’d he say? Betcha he threw his arm around you.

    BIFF: Well, he kinda—

    WILLY: He’s a fine man. [To Happy] Very hard man to see, y’know.

    HAPPY [agreeing]: Oh, I know.

    WILLY [to Biff]: Is that where you had the drinks?

    BIFF: Yeah, he gave me a couple of—no, no!

    HAPPY [cutting in]: He told him my Florida idea. (Act 2)

    Between Willy's ceaseless interjections and Happy's lies on his behalf, Biff begins to fall back into the family's cycle of deception. Before long, though, reality is bound to break through.

    Charley

    WILLY: [the last to leave, turning to Charley]: I don’t think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life.

    CHARLEY: Willy, when are you going to grow up?

    WILLY: Yeah, heh? When this game is over, you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your face. They’ll be calling him another Red Grange. Twenty-five thousand a year. (Act 2)

    Willy's detachment from reality causes him to massively exaggerate the significance of Biff's high school football career. He feels the need to take any small success and blow it up into epic proportions.

    Willy Loman

    WILLY: I’m definitely going to get one. Because lots of time I’m on the road, and I think to myself, what I must be missing on the radio!

    HOWARD: Don’t you have a radio in the car?

    WILLY: Well, yeah, but who ever thinks of turning it on? (Act 2)

    Willy comes off looking like a fool when he attempts to lie in order to impress Howard and soothe his own insecurities. Ironically, his constant need to lie in order to make himself well-liked is probably a big part of the reason that people don't really like him.

    WILLY: In 1928 I had a big year. I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions.

    HOWARD: Now Willy, you never averaged—

    WILLY: I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in the year of 1928! (Act 2)

    Willy has himself utterly convinced that he is incredible at his job, despite the obvious reality of his poor salesmanship. Howard doesn't seem to buy any of it, though. Willy's transparently deceitful nature may be part of what costs him his job in this scene.

    Ben

    LINDA: You’re doing well enough, Willy!

    BEN [to Linda]: Enough for what, my dear?

    LINDA [frightened of Ben and angry at him]: Don’t say those things to him! Enough to be happy right here, right now. [To Willy, while Ben laughs] Why must everybody conquer the world? You’re well liked and the boys love you and someday—[to Ben]—why, old man Wagner told him just the other day that if he keeps it up he’ll be a member of the firm, didn’t he, Willy? (Act 2)

    Linda defends Willy by losing herself in an unrealistic characterization of their lives and of Willy's potential at the sales firm. Is she defending her husband here? Or is she trying to keep him from disappearing with Ben?

    Bernard

    WILLY: Well, Bill Oliver—very big sporting-goods man—he wants Biff very badly. Called him in from the West, Long distance, carte blanche, special deliveries. Your friends have their own private tennis court?

    BERNARD: You still with the old firm, Willy?

    […]

    BERNARD: What is it Willy?

    WILLY [small and alone]: What-what’s the secret?

    BERNARD: What secret?

    WILLY: How—how did you? Why didn’t he ever catch on?

    BERNARD: I wouldn’t know that, Willy.

    WILLY [confidentially, desperately]: You were his friend, his boyhood friend. There’s something I don’t understand about it. His life ended after that Ebbets Field game. From the age of seventeen nothing good ever happened to him. (Act 2)

    To impress Bernard, Willy attempts to present Biff as a successful man. Bernard knows Willy and Biff too well, though. He doesn't really seem to buy any of Willy's deceptions.

  • Respect and Reputation

    Act One
    Willy Loman

    WILLY [stopping the incipient argument, to Happy]: Sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he? [To Biff] Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!

    BIFF: Oh, he keeps congratulating my initiative all the time, pop.

    WILLY: That’s because he likes you. If somebody else took that ball there’d be an uproar. So what’s the report, boys, what’s the report? (Act 1)

    Willy elevates being well-liked over all virtues when he suggests that Biff can get away with stealing because of his popularity. In the end, Biff's tendency to steal constantly stands in the way of his path to success.

    WILLY: Oh, I’ll knock 'em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.

    [They move onto the forestage]

    LINDA: Oh, don’t be foolish.

    WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.

    LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy.

    [Willy moves to the edge of the stage. Linda goes into the kitchen and starts to darn stockings.]

    WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. (Act 1)

    Willy contradicts himself by saying that he is both well-liked and ignored, suggesting a gap between his hopes and the reality of his life. If he measures being successful by how popular he is, it looks like he might just be a total flop.

    WILLY: Don’t be so modest. You always started too low. Walk in with a big laugh. Don’t look worried. Start off with a couple of good stories to lighten things up. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it—because personality always wins the day. (Act 1)

    Willy, who ironically considers himself an expert on being well-liked, believes that personality is what matters most. Once again it's not like this is totally untrue. A good personality is probably a really valuable thing for a salesman to have.

    WILLY: You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh? (Act 1)

    Despite evidence that Willy has few friends and is unsuccessful, he insists he's revered because of his fierce belief in the importance of popularity. While it's easy to criticize Willy for this belief, he does have something of a point. People who are well-liked do seem to have certain advantagesdoors tend to open a little more easily for people with good reputations. Unfortunately for Willy, though, he's not one of those people.

    WILLY: Bernard is not well liked, is he?

    BIFF: He’s liked, but he’s not well liked.

    HAPPY: That’s right, Pop.

    WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through. (Act 1)

    Willy's self congratulation and assertion that sheer popularity matters above all else is ironic in the context of Bernard's business success and Biff's failure. It shows that Willy's idea of what helps to make a person successful just might not match up with reality. Biff has nowhere near the reputation that Bernard does.

    Happy Loman

    HAPPY: I bet he’d back you. 'Cause he thought highly of you, Biff. I mean, they all do. You’re well liked, Biff. That’s why I say to come back here, and we both have the apartment. And I’m tellin’ you, Biff, any babe you want… (Act 1)

    Happy really is like Willy Jr. Just like his dad, Happy draws a direct link between popularity and success. Also like his dad, Happy is a little loose with the ladies.

    WILLY: Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more.

    HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh?

    WILLYL Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not—liked. He’s liked, but he’s not–-well liked. (Act 1)

    Willy indicates his belief that being well-liked is the most important quality to achieving success. He thinks it's impossible for someone to succeed without a gang of friends around them. We have to wonder if Charley, whom Willy criticizes in the quote above, is really as unpopular as Willy makes him out to be.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: He’s off salary. My God, working on commission!

    HAPPY: Well, let’s face it: he’s no hot-shot selling man. Except that sometimes, you have to admit, he’s a sweet personality. (Act 1)

    Yep, it looks like Willy's "sweet personality" hasn't really served him that well. He's been demoted at work and is even soon to be fired. Happy's comments may suggest that he is no longer convinced that personality is as central to success as he previously thought. But we wonder: if Willy was actually as popular as he says he is, would it have made a difference?

    WILLY [continuing over Happy’s line]: They laugh at me, heh? Go to Filene’s, go to the Hub, go to Slattery’s. Boston. Call out the name Willy Loman and see what happens! Big shot!

    BIFF: All right, Pop.

    WILLY: Big!

    BIFF: All right! (Act 1)

    Willy's insistence that he is well-known and well-liked reflects his increasing blindness to reality. To his family, associates, and definitely the audience, the fact that he is unpopular is totally clear by now.

    Bernard

    BERNARD: If he doesn’t buckle down, he’ll flunk math! [He goes off].

    LINDA: He’s right, Willy, you’ve gotta—

    WILLY: [exploding at her]: There’s nothing the matter with him! You want him to be a worm like Bernard? He’s got spirit, personality… (Act 1)

    Willy's emphasis on reputation blinds him to the reality of Biff's academic problems. By constantly making excuses for his favorite son, Willy inadvertently stands in the way of Biff's success. Biff's reputation will only take him so far if he can't even pass high school.

    Linda Loman

    WILLY: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy.

    LINDA: Never.

    WILLY [with pity and resolve]: I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up. When he walked down the street… [He loses himself in reminiscences.] (Act 1)

    Willy's reflections suggest complete faith in the notion that popularity and personal attractiveness bring success. The fact that Biff's life hasn't amounted to much, despite him being so popular in high school, is truly hard for Willy to understand. It just doesn't fit into his idea of the world.

    Act Two
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: Without a penny to his name, three great Universities are begging for him, and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do, Ben, it’s who you know and the smile on your face. It’s contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! (Act 2)

    Willy desperately asserts that being well-liked is enough to get you concrete wealthyet this is clearly untrue in the context of the play. Instead, the play seems to suggest that hard work and daring will get you rewards. Is this totally true, though? Willy does have a point. Even today a lot of people do make a lot of money in just the way he describes above.

    WILLY: 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? Do you know? When he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of New York, New Haven and Hartford, going into Boston—when he died, hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. (Act 2)

    Willy idolizes Dave Singleman's death because to Willy, being widely known and widely mourned is evidence of a successful life. To Willy, a grand, well-attended funeral is the greatest achievement a person can have. He ultimately seems more concerned about what people think of what he does than what he actually achieves himself.

    WILLY: I’ve always tried to think otherwise, I guess. I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing—

    CHARLEY: Why must everybody like you? Who liked J.P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked. (Act 2)

    Charley is a pretty realistic guy. He tries to make Willy see that being well-liked isn't as important to success as Willy thinks it is. Of course, Willy refuses to see the truth of this.

    Linda Loman

    LINDA: His blue suit. He’s so handsome in that suit. He could be a—anything in that suit! (Act 2)

    Linda's fixation on Biff's physical appearance as the source of his success denies the importance of other qualities and virtues. The play seems to suggest that, if Biff's parents had spent more time grooming his character, then he might actually have the respect and reputation needed to make it in the world.

  • Visions of America

    Act One
    Happy Loman

    HAPPY [enthralled]: That’s what I dream about Biff. Sometimes I wanna just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddamned merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outlift and outrun anybody in that store, and I have to take orders from those petty, common sons of bitches till I can’t stand it anymore. (Act 1)

    Though Happy prefers a more primal form of competition, he cannot let go of the idea that success comes from the businesslike competition of the American office place. Like Biff and Willy, he longs for a simpler life, but is trapped within the hamster wheel of American capitalism.

    WILLY: That is a one million dollar idea.

    LINDA: Marvelous!

    BIFF: I’m in great shape as far as that’s concerned!

    HAPPY: And the beauty of it is, Biff, it wouldn’t be like a business. We’d be out playin’ ball again…

    BIFF [enthused]: Yeah, that’s…

    WILLY: Million-dollar! (Act 1)

    While Biff and Happy are interested in finding work that is tolerable, Willy is fixated on ensuring that the boys find a lucrative profession likely to lead them down the path to success and greatness. Is Willy so bad for wanting this? Are Biff and Happy so bad for wanting to be… happy?

    Willy Loman

    WILLY: Now all you need is a golf club and you can go upstairs and go to sleep. [To Ben] Great athlete! Between him and his son Bernard they can’t hammer a nail. (Act 1)

    Willy, like his sons, feels better able to compete in the physical sense than in the economic realm central to the American way. What's interesting is that this is one of the few things that Willy isn't delusional about. His boys are better at sports, and he is good at building things. Has Willy simply pursued the wrong American Dream for his entire life? Would he have been happier as a laborer rather than a salesman?

    WILLY: There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side… How can they whip cheese? (Act 1)

    Willy insists that his family's lack of success is due to population growth and not his faulty vision of the American Dream. Do you think this is true? How much has increased competition made the American Dream harder to accomplish?

    WILLY: You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh? (Act 1)

    Willy's characterization of the American people as kind and virtuous to anyone who is personally attractive demonstrates his utter faith in his twisted version of the American Dream. Willy is a slave to the delusional idea that he is in fact the poster boy for that dreamthat he has "made it."

    WILLY: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff— he’s not lazy.

    LINDA: Never.

    WILLY: [with pity and resolve]: I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. (Act 1)

    Willy's reflections suggest complete faith in the notion that in America, anyone who works hard and is personally compelling is destined to succeed. Beyond that, they have a right to succeed. By the end of the play, however, it becomes apparent that that isn't necessarily true.

    WILLY: What’s the mystery? The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich! The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress! (Act 1)

    Willy's insistence that finding success is as easy as wanting it reveals total faith in the idea that he can get rich quick. It's interesting that his brother actually made his fast fortune in Africa rather than America. We wonder how this computes with Willy's faith in the American Dream.

    Ben

    BEN [chuckling]: So this is Brooklyn, eh?

    […]

    BEN: Opportunity is tremendous in Alaska, William. Surprised you’re not up there. (Act 1)

    The American West is portrayed as a land of opportunity waiting to be tapped. Willy is haunted by the fact that he didn't accompany his brother to Alaska. It seems like sometimes he feels that this missed opportunity is the thing that robbed him of a chance at the American Dream.

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future. (Act 1)

    Biff struggles with the competition inherent in the American way, but still holds it as a truth that he must take a path unpleasant for him in order to succeed. It seems that he longs for a life that's more simplea working-class lifestyle that his father sees as beneath him. Interestingly, though, throughout the play Willy seems to long for simpler things as well, like growing things.

    Act Two
    Charley

    CHARLEY: Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out their in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling backthat’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory. (Act 2)

    Charley's characterization of a salesman really applies to all dreamers, to all dreams of finding opportunity and success in America. This speech from Charley seems to help elevate Willy to a truly tragic figure, who represents the many failed dreams that have happened in America.

    Ben

    BEN: You’ve got a new continent at your doorstep, William. Get out of these cities, they’re full of talk and time payments and courts of law. Screw on your fists and you can fight for a fortune up there. (Act 2)

    The American West is depicted as rife with opportunity and prosperity, an ideal place to pursue the American Dream. In a way, it's a much more basic version of the same dream that Willy is following. In the West, however, the fight is man vs. man and man vs. nature.

  • Success

    Act One
    Happy Loman

    BIFF: Why? You’re making money, aren’t you?

    HAPPY [moving about with energy, expressiveness]: All I can do now is wait for the merchandise manager to die. And suppose I get to be merchandise manager? He’s a good friend of mine, and he just built a terrific estate on Long Island. And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he’s building another one. He can’t enjoy it once it’s finished. And I know that’s just what I’d do. I don’t know what the hell I’m workin’ for. Sometimes I sit in my apartment—all alone. And I think of the rent I’m paying. And it’s crazy. But then, it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, plenty of women, and still, goddamnit, I’m lonely. (Act 1)

    Although he has amassed concrete wealth, it is the intangible aspects of life that Happy craves. Material things and lots of hook-ups with random girls just don't seem to be the kind of success that Happy truly wants.

    Ben

    BEN: Principally diamond mines.

    LINDA: Diamond mines!

    BEN: Yes, my dear. But I‘ve only a few minutes—

    WILLY: No! Boys! Boys! [Young Biff and Happy appear] Listen to this. This is your Uncle Ben, a great man! Tell my boys, Ben!

    BEN: Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out. [He laughs] and by God I was rich!

    WILLY [To the boys]: You see what I been talking about? The greatest things can happen! (Act 1)

    Willy clings to Ben's material success as tangible evidence of his family's worth. He longs to measure up to the financial success of his brother. In many ways, Ben's success fuels Willy's misguided notion that riches are just around the corner.

    Willy Loman

    WILLY: … was rich! That’s just the spirit I want to imbue them with! To walk into a jungle! I was right! I was right! I was right! (Act 1)

    Willy interprets Ben's tangible wealth as proof of the worth of his family and himself. He wants his sons to be like his brotherunafraid to go out and make their own success.

    Act Two
    Willy Loman

    WILLY: Sure, sure. I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, musn’t he?

    BEN: What are you building? Lay your hand on it. Where is it?

    WILLY [hesitantly]: That’s true, Linda, there’s nothing. (Act 2)

    Ben implies that physically tangible results are central to a definition of progress and success. He sees no true value in Willy's life as a salesman.

    WILLY [now assured, with rising power]: Oh, Ben, that’s the whole beauty of it! I see it like a diamond, shining in the dark, hard and rough, that I can pick up and touch in my hand. Not likelike an appointment! This would not be another damned fool appointment, Ben, and it changes all the aspects. Because he thinks I’m nothing, see, and so he spites me. But the funeral—[Straightening up] Ben, that funeral will be massive! They’ll come up from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old timers with the strange license plates—that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized—I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey—I am known, Ben, and he’ll see it with his eyes once and for all. He’ll see what I am, Ben! He’s in for a shock that boy! (Act 2)

    Willy's musings about diamonds and his funeral foreshadow his death. This all becomes incredibly tragic later on when nobody really shows up at Willy's funeral at all. By Willy's own standards, his life and death have been totally unsuccessful.

    WILLY: 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? Do you know? When he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of New York, New Haven and Hartford, going into Boston—when he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. In those days, there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship and gratitude in it. Today it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear—or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore. (Act 2)

    Willy feels his success is made real through his relationships with others. If he is well-liked by all, then he will have truly made it. Unfortunately, he's having to face the fact that not many people really know him or care about him.

    WILLY: Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging from him, and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do. It’s who you know and the smile on your face! It’s contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! [He turns to Biff] And that’s why when you get out on that field today it’s important. Because thousands of people will be rooting for you and loving you. [To Ben, who has again begun to leave] And Ben! When he walks into a business office his name will sound out like a bell and all the doors will open to him! I’ve seen it, Ben. I’ve seen it a thousand times! You can’t feel it with your hand like timber, but it’s there. (Act 2)

    Willy's timber analogy is used to convince Ben that even intangible success is real. Do you think this is true? How exactly do you measure success?

    Biff Loman

    BIFF: I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like the rest of them! I’m one-dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it. A buck an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I’m not bringing home any prizes anymore and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home! (Act 2)

    Biff insists he be left alone to live his life. He's begging his father to allow him to measure his personal success in his own way. Biff no longer wants any part of Willy's delusions.

    Ben

    BEN: The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy.

    […]

    BEN [with greater force]: One must go in to fetch a diamond out.

    […]

    BEN: Not like an appointment at all. A diamond is rough and hard to the touch.

    […]

    BEN: Best thing! (Act 2)

    Ben's refrain, with words like "hard" and "touch," suggests the importance of concrete wealth. Willy is haunted by the fact that his life of work hasn't really amounted to anything tangible.

  • Abandonment

    Requiem
    Linda Loman

    LINDA: Why didn’t anyone come?

    CHARLEY: It was a very nice funeral.

    LINDA: But where were all the people he knew? Maybe they blame him. (Requiem)

    Linda feels that Willy has been abandoned by his friends after his death; she doesn't realize that Willy didn't really have friends to begin with. It seems that she bought into Willy's tales of popularity.

    WILLY [pulling Ben away from her impatiently]: Where is Dad? Didn’t you follow him? How did you get started?

    BEN: Well, I don’t know how much you remember.

    WILLY: Well, I was just a baby, of course, only three or four years old—

    BEN: Three years and eleven months.

    WILLY: What a memory, Ben!

    BEN: I have many enterprises, William, and I have never kept books.

    WILLY: I remember I was sitting under the wagon in—was it Nebraska?

    BEN: It was South Dakota, and I gave you a bunch of wildflowers.

    WILLY: I remember you walking away down some open road.

    BEN [laughing]: I was going to find Father in Alaska.

    WILLY: Where is he?

    BEN: At that age I had a very faulty view of geography, William. I discovered after a few days that I was heading due south, so instead of Alaska, I ended up in Africa. (Act 1)

    Willy's abandonment by his father and brother at a young age leaves him with many unanswered questions and concerns. This secret fear corrodes his character, making him kind of a desperate person. Ironically, this desperation eventually leads to both Biff abandoning him and Willy abandoning his family through suicide.

    WILLY: No, Ben! Please tell about Dad. I want my boys to hear. I want them to know the kind of stock they spring from. All I remember is a man with a big beard, and I was in Mamma’s lap, sitting around a fire, and some kind of high music. (Act 1)

    Willy's desperation for memories is suggestive of his feelings of abandonment. He is again trying to cling to the past to avoid the present. The "high music" mentioned here is the flute that his father played. Miller threads flute music throughout the play to highlight the way that his father's abandonment haunts Willy.

    WILLY [longingly]: Can’t you stay a few days? You’re just what I need, Ben, because I—I have a fine position here, but I—well, Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel—kind of temporary about myself.

    BEN: I’ll be late for my train.

    [They are at opposite ends of the stage.

    WILLY: Ben, my boys—can’t we talk? They’d go into the jaws of hell for me, see, but I— (Act 1)

    Willy's desire for affirmation and guidance indicates his neediness and the lack of grounding in his life. The fact that he's been abandoned by both his father and his older brother (a father-figure) makes it hard for Willy to be a good father in his own right.

    LINDA: Then make Charley your father, Biff. You can’t do that, can you? I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person. You called him crazy— (Act 1)

    Linda understands Willy's fear of abandonment; this is reflected in her insistence that Biff be attentive to his father. Here, she recognizes that Willy's fears have turned him into a really flawed person. She begs her son to look past those flaws and see the good in his father.

    LINDA: I’m—I’m ashamed to. How can I mention it to him? Every day I go down and take away that little rubber pipe. But when he comes home, I put it back where it was. How can I insult him that way? I don’t know what to do. I live from day to day boys. I tell you, I know every thought in his mind. It sounds so old-fashioned and silly, but I tell you he’s put his whole life into you and you’ve turned your backs on him. [She is bent over the chair, weeping, her head in her hands] Biff, I swear to God! Biff, his life is in your hands! (Act 1)

    Because of her understanding of Willy and his fear of abandonment, Linda is particularly concerned that Biff and Happy are turning their backs on their father. She thinks that if Willy feels finally and totally abandoned by his boys then it might totally push him over the edge to suicide. Ironically, at the end of the play, it is Willy's realization that Biff truly loves him that pushes the salesman to finally take his own life.

    HOWARD: Where are your sons? Why don’t your sons give you a hand?

    WILLY: They’re working on a very big deal.

    HOWARD: This is no time for false pride, Willy. You go to your sons and tell them that you’re tired. You’ve got two great boys, haven’t you?

    WILLY: Oh, no question, no question, but in the mean time… (Act 2)

    Howard's suggestion highlights Willy's fear that he is unable to rely on his sons; it also heightens his sense of abandonment. Willy knows that he can't really count on his boys in the way that Howard suggests.

    WILLY: 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? Do you know? When he died—and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of New York, New Haven and Hartford, going into Boston—when he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. In those days, there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship and gratitude in it. Today it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear- or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore. (Act 2)

    Willy idolizes the idea of being remembered and fears that even the clients whom he sells to have abandoned him. He's terrified by the idea that, ultimately, he's totally alone.

    BIFF: You fake! You phony little fake! You fake! [Overcome, he turns quickly and weeping fully goes out with his suitcase. Willy is left on the floor on his knees.]

    WILLY: I gave you an order! Biff, come back here or I’ll beat you! Come back here! I’ll whip you! (Act 2)

    Discovering his father's affair, Biff walks out on Willy both by literally abandoning him in the doorway and by emotionally separating himself from his father. Ironically, it may be Willy's fear of being abandoned that led him to have the affair in the first place.

    LINDA [shouting after Biff]: You invite him to dinner. He looks forward to it all day—[Biff appears in his parent’s bedroom, looks around, and exits]—and then you desert him there. There’s no stranger you’d do that to!

    […]

    LINDA: You’re a pair of animals! Not one, not another living soul would have had the cruelty to walk out on that man in a restaurant! (Act 2)

    Linda's extreme anger at Biff and Happy for leaving Willy at dinner reflects her knowledge that Willy's well-being depends on their attentiveness to him. It really is a pretty jerk move on Biff and Happy's part right? No matter what Willy's flaws are, it's really just not that cool to leave your aging father, who is babbling to himself in the bathroom. Tsk, tsk, boys.

    BIFF: I was hoping not to go this way.

    WILLY: Well, this is the way you’re going. Good-bye.

    [Biff looks at him a moment, then turns sharply and goes to the stairs]

    WILLY [stops him]: May you rot in hell if you leave this house!

    BIFF [turning]: Exactly what is it that you want from me? (Act 2)

    Willy's insistence that Biff stay although they are furious with one another reveals his fear of abandonment. Despite all his posturing, Willy is terrified of the idea of being totally abandoned by his sons.