Study Guide

Death of a Salesman Abandonment

By Arthur Miller


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.