Death of a Salesman: Analysis

Like any other writing piece, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman contains various literary devices to discuss, symbols to interpret, and motifs to find. That is what this section made by Custom-Writing.org experts is about!

This analysis can answer any question you might have about the play!

  • What do the stockings symbolize in Death of a Salesman
  • What literary devices does Miller use

There are a few symbols that you might not have noticed while reading our summary. For example, diamonds are mentioned quite often, and they carry a specific meaning. We should also highlight the importance of the play’s setting and motifs.

💎 Symbols in Death of a Salesman

In this section, you’ll find a detailed analysis of Death of a Salesman symbols.

The key symbols in Death of a Salesman are: diamonds, seeds, and stockings.

Diamonds

Willy often daydreams about his brother who discovered the diamond mine. For him, those shiny rocks represent two important desires that rule his life. Willy sees diamonds as the symbol of material wealth, meaning that his labor is valued, and he can pass it on as the inheritance. But since his brother, Ben, was the one who made a fortune off them, it automatically means that Willy is a loser.

As one of the key symbols in Death of a Salesman, diamonds are also related to the American dream theme. Willy Loman’s belief in his success is so strong that he refuses to go to Alaska with Ben.

The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy.

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

However, the wealth promised by the American dream never comes to him.

In the end, Ben’s ghost encourages Willy to reclaim those diamonds by committing suicide and securing his family with insurance money. Perhaps for some reason, this symbol has to deal with Willy’s perception of the meaning of life.

Seeds

Seeds carry a special significance in the play as a symbol. They represent every intention and expectation Willy has ever had in his life. Anything he wanted his sons to become didn’t come true, his hopes for financial security didn’t realize, and the plan to achieve success at work failed. It is summed up by his words in Act 2:

Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

In the desperate attempt to grow something out of the seeds he plants in the night, we see Willy trying to have a new start. He is ashamed and anxious because he can’t provide for the family, so he decides to fix it by starting anew.

Linda tells him that there is not enough light for growing plants due to the high surrounding buildings. The fact that Willy continues to plant the seeds points out how useless all his attempts are. Just like all the hopes he had in his life never realized, the seeds will never root.

Stockings

There is no need for a detailed Death of a Salesman analysis to understand the stockings’ symbolism. The fact that Willy is annoyed with Linda’s stockings is just an element of foreshadowing.

I won’t have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

Only later, the reader finds out about Loman’s affair with the Woman, and it all starts making sense.

You kill me. And thanks for the stockings. I love a lot of stockings. Well, good night.

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

The salesman gives a new pair of stockings to his mistress, and Biff finds out about it. The boy assumes that his father gave away Linda’s stockings, which also triggers Willy’s reaction to his wife fixing her old pair. So not only does Willy see the symbol of betrayal and infidelity in it, but his son also.

Moreover, buying the present in the name of his affair boosts Willy’s pride. He shows off as a successful worker capable of providing for his family and spoiling another woman on the side. Perhaps the stockings also serve as destruction from his guilt.

🎵 Motifs in Death of a Salesman

Some of the motifs in Death of a Salesman appear as geographical locations. The most prominent and recurring are, undoubtedly, Alaska and Africa. Those are the lands of great potential as Willy’s father achieved success in Alaska, and Ben made a fortune of the diamonds found in Africa.

Therefore, those places symbolize the failure of Willy’s dreams and attempts. He keeps recalling how he refused to leave with his brother. The promises of the exotic lands stand out in contrast to the dull surroundings of the Loman family’s neighborhood in Brooklyn.

You’ve 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.

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

There is one more area worth mentioning. Biff is deeply connected with the American West. He understands that there is potential and freedom on the farms where he works. It is where he can escape from the illusions of the eastern side of the US. Unlike Willy, Biff realizes that it is only a concrete trap from his individuality.


✍️ Death of a Salesman: Literary Devices

The most used device must be flashbacks. The events from the past are shown through them. They seem to appear as the illusions or daydreams that Willy is having. Flashbacks provide an essential inside into the development of Willy’s feeling of despair.

Moreover, Miller includes some foreshadowing moments. One of them is the previously discussed situation with the stockings. Another example is flute music, which is related to Willy’s past. Only later do we find out that his father, who left him, was selling flutes.

In Death of a Salesman, Miller uses typical figures of speech such as hyperbole, metaphor, and irony in addition to imagery and mentioned literary devices. The latter plays a significant role in setting the overall mood.

Irony in Death of a Salesman

The major piece of irony in Death of a Salesman is revealed at the funeral. Willy commits suicide because his life seems to be a failure financially. However, we find out that the Lomans have just gotten free of all the debts. Moreover, Loman is focused on money and is jealous of Charley’s wealth, while Charley values only kindness.

🗺️ Death of a Salesman: Setting

Most of Death of a Salesman’s setting is limited to the Lomans’ house in Brooklyn, New York. However, it is hard to tell the time and place of the many flashbacks occurring in the play. We only know that the workplace Willy has to travel to every day is in Boston.

Death of a Salesman: Time Period

The time of Death of a Salesman is the late 1940s. As mentioned, the time of the events from Willy Loman’s memories is unknown. Except for that, it appears that everything happens in the span of twenty-four hours from Monday to Tuesday. The last part, “Requiem,” describing the funeral, takes place later.

🎭 Is Death of a Salesman a Tragedy?

There are different thoughts on whether Death of a Salesman is a tragedy or not. Some say that it cannot be considered one because it doesn’t evoke sad feelings. On the other hand, the play shows the tragic consequences of following the American dream’s idealistic aims.

We hope that the above information is useful. If you’re looking for exciting essay ideas on the play, please read this article.

🔗 References

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