Death of a Salesman: Analysis

Like any other literary work, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman contains various stylistic devices to discuss, symbols to interpret, and motifs to find. That is what this article written by experts is about!

This analysis can answer any question you might have about the play, including:

  • What do the stockings symbolize in Death of a Salesman?
  • What literary devices are characteristic for Miller’s writing style?
  • Why are diamonds mentioned so often in the play?

Keep reading to learn more about the play’s symbolism, setting, and motifs.

💎 Symbols in Death of a Salesman

In this section, you’ll find a detailed analysis of Death of a Salesman symbols: diamonds, seeds, and stockings.

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


Willy often daydreams about his brother who discovered a diamond mine. For him, those shiny rocks represent two desires that are central his life. Willy sees diamonds as the symbol of material wealth, which would mean that his labor is valued, and he can pass it on as inheritance. But since it was his brother, Ben, 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 the possibility of achieving success with just his charisma 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 the diamonds by committing suicide and securing his family with insurance money. All this makes diamonds the symbol of what Willy sees as the meaning of life.


Seeds carry a special significance in the play as a symbol. They represent every intention and expectation Willy has ever had in his life. Nothing he wanted his sons to become ever came true, his hopes for financial security didn’t realize, and his plan to achieve success at work failed. This 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

The importance of this symbol is highlighted by the fact that Willy actually plants seeds in his backyard, hoping to grow a lush garden. In the desperate attempt to grow something out of the seeds he plants in the night, Willy tries 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.


The torn stockings symbolize the deterioration of the American Dream as well as sacrifices both Willy and Linda made in hopes of achieving it. Linda wears them to demonstrate her family’s financial success. However, when the stockings get torn, she tries to mend them instead of buying new ones. This infuriates Willy:

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

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

Only later, when the reader finds out about Willy’s affair with the Woman, 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

Willy 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 Willy sees the symbol of betrayal and infidelity in it, but also his son.

Moreover, buying the present in the name of his affair boosts Willy’s pride. He shows off as a successful salesman capable of providing for his family and spoiling another woman on the side. This way, the stockings serve as distraction 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. They represent the lands of great potential as Willy’s father achieved success in Alaska, and Ben made a fortune of the diamonds found in Africa.

These 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 geographical area worth mentioning. Biff is deeply connected with the American West. He understands that there is a lot of potential and freedom on the farms where he works. It is where he can escape from the illusions of the East of the US. Unlike Willy, Biff realizes that the East is nothing but a concrete trap robbing him of his individuality.

✍️ Death of a Salesman: Literary Devices

The most prominent literary device in the play is the flashbacks. Through them, the author shows the events from the past. They appear as the illusions or daydreams that Willy is having. Flashbacks provide an essential insight into the development of Willy’s 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 literary devices such as hyperbole, metaphor, and irony in addition to flashbacks and foreshadowing. Irony plays a particularly significant role in setting the overall mood. We will now discuss it in more detail.

Irony in Death of a Salesman

The most prominent instance of irony in Death of a Salesman is revealed at the funeral. Willy commits suicide because his life seems to be a financial failure and he was deeply in debt. However, we later find out that the Lomans have just gotten free of all the debts. Moreover, Loman is focused on money and is jealous of his friend Charley’s wealth, while Charley only values kindness and doesn’t care about money.

🗺️ 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 setting 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?

The play is widely considered to be a tragedy because it has many elements characteristic of the genre. Willy Loman is a tragic hero whose main flaw in the belief that personal charisma is all one needs to be successful. The play shows the tragic consequences of following the American dream’s idealistic aims.

We hope that the above information was helpful to you. If you’re looking for exciting essay ideas on the play, check out our list of topics.

🔗 References

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