Death of a Salesman: Themes

This Custom-Writing.org article explains the key themes in Death of a Salesman. The American dream, family, betrayal and abandonment are the core issues represented in the play by Arthur Miller.

The key themes in Death of a Salesman are: American dream, family, betrayal & abandonment.

🗽 Death of a Salesman: American Dream

One of the main themes in Death of a Salesman is the American dream. Willy Loman believed that being “well-liked” is the secret to being a successful businessman. Sadly, he misunderstands the rules of this world.

The American dream in Death of the Salesman resembles the traditional representation of this belief, that is, being a successful self-made man. However, Willy doesn’t realize that being liked and attractive as a person is not enough. Hard work and sacrifice is what can really lead any American to succeed.

Willy’s disbelief in the fundamental nature of business is reflected in his attitude towards Bernard. He thinks that his friend’s son can never achieve anything in this life. Despite being intelligent and hardworking, he is not well-liked.

However, later, we see that Bernard is the one who finds his place in life and settles well. In contrast, Biff, just like his father, feels lost and is far from being successful.

We can see that both Willy and Biff are blinded by false beliefs and refuse to see the harsh truth of the capitalist world. Deep inside, they enjoy the hard physical work but still want to go the easy way.

Death of a Salesman: American Dream Quotes

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.

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

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.

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

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!

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

👪 Death of a Salesman: Family

The never-ending conflict between fathers and sons appears as one of the play’s central themes. Willy is disappointed in Biff, his elder son, who used to be such a promising football player, but then lost himself and became a thief. The same happens with the younger son, Happy. Even though he has a stable job, he neglects moral values and shows no respect or loyalty to anyone.

When thinking about money and success, Willy chose a more comfortable strategy. Luck instead of hard work and likability instead of skills have become his recipe for a wealthy life. By teaching his sons this philosophy, he destroys his family and their lives.

Loman put this burden of high expectations that can never be achieved on his sons. With Willy’s death, Biff realizes that nothing is holding them anymore, and they can chase their own dreams. However, Happy doesn’t get it and decides to stay in the illusion created by his father.

That’s why, despite all of Willy’s efforts, his family can never be perfect (not to mention his cheating, which we’ll be discussing in the next section.) Moreover, we can conclude that it has never really been about family since the only aim the salesman chases is money and social acceptance.

Death of a Salesman: Quotes on Family

You can’t just come to see me, because I love him. He’s the dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue. You’ve got to make up your mind now, darling, there’s no leeway any more. Either he’s your father and you pay him that respect, or else you’re not to come here.

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

It sounds so old-fashioned and silly, but I tell you he put his whole life into you and you’ve turned your backs on him. Biff, I swear to God! Biff, his life is in your hands!

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

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

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

🐀 Death of a Salesman: Betrayal & Abandonment

The last theme concerns another tragic issue presented in the play. Willy’s cheating on Linda is only a minor example of the broad topic of abandonment and betrayal. And the stockings serve as the symbol of his affair.

Biff’s betrayal of his father’s hopes and ambitions is the central issue in the play. Willy thinks that since Biff is his son, he owns him. Therefore, as a father, he has every right to expect his son to obey his will. You can see that Biff feels betrayed as well when he finds out about Willy’s mistress.

Moreover, the trace of abandonment follows Willy’s character through the whole play. His father and then brother, Ben, leave him, and he develops unrealistic expectations from his own family.

If we go deeper into the analysis, it becomes clear that Linda and the rest of the family also abandon Willy in the sense that they refuse to help him. Loman is lost and suffers from some psychological issues, but his wife and kids ignore it. They even feed his illusions, as evident in the restaurant when Biff gives his father false hope. Willy stays trapped in his dreams, which slowly pushes him towards the end.

Death of a Salesman: Quotes on Abandonment & Betrayal

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

Death of a Salesman,
act 1

You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

The man don’t know who we are! The man is gonna know! We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!

Death of a Salesman,
act 2

We hope that the above information on Death of a Salesman themes 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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