Death of Salesman Themes and general notes

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1. Advice Willy gives to Biff:
"Walk in very serious."
"Don't say `Gee'. Gee is a boy's word."
"Don't be so modest... Walk in with a big laugh. Don't look worried. Start off with a couple of your good
stories to lighten things up... Personality always wins the day".
"Don't undersell yourself".
Willy's advice contradicts his own actions as firstly, he walks in trying to be serious but the conversation with
Howard is very informal and about tape recorders. For example, Howard even winks at Willy and doesn't
take him seriously as he calls him `kid' even though Willy is older. This shows his patronisation of Willy and
contradicts Willy's advice to Biff. This also contrasts Willy's claims that people always are delighted to see
him. Howard barely looks over his shoulder to give a quick glance at Willy.
It is ironic when Willy says, "personality always wins the day" because on page 65, Willy has a
nervous breakdown and causes a scene in Howards office.
Furthermore, Willy undersells himself reducing his offer from "If I could take home ­ well, sixty five dollars a
week" to "all I need to set my table is fifty dollars a week".
2. Willy tries to sell himself by using his `personality' and saying how people don't appreciate it anymore. Willy
makes himself seem determined and clever, "When I was a boy... I was already on the road."
3. To Howard business means every team member "pulling his own weight" and making lots of money. Howard
hints that Willy wouldn't be able to compete to the standard that he would expect and perhaps he is too old
for business. Howard has a much harsher look on business and doesn't care about people's feelings and
situations. To Willy, business success is determination and personality, "In those days there was personality in
it, Howard". Willy tries to show his self belief that he can successful, but Howard is barely interested and
doesn't believe him.
4. Dave Singleman: "I met a salesman in Parker House...And he was eighty-four years old, and he's drummed up
merchandise in thirty-one states. And old Dave, he'd go up to his room, put on his green velvet slippers and
pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of sixty four, he made his
"and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people".
Willy admires him because he made his living using his personality and was successful. This criticises Howard
attempting to impart worldly vision, which he doesn't have. It shows that what Willy really wants more than
anything in the world is to be loved and admired. However, it could also be seen as pathetic as he is
reminiscing the days where profit motive didn't motivate selling.
5. Dave Singleton's death is described by Willy as the `Death of a Salesman'. As well as being the title of the
play, it shows that Willy dreams of ending his life with the love and success that Dave had. It is in fact dramatic
foreshadowing of his own death, which doesn't bear the same resemblance as Dave's. This holds a strong
view that many Americans strive for the `American Dream' their whole lives, but many end up nowhere near.
6. Consumer references: Wire recorder, Bulova watch, Radio, Coke. These all relate to the American Dream and
how a `successful' person may receive them. They are all material goods that Howard is interested in and
Arthur Miller may be trying to say that in the grand scheme of things, they don't really matter.
7. This is scene was created to show Willy's increasing desperation to regain control in his life and makes the
audience further pity him. Again, another successful person (Dave Singleton) has given Willy false hope that
he can achieve things when the reality is that he can't. Arthur Miller used this scene as the breaking point for
when Willy gets pushed `over the edge' and a catalyst for his death later on.


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