Death of a Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1948, follows All My Sons, another successful play by Miller. Susan Abbotson notes, Miller wrote Death of a Salesman in
six weeks at his writing studio in Roxbury, Connecticut (Abbotson 59).The play’s protagonist, Willy, is believed to model Arthur Miller’s uncle Manny, his eldest son Buddy as Biff and his younger song Abby as Happy Loman (Abbotson 130). The play premiered February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theater in New York City and ran 742 performances on Broadway.

Main Characters:

Willy Loman: The play’s protagonist, he is in his early sixties a traveling salesman from Brooklyn, who has unrealistic expectations.
Linda Loman: Willy’s wife, who is dedicated to keeping her husband happy despite his downfalls.
Biff Loman: The oldest of the Loman children. He was athletic and popular in high school. He is distant from his family.
Happy Loman: The younger of the Loman children. He is a ladies man and always trying to please his parents.
Ben Loman: Willy’s dead older brother that became wealthy from his ventures in Africa and Alaska.
Bernard: Charley’s son, who was best friends with Biff as a child and now a successful lawyer.
Charley: Willy’s close friend and neighbor that has his own business.
Howard Wagner: Willy’s inconsiderate boss that inherited the firm from his father.

Plot Summary:

  • Act One

The act begins in the evening. Willy Loman, a salesman in his 60s, returns home unexpectedly from a failed business trip. He explains to his wife Linda that he was too distracted to drive. Linda suggests Willy talk to his boss. Willy's sons, Happy and Biff, are staying in their old rooms discussing their father’s strange behavior. Willy has his first flashback. He thinks of happier times from his past with his sons. During one of the memories, he recalls an encounter with his older brother, Ben. Biff confronts his mother about Willy's behavior; Linda explains that Willy has been secretly attempting suicide. Happy and Biff are cheering up their father by promising to meet with, Bill Oliver. Act one ends with Biff finding the tube,Willy has been using for his suicide attempts.

  • Act Two


Willy Loman asks his boss Howard Wagner for an advance. Howard fires him. Willy goes to visit Charley. Out of sympathy, he offers Willy a job, but Willy refuses. Willy borrows money from Charley. Meanwhile, Happy and Biff meet at a restaurant. Biff reveals that he did not meet with Bill Oliver. Willy arrives and announces that he was fired. Willy has another flashback. His memory drifts back to the day, when Biff was a teenager; he discovered that his father was having an affair. Happy and Biff leave the restaurant. Willy is at home in the backyard with a flashlight. Biff and Willy argue. Biff announces that he is never coming back. Finally, Biff becomes tired of his father’s tirade and reveals the tube Willy has been using for his suicide attempts. Biff begins to cry. Everyone goes to bed; Willy speeds away in the family car and there is a loud crash.

  • Requiem


The family is at Willy’s grave site where they are joined by Charley. Not many people attended Willy’s funeral. Happy and Charley discuss Willy’s choices as a salesman. Biff disagrees with his father’s choices and believes his father had no identity. Linda cries and reveals she made the final payment on the mortgage.


Themes:

American Dream: The secondary characters achieve financial success in various ways. Bernard becomes a successful lawyer from working hard since he was a child. Howard achieves the American Dream by inheriting his father’s business. Willy believes in the American Dream is possible by being well liked.Capitalism: Willy’s interprets success as being able to pay of his mortgage and provide his family with money after he is dead. Willy’s beliefs reflect how capitalism influences society.


Style:


Arthur Miller wanted to take a different approach from his previous play All My Sons. Several scholars acknowledge Miller’s distinctive style. Instead of using a sequence of single events, Miller wanted to create a “realistic structure” that included the past and the present (Dunkleberger 48). The stage backdrop for the 1949 premiere designed by Jo Mielziner reflects the style of the play. The backdrop captures the genuine tenement buildings in New York City.

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DOAS Backdrop Original Broadway.jpg



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DOAS Opening Set.jpg


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1949 death of a salesman.jpg
From Left: Mildred Dunnock, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy and Cameron Mitchell


First Performance:

Starring:
  • Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman
  • Mildred Dunncock as Linda Loman
  • Arthur Kennedy as Biff Loman
  • Cameron Mitchell as Happy Loman
  • Don Keefer as Bernard
  • Winnifred Crushing as The Woman
  • Howard Smith as Charley
  • Thomas Chalmers as Uncle Ben
  • Alan Hewitt as Howard Wagner








Initial Reviews:


“Audiences and critics were riveted by the Broadway opening of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; the play won several awards and was soon performed throughout the United States and Europe” (Abbotson 139). Amy Dunkleberger mentions that Death of a Salesman was “an immediate hit with audiences and mad Arthur Miller a household name in America” ( Dunkleberger 47).

Awards:

  • Pulitzer Prize for Drama 1949
  • New York Drama Critics Circle Award 1949
  • Tony Award 1949

Film and Television adaptions:

  • 1951 Fredric March starring as Willy Loman by Columbia Pictures
  • 1966 Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunncock as Willy and Linda Loman on screen for CBS Television
  • 1985 Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman by CBS directed by Volker Schlöndorff.
  • 1996 Warren Mitchell as Willy Loman by National Theatre for BBC.
  • 1999/2000 Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz as Willy and Linda Loman for the 50th anniversary of production filmed and aired by Showtime.



Abbotson, Susan C.W. "Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman." Masterpieces of 20th-century American Drama. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005. 57-73. Print.

Abbotson, Susan C.W. "Death of a Salesman." Critical Companion to Arthur Miller: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2007. 130-47. Print.

"Death of a Salesman." Readings on Arthur Miller. Ed. Thomas Siebold. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1997. 90-132. Print.

Dunkleberger, Amy. "Life and Death of a Salesman." A Student's Guide to Arthur Miller. Berkeley Heights: Enslow, 2005. 46-75. Print.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Group, 1998. Print.