“Poetry is the spontaneous
overflow of powerful
feelings: it takes its origin
from emotion recollected in
― William Wordsworth,
Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman
When World War II ended in 1945, the United States entered an
extraordinary period of economic success. Non-farming
businesses flourished, and housing construction became a
However, the economic situation did not improve for the
poorest Americans. High inflation kept poorer people from
saving money, and small farmers faced difficult times because of
administrative policies that advanced larger, corporate farmers.
The lowest-paid workers in the country were the migrant
farm workers, with sales clerks and unskilled laborers (such
as gas station attendants) not far above them. Happy, a
sales clerk, and Biff, a farm worker, represent this segment
of the American workforce in Death of a Salesman, and each
of them struggles to retain his dignity in the face of his
lowly position in a largely affluent society.
Because Americans felt financially secure during this
time, they began using credit to purchase the
products and services they desired.
For the first time in history, automobiles were more
often purchased on credit than with cash, and the
use of long-term credit, such as home mortgages,
also rose dramatically.
Willy Loman suffers from the effects of relying too
much on credit, struggling to keep up his payments
while trying to provide the necessities for his family.
The post-war role of “superpower” led to greater
responsibility for both the American government and the
American people. Suddenly we shouldered the
responsibility of keeping the world safe for democracy by
protecting it from the other world "superpower," the
communist Soviet Union.
Americans felt a need to prove that capitalism was better
than communism during the Cold War era. Americans felt
obligated to achieve economic success, both as a way of
defeating the Soviets and as a way to show their gratitude
for the freedom they were privileged to possess by virtue of
living in a democratic society. Willy's preoccupation with
his financial status and his position in society reflect
this Cold War attitude.
Beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal,
government became more influential in the daily lives of
Americans. That, combined with the spread of mass
communication media, made Americans feel more like a large,
With this new-found sense of belonging came a new-found
desire to conform to the accepted norms and values of the
majority. Instead of being a nation of rugged individualists, the
United States became a nation of people who wished for
acceptance by their peers. Willy displays this wish for
acceptance in his preoccupation with being "well liked,"
which he views as the ultimate measure of success.
In The Lonely Crowd (1950) David Reisman argues that
prior to the Cold War era, Americans were driven by strict
morals and rules of conduct, but following World War II,
they became more motivated by others' perceptions of
them. They altered their behavior according to acceptable
social standards. Reisman classified the pre-Cold War
behavior pattern as "inner-directed," and the postwar
pattern as "other-directed.”
Reisman maintains that "other-directed" people, like
Willy Loman, have no established sense of identity
because they look to other people to determine their
self-image. This idea is reflected in Biff’s comment at
the end of the play when he says that Willy "didn't
know who he was."
Discuss how Miller communicates
Willy’s outlook and emotions to the
reader. Note Willy’s words, his
appearance, Linda’s reactions, the set
design, and other means.
Describe how Willy has taken Ben’s
life and his philosophy of the “jungle”
as models for success. How has
Willy shaped that philosophy to
encompass life as a salesman?
Linda says that “attention must
be paid” to Willy despite his
faults. Do you support Linda’s
claim or disagree with it? If Willy
is a “fake,” as Biff calls him, then
does he deserve respect?
Examine how Biff and Hap’s
adult lives show the influence
of their childhood as seen in
1. Q: Where did life start to fall off the rails for poor old Willy
2. Q: Could [Willy’s] childhood contribute to his mentality drifting
away from reality?
3. Q: Is Willy cheating on his wife because he’s unhappy with his
family and their financial status?
4. Q: Is Willy’s craziness making him believe that he is a
5. Q: Is Willy a tragic character, or to blame for his disappointing
1. Q: In what ways are the son Biff and father
Willy foils for one another?
2. Q: What special significance do diamonds
have in the story?
3. Q. How is the American Dream shown in
“Death of a Salesman”?
+ Exam #2: Classes 18 to 32
Part 1: Rules of Writing
Part 2: Fill in the Blank
Part 3: Passage Identification: Name the
work and the author
Part 4: Character identification (list of
Part 5: Who said it? Name the person or
the character who said these words.
Part 6: Essay portion: Choose one (of
four choices) short essay (3-4
Send Essay #1to email@example.com before
Read Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman Act 2 and the
Contrast Willy with Ben. Willy seems to think that he leads a
life somehow like Ben’s. Besides the fact that Ben is rich and
Willy is not, what separates them?
Describe why Willy believes committing suicide will provide a
better life for his family. Will his plan work?
Explore the difference between Biff and Hap’s reactions to
Begin to study for exam #2