http://blog.richmond.edu/script_analysis/category/hodge-4-idea-and-metaphor/Compiled Version-Idea and Metaphor
Monday, October 20th, 2008


A. Meaning of the Title

Death of a Salesman.

Death of a Salesman is a play which follows the events leading to the death of a man who follows the American dream.  Willy, the salesman within this play, is caught within the paradoxical nature of the American dream and the realities of capitalism.  Willy ends up taking his own life, in the name of his American dream, making it big as a salesman.  Because Willy only can only salvage what is left of his dream by killing himself, his own destruction is brought about.  Death of a salesman represents the crippling effects of a paradoxical system which requires the sacrifice of one's life to fulfill one's dreams.  By using the word salesman as opposed to the name Willy Loman, the title suggests that the problems and delusions found in the play go beyond the walls of the Loman home. 

 B. Nominative Phrase That Expresses Meaning of the Play

"When the means to an end become the end, the end itself prompts the end of the common man"

C. Philosphical Statements Made In The Play

Willy: Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off ahouse. You finally own it, and there's nobody to live in it.(Pg. 15)

Willy: Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!" (Pg. 16)

Willy: The world is an oyster but you don't crack it open on a matress!(Page 41)

Charley: When a deposit bottle is broken you don't get your nickel back.(Page 44)

Willy: Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging for him, and from there the sky's the limit, becuse it's not what you do, Ben. It's who you know and the smile on your face! It's contacts, Ben, contacts!(Page 86)

Howard: Kid, I can't take blood from a stone(Pg. 81)

Linda:Linda: Biff, a man is not a bird, to come and go with the springtime.(Pg. 54)

Bernard: Yeah, I'm going. He takes the bottle. Thanks, Pop. He picks up his rackets and bag. Good-bye Willy, and don't worry about it. You know, "If at first you don't succeed€¦"

Willy: Yes I believe in that.

Bernard: But sometimes, Willy, it's better for a man just to walk away.

Willy: Walk away?

Bernard: That's Right

Willy: But what if you can't walk away?

Bernard, after a slight pause: I gues that's when it's tough.(Page 95)

Charley:Willy, when're you gonna realize that them things don't mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can't sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman and don't know that.(Page 97)

Willy, moving to the right: Funny, y'know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointment, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.(Page 98)

Willy: A man can't go out the way he came in, Ben, a man hast got to add up to something.(Page 125)

Biff: Pop, I'm a dime a dozen and so are you.(132)

Charley: No man only needs a little salary.(137)

D. How the Action Leads Directly To The Idea

The following is a listing of the crucial actions which lead to the idea.

-Willy makes the decision to become a salesman (after meeting Mr. Singleman)

-Will argues with Howard, asserting the characteristics of his own ideal salesman, resulting in the loss of his job.

-Willy asks Bernard what his secret to success is.

-Biff argues with Willy, telling him he will leave forever, and cries.

-Willy takes his own life.

-Linda makes her final statement to Willy.

Upon making the decision to become a salesman after meeting Mr. Singleman, Willy embarks upon a journey that will end with the taking of his own life. Flashing forward many years, Willy has an argument with his boss Howard, in which he stresses ideals that conflict with the reality of a being salesman. Willy's inability to convince his boss to let him keep his job, while he had gone to his boss with intentions of getting a better job in New York, leaves Willy without a job. This leaves Willy without a means to support his family and not even a glimmer of hope to make it big. When Willy runs into Bernard, he asks him what the big secret to success is. Bernard responds by basically telling Willy that hard work is what it takes, and the reason for the downfall of Willy's son Biff is that Biff was never prepared for future work himself.  These assertions clearly identify that Willy is using the wrong means to go about getting what he wants, leaving the reader to infer that Willy's delusional view of the world contributes to his demise.(and his sons') As the play nears an end, Willy has one final argument with his son Biff, where his son expresses that he will leave forever. However, during this argument, Biff cries, indicating to Willy that his son still has love for him. Upon this realization, Willy is driven to make the ultimate sacrifice, killing himself for the "well being" of his family, in which they will receive a $20,000 reward. However, it is after Willy's death that his warped sense of reality is concretely displayed to the reader. Biff states that he will be moving West, showing the reader that Willy's death has had no effect on him. If there is a cash reward, Biff will certainly not be using it. Linda explains that she cannot understand why Willy has acted the way he has. She clearly identifies the paradox of Willy's actions by saying that she has finished paying off the house, but there is nobody to live in it. This paradox, which is expressed throughout the course of the play, is that of a man within the system of capitalism, crucial to Arthur Miller's critique of the American dream.


You can't get love from stone.

Willy is a man who is influenced by the American dream. His goal is to make it big in the business world and support and care for his family. As we narrowed down his goals to these two general statements, we realized that even these fit into a larger, more fully encompassing description of what Willy wants. That is to say, he wants the American Dream. The jungle, for willy, is the how of that dream. He perceives the jungle story as a coming of age story, where Ben stepped in a poor boy and stepped out a rich man.   However, Willy never really grasps the full idea of the jungle, only taking the object of wealth as the important factor in the jungle. What Willy fails to see about this American Dream is the PROCESS. He is too caught up in the "make it big easy" idea, for this is why he went into being a salesman in the first place. Why work with your hands when you can make it big as a salesman? But he realizes that he actually can't make it big as a salesman because of his idea of the American Dream as something "magical," an illusion that will sweep him up as long as he smiles and gets to know people. As we see, these illusions manifest themselves as characters of Willy's past, reaffirming his own strange beliefs. When he begins to discover his inability to be a big shot salesman, he begins to create his own illusion for his children and family.

As the play progresses and eventually comes to an end, it is proven that Willy's methods to achieve success are greatly flawed. Willy's delusional nature is illustrated through his failure, willingness to to embrace his methods after failure, and literal delusions from the past. As the play comes to an end, Willy's misunderstanding of the process is still greatly flawed. He ends up killing himself for his family, when all he does is hurt his family in the process. This greatly ties in to the metaphor of "you can't get love from a rock," and similar statements made in the play such as " I can't squeeze blood from stone and "You can't break an oyster on a mattress." Willy's inability to understand the process and reality are what pull him farther and farther away from what he wants.