And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?
Willy poses this question to Howard Wagner in Act II, in Howard’s office. He is discussing how he decided to become a salesman after meeting Dave Singleman, the mythic salesman who died the noble “death of a salesman” that Willy himself covets. His admiration of Singleman’s prolonged success illustrates his obsession with being well liked. He fathoms having people “remember” and “love” him as the ultimate satisfaction, because such warmth from business contacts would validate him in a way that his family’s love does not. In so highly esteeming Singleman and deeming his on-the-job death as dignified, respectable, and graceful, Willy fails to see the human side of Singleman, much as he fails to see his own human side. He envisions Singleman as a happy man but ignores the fact that Singleman was still working at age eighty-four and might likely have experienced the same financial difficulties and consequent pressures and misery as Willy.
I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.
Biff’s explanation to his father during the climax of their final confrontation in Act II helps him articulate the revelation of his true identity, even though Willy cannot possibly understand. Biff is confident and somewhat comfortable with the knowledge that he is “a dime a dozen,” as this escape from his father’s delusions allows him to follow his instincts and align his life with his own dreams. Whereas Willy cannot comprehend any notion of individual identity outside of the confines of the material success and “well liked”-ness promised by the American Dream, Biff realizes that he can be happy only outside these confines. Though his attempt to cure Willy’s delusions fails, Biff frees himself from Willy’s expectations for him. He sees the stupidity of stealing the pen and renounces the commercial world, content to enjoy the simple necessities of life.
A diamond is hard and rough to the touch.
Ben’s final mantra of “The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds” in Act II turns Willy’s suicide into a moral struggle and a matter of commerce. His final act, according to Ben, is “not like an appointment at all” but like a “diamond . . . rough and hard to the touch.” As opposed to the fruitless, emotionally ruinous meetings that Willy has had with Howard Wagner and Charley, his death, Ben suggests, will actually yield something concrete for Willy and his family. Willy latches onto this appealing idea, relieved to be able finally to prove himself a success in business. Additionally, he is certain that with the $20,000 from his life insurance policy, Biff will at last fulfill the expectations that he, Willy, has long held for him. The diamond stands as a tangible reminder of the material success that Willy’s salesman job could not offer him and the missed opportunity of material success with Ben. In selling himself for the metaphorical diamond of $20,000, Willy bears out his earlier assertion to Charley that “after all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”
Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.
After the climax in Frank’s Chop House, in Act II, Willy, talking to Stanley, suddenly fixates on buying seeds to plant a garden in his diminutive, dark backyard because he does not have “a thing in the ground.” The garden functions as a last-ditch substitute for Willy’s failed career and Biff’s dissipated ambition. Willy realizes, at least metaphorically, that he has no tangible proof of his life’s work. While he is planting the seeds and conversing with Ben, he worries that “a man can’t go out the way he came in,” that he has to “add up to something.” His preoccupation with material evidence of success belies his very profession, which necessitates the ability to sell one’s own, intangible image. The seeds symbolize Willy’s failure in other ways as well. The fact that Willy uses gardening as a metaphor for success and failure indicates that he subconsciously acknowledges that his chosen profession is a poor choice, given his natural inclinations. Though his figurative roots are in sales (Ben claims that their father was a successful salesman), Willy never blossomed into the Dave Singleman figure that he idolizes.
He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine . . . A salesman is got to dream, boy.
Charley’s speech in the requiem about the nature of the salesman’s dreams eulogizes Willy as a victim of his difficult profession. His poetic assessment of sales defends Willy’s death, attributing to Willy’s work the sort of mythic quality that Willy himself always envisioned about it. Charley likens the salesman to a heroic, courageous sailor, “out there in the blue,” with nothing to guide him and powerful forces against which to contend. Charley also points out the great disparity between the enormity of the salesman’s task and the piddling tools with which he is equipped: Willy had only the insubstantial smile on his face and shine of his shoe with which to sell himself. Failure faded Willy’s smile and smudged his shoe, which made it even more difficult to sell himself. Lacking confidence in his image and thus “finished” psychologically, Willy still had to go out and give it his best, because “a salesman is got to dream.” Charley’s sympathy reveals itself in this remark—he understands that Willy didn’t simply feel compelled to sell; rather, Willy failed even to recognize that he had any choice in life.
Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “Death of a Salesman” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Death of a Salesman” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Role of Modernity in Death of a Salesman
In “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, the main character, Willy Loman is a man living on the cusp of modern America, in the late 1940’s. As more and more new appliances and cars are being manufactured, Willy Loman is constantly trying to obtain the best things for his family. As he slowly starts to lose his mind in this materialistic world, it becomes clear that the only thing he is really concerned about is keeping up with the people around him in terms of success and possessions. Throughout the play, he constantly mentions the fact that he is running out of money and can no longer pay for their new appliances, and he mournfully regrets not going to Africa with Ben, who struck it rich. In many cases then, modernity sets the stage for the . What kind of commentary is Arthur Miller making about the race for material goods and the cost that it has to our mental health? What instances in the book back this up?Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Abandonment in Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman ‘s Willy Loman had a life that was full of abandonment from the start. In true , ith the desertion of his father at a young age, followed by Bill’s expedition to Africa, Willy has been left behind many times by the people he loves. As his fear of abandonment grows stronger, so does the grasp of control that he tries to maintain over the lives of his family. However, that control does not prevent Biff from abandoning his dreams at the discovery of his father, nor does it prevent Biff and Happy from deserting Willy at the restaurant after his outburst. In the final scene of “Death of a Salesman”, the audience learns of Willy’s own abandonment of his family, in the form of suicide. In what ways is Willy trying to rectify the situation in his life? Can his self-inflicted death really be considered abandonment?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Madness in Death of a Salesman
As Willy Loman’s story unfolds throughout” Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, it becomes progressively clearer that the salesman is losing his mind. It begins with the flashbacks to an earlier life, when Willy was happy insulting Charley and his son Bill. However, the flashbacks quickly turn into haunting scenes, where the sound of the woman’s laughter can set Willy off on a rampage very quickly. Eventually, his madness destroys him, as he is found out in the garden, plotting with an imaginary Ben the ways in which he can make twenty thousand dollars. His madness progresses from flashbacks to the sound of the woman’s laughter, to interaction with imaginary people, and throughout it all, his family is struggling to cope with the situation. What can be said for the ties of the family in this situation? Despite the fact that Willy was an adulterer, Linda stayed by his side as he lost his mind; what does that say about the power of love in the face of madness?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Death of a Salesman and Betrayal
Betrayal is a thread that ties together much of the plot in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman feels personally betrayed by his son Biff’s inability to succeed in life, despite what Willy sees as loving encouragement. Biff Loman, however, feels betrayed by his father because of the affair that he discovered when he heard a woman laughing in the bathroom, which also echoes a betrayal of Willy’s marriage vows. Perhaps the biggest and most tragic betrayal of all lies in the loss of Willy’s job and subsequently, his mind. In what ways does betrayal affect the plot? How do each of the characters who experience this betrayal deal with its effects?
* For an analysis of the tragic elements in Death of a Salesman, compared with another tragedy or, check out . *
~ Be sure to check out thePaperStarter entry for “The Crucible”which is another play by Arthur Miller ~
This list of important quotations from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Death of a Salesman” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers or, in this case, scene and act numbers to help you find the quotes easily.
“When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle. And by twenty-one, I walked out. And by God, I was rich!” (I.vii)
“When a deposit bottle is broken, you don’t get your nickel back.” (II.iv)
“After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” (II.iv)
“We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house.” (II.vii)
“He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.” (II. Vii)
“I looked up and I saw they sky … and I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been.” (II.vii)
“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.” (I.iix)
“I’ve got to get some seeds. I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.” (II.iii)