Death of a Salesman - Symbols

Topics: Symbol, Death of a Salesman, Tragedy Pages: 6 (2148 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Arthur Miller is recognized as an important and influential playwright, not to mention essayist and novelist. Although he has had plenty of luck in his writing career, his fame is the product of his ingenious ability to control what he wants his readers to picture or feel. As one of his critics states, "Miller writes ingeniously, conveying the message that ‘if the proper study of mankind is man, man's inescapable problem is himself (Brown, 306).'" Miller accurately puts into words what every person thinks, feels, or worries about, but often has trouble expressing. By the use of symbolism, Arthur Miller portrays Willy's (along with the other Lowmans') problems with family life, the society, and himself in Death of a Salesman.

Arthur Miller is an interesting author in the sense that many of his plays reflect or are a product of events in his life. He was born in 1915 in New York City and was the son of a successful businessman, up until the Great Depression when his father lost most of his wealth. This greatly impacts Miller's life, and influences the themes for many of his future writings. To make ends meet at home, Miller worked as a truck driver, a warehouse clerk, and a cargo-mover; consequently, these odd jobs bring him close to the working-class type people that will later be the basis of many characters in his plays. It is while he is involving himself in these jobs that Miller forms his love for literature; he is greatly impressed by Fyodor Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov because it questions the unspoken rules of society, a concept he often wondered about, especially after the Great Depression. He believes that American society needed to be made over; for this reason, many of his earlier plays show sympathetic portrayals and compassionate characterizations of his characters. In 1956, Miller marries the eminent Marilyn Monroe. This event significannot ly affects his writing in that he focuses on female characters more than he had formerly. He also looked back at his prefigured themes in past stories and expanded or reconsidered them (Rollyson, 1336-7). Clearly, the roots of his works are the result of important events from his past experiences.

Death of a Salesman is a play relating to the events leading to the downfall of Willy Loman, an aging salesman who is at one time prosperous, but is now approaching the end of his usefulness (Atkinson, 305). Miller uses symbolism to expand on the conflicts within the Loman family. Happy and Biff, Willy's two sons, represent two sides of Willy's ever-conflicting personality. Happy, who often receives his consolation of unsuccessfulness through women, represents Willy's more materialistic side. Biff, who is more capable of genuine humanity, represents the kinder and more realistic Willy; he favors Biff over Happy (CLC Vol. 10, 343). Although this may seem more of a good thing, it also plays a big part in fueling the conflict between the two. Because Willy favors Biff, he wants more than anything for Biff to succeed in life, and pushes him to do so. In the beginning, Biff agrees with Willy that successfulness is everything. The University of Virginia emblem on his shoes symbolizes his high ambitions; that is, his ambitions before he and Willy drifted apart. One of the most significannot scenes in the play is when Willy has a flashback of the hotel scene where Biff catches his "faithful" dad with another woman – this is what causes their father-son relationship to falter. After this point in the play, Biff no longer tries to be "successful" like his father. A symbol that also relates to Willy's infidelity is the stockings. Because he gives the stocking that are meant for Linda to his mistress, they become a symbol of his infidelity. Every time Willy sees Linda humbly mending her old, torn stockings, he feels guilty for what he's done; therefore, the stockings are also a sign of his guilt and her...
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