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Death of a Salesman symbols

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Clara Lee

on 17 January 2013

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Transcript of Death of a Salesman symbols

The Death of
a Salesman Seeds
The seeds in the play the death of a salesman represent the opportunity for Willy to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. The sons he has educated with his own values have grown to disappoint him, none of his financial hopes seem to be realistic, and he is desperate to have some tangible result of a lifetime of work. By planting vegetable seeds, he is attempting to begin anew. But as Linda reminds him “But not enough sun gets back there. Nothing’ll grow anymore” (pg 72) it represents the fact that all hope is gone. Willy’s attempt at attempting to plant the vegetable seeds at night further reinforces how pointless his efforts are becoming. The seeds also symbolize Willy’s sense of failure with Biff. Willy’s efforts to nurture and encourage Biff into his football career were gone to waste. Realizing that the football dream has failed, Willy takes Biff’s failure and lack of ambition as a reflection of his abilities as a father. “I don’t have a thing in the ground!” Willy has lost everything he has worked his whole life for. Within family values, finally, etc. Stockings
During Willy’s affair with The Woman, he gives her the intimate gift of stockings. Biff’s outburt at discovering Wily on the act of his affair – “You gave her Mama’s stockings!” – fixes the stockings in Willy’s mind as a symbol of his betrayal to Linda Loman. Stockings assume a metaphorical weight as the symbol of betrayal and unfaithfulness. Willy did not want Linda to sew back the stockings because it reminded him of his disloyalty, “Will you stop mending stockings? At least while I’m in the house. It gets me nervous. I can’t tell you. Please” (pg 75) and he wants to prove to his family that he has the money to buy new stockings for Linda. New stockings are important for both Willy’s pride in being financially successful and therefore are able to provide for his own family and for Willy to ease his guilt about, and suppress the memory of his betrayal of Linda and essentially to his whole family. University of Virginia Sneakers
Biff's University of Virginia sneakers are a symbol of his tangible, near future and its current state. It reflects how much promise his future holds as well as the deterioration of that promise. In the beginning of the play, the sneakers are reflected in a positive light. Biff, being the star of the football team, already has scholarship to three universities (Willy claims), and the only thing blocking the path of his successful future is him failing his math course. This is shown when Biff shows off his sneakers to Willy proudly saying "Oh, pop, you didn't see my sneakers!" (32) In illustrating the sneakers as a positive thing or Biff finds out about his father's affair however, he actively gives up on his entire future and the promises that were laid out in front of him. This is portrayed when Bernard describes what happened after Biff returned from Boston to visit Willy as he states " - remember those sneakers with University of Virginia printed on them? He was so proud of those, wore them everyday. And he took them down in the cellar and burned them up in the furnace." In destroying this physical representation of his future, Biff shows the breakdown and ultimately the end of the promising future that he had in his grip. Rubber Hose/Pipe
The rubber hose or pipe in the novel acts as a symbolic reminder of Willy's suicidal attempts. Linda describes this in the novel when she says "...it just happened to fall out - was a length of a rubber pipe - just short...and sure enough, on the bottom of the water heater there's a new little nipple of the gas pipe." (59) Through this quote, it becomes evident that Willy is trying to commit suicide by inhaling the gas through the pipes in his house. In using the "rubber pipe" and the inhalation of the gas as a symbol, Arthur Miller is attempting to portray the desperation of Willy's suicidal attempts though both of this metaphorical death and his actual attempts to die. The parallelism of these two "deaths" shows Willy's struggle in providing his family with a necessity as a basic as gas for heat. Arthur Miller through his symbolism is exploring the connection of the guilt of not being able to afford basic necessities and the desperation that leads to suicidal attempts. Flute
Throughout the play, the flute associates the playing of the flute with Willy remembering his father. His father is depicted as one of Willy's most important role models. While reminding him of this father, the flute takes him back in time to his young years and his childhood. Ben says, "Father was a very great and a very wild-hearted man. We would start in Boston. And he'd toss the whole family into the wagon, and then he'd drive the team right across the country; through Ohio, and Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and all the Western States. And we'd stop in the towns and sell the flutes that he's made on the way." (49) The flute symbolizes time of joy and bliss in Willy's mind but it also symbolizes his failure in reality because of the contrast between his father and himself. Clearly, Willy Loman isn't the greatest father, as shown through his actions throughout the play. How the flute is played and sounds also reflects the mood in the play - it is a useful expressionistic device. It is also important to note that different characters have different melodies associated with them. For example, a flute melody is associated with Willy, Ben has his own music and the Woman is characterized with her laugh. Miller uses these expressionistic devices to promt expectations and reactions out of the reader.

To Willy, Diamonds represent tangible wealth, validation of one's labour and the ability to pass material goods on to one's children, two things that Willy obsessively desires. Diamonds, the discovery which made Ben a fortune, symbolize Willy's failure as a salesman because material success is what he could never achieve. At the end of the play, Ben encourages Willy to enter the "jungle" finally and retrieve this diamond - that is, to kill himself for insurance money in order to make his life meaningful. "You must go into the jungle and fetch a diamond out." In an attempt to sell himself for the metaphorical diamond of $20,000, Willy bears out of 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." (76)
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