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Symbolism and Motifs in Death of a Salesman

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Cindy Yu

on 18 June 2013

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Transcript of Symbolism and Motifs in Death of a Salesman

The Loman House

Brick Wall and Windows
Flute Music
Boy vs. Man
Ben is idolized by Willy and is depicted as a "stolid man, with a mustache and an authoritative air"
is also the only character who addresses Willy by formal name

Willy's father also sports facial hair

Symbolism and Motifs

Death of a Salesman:
Symbols and Motifs
Willy bought the house because it was in the wooded suburb
now, tall apartments tower over the Lomans' house, "suffocating" him
also symbolizes Willy's "low" position in life and unsuccessful career (tall buildings compared to his small house)

the 2 strong elm trees stood in his yard are now cut down
represents Biff and Hap: once proud and great, now they no longer have hope for a better future
brick walls symbolize physical and metaphysical wall

windows allow light in while the brick wall blocks it out
Willy's inability to distinguish between the two symbolizes his inability to find a way out (of his present situation)

only heard by Willy when he dreams of life he should have led or his early days
also associated with pioneer father
represents a hidden desire to live the rural way of life

in the modern world, it is degenerated to Willy and Biff's unprofessional habit of whistling in elevators
even when selling, they unconsciously seek the countryside

in Death of a Salesman

By: Jenna, Lavender, and Cindy

road incidents always occur when Willy daydreams while watching scenery (trees)
Ben tried to persuade him to look after timber in Alaska

in times of crisis, Willy yells, "The woods are burning"
trees are a motif: represent the pioneer life he truly seeks and the potential success he lost

they prefer to be called by their nicknames

represents that the 3 men continue to be immature and child-like

they are stubborn, unwilling to admit their own faults, reluctant to change

Planting the Seeds
" I've got to get some seeds. I've got to get some seeds, right now. Nothing's planted. I don't have a thing in the ground." (Miller, 125)

Success Far Away
inability to feed children using his income as a salesman - alternative to money for survival
also represents his last strand of hope
the lack of light --> symbolizes the futility of all his hopes to reach his American Dream
symbolizes the nurture of Biff's growth

American West: symbolizes Biff's potential, pins hope on success there
Alaska and Africa: Ben and Willy's father's success

great distance from the Loman home represents how futile escape from their depressing lives is

Stockings and the Woman's Laughter

Linda's worn-out stockings need constant repair:
represents the family's strained financial situation
the Woman's silk stockings are luxurious but fleeting:
represents his affair - his secret indulgences cannot last

Sounds on the Tape Recorder

shows that Howard idolizes his children and bullies his wife - just like Willy!

Willy knocks it over and can't stop it from running
physical manifestation of the turmoil in his mind
recording sounds resemble the voices in his head that he has also lost control of

The Jungle and its Diamonds
diamonds are symbols of the tangible wealth that made Ben rich, which Willy is unable to reach

"answer" to success

he contemplates suicide in order to help his family

it becomes a quick and easy solution to all Willy's troubles
the "answer" to achieving as much success as he can

entering the jungle means having to take drastic chances to gain what you want

Ben: "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy." (Miller, 134)
The Rubber Hose
Willy's attempt to suicide
escape from reality
grief and deception

conveniences of purchase: the things he works so hard to buy might be killing him
his salesman life is what's actually destroying him
his inability to be truthful with himself and face reality is what ultimately resulted in his death
was immature
could not see what life was right for him

he was constantly dreaming of a better life without an actual way to reach it
thus his American dream was unattainable

used to represent abstract ideas or quality through the use of objects, characters,

a dominant idea in a composition of literature

"Why don't you open a window..." (Miller, 17)
" The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and Windows, windows and bricks." (Miller,17)
"So you're William..." (Miller 47)

"All I remember is a man with a big beard..." (Miller 48)

Do you think Willy ever acknowledges his faults?
Do you think Willy's values are rightly believed in?
Is Willy suited to be a salesman?
Bernard, even in childhood, never uses a diminutive form of his name
he is the most successful one

Which characters always use their full names?
"Maybe that's my trouble. I'm like a boy" (Miller 23)
"I can't get over the shaving lotion in this house!" (Miller 71)
Willy, Biff, and Hap are described as clean shaven
are childlike and unwilling to grow up
What do the stockings represent to Willy?
Thanks for listening!
impact of technology
end of Willy's career
parallels between Howard and Willy - idolizing his children
Willy's character: old-fashioned, stubborn, unchangeable, does not accept changes in life (unable to close the tape recorder)
believes in old technique of "being well-liked" (relation to Howard's father)
Howard's character: cold and practical
Tape Recorder (continued)
"After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive." (Miller, 98)
"You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit!" (Miller, 82)
"There's not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood." (Miller, 17)
Full transcript