Willy Loman is a 60-plus-year-old traveling salesman who lives in New York City and struggles to keep a grip on the present because of his deep disillusionment with the trajectory of his life. In his youth, Willy was abandoned by his father. During a trip to find his father, Willy met a successful traveling salesman and determined to become one himself, with the hope of gaining financial success, affirmation, and reputation. Frequently away from home, Willy turned to the company of another woman, and when his son Biff, then a high school senior, discovered his father's infidelity, their relationship changed forever. Willy's delusion builds as the play progresses, and at the end he commits suicide in exchange for life insurance money to provide for his family.
Linda's primary roles as Willy's wife are supporter, advocate, and defender. Secondarily, Linda is the mother of Biff and Happy. The tension of trying to keep her family functional motivates her character. In many ways, she is a typical housewife of her era, focused on her domestic responsibilities and her family.
Biff is Willy and Linda Loman's older son, 34 years old at the time of the play. As a child, Biff idolized his father and worked hard to please him, especially through his high school football career. Like his father, Biff values being liked more than adhering to ethical rules and begins a practice of stealing, an act Willy does not condemn. His conflict with his father is driven by Biff's desire to finally come clean and live truthfully.
Happy, the Lomans' younger son, is a 32-year-old womanizing deceiver who shares many of his father's characteristics. He seldom presents the truth about himself and is driven only by his desires to find sexual and financial satisfaction. Even after his father's death, Happy is unchanged. He commits himself to fulfilling his father's shallow dream of becoming a successful salesman, always aiming to "come out number-one man."