Course Hero. "Death of a Salesman Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 2 June 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Death-of-a-Salesman/>.
Course Hero. (2016, July 28). Death of a Salesman Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Death-of-a-Salesman/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Death of a Salesman Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed June 2, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Death-of-a-Salesman/.
Course Hero, "Death of a Salesman Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed June 2, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Death-of-a-Salesman/.
Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University explains the plot summary of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman.
Death of a Salesman takes place in two acts, which cover a 24-hour period, and a Requiem, which is set several days later. The setting is New York City in the late 1940s. Some of the action occurs at the Loman house in Brooklyn. Other action takes place in an office building and a restaurant in Manhattan.
The play begins with Willy Loman returning home late at night from a business trip. He has cut his trip short because he has been unable to make any sales and has nearly crashed the car several times. This is a recent trend for Willy, who is now only paid on commission. He cannot seem to get the sales he needs to earn a decent living. Willy's two adult sons, 34-year-old Biff and 32-year-old Happy, are also home; Biff has just returned from the West to try to find a career in the East.
Throughout the play, Willy moves back and forth between present reality and memories, at times speaking to characters from the past even while in the presence of his family. He recalls earlier times with his sons and the optimism they then had about the future. However, he is also haunted by aspects of his past. He recalls a woman he had an affair with years earlier. He also remembers his brother, Ben.
Willy is disappointed in his lack of success as a salesman—both financially and in terms of his reputation. After talking with his wife, Willy decides to meet with his boss and ask for a salaried position based in New York.
Willy is disturbed by memories of his brother, Ben, now dead, who traveled to Africa as a young man and became rich in his 20s. Ben's success is a constant reminder to Willy of his own failure to "make something" of himself by becoming a wealthy businessman.
In a conversation with her sons, Linda Loman explains what she knows about Willy's state of mind. In his depression, he is secretly borrowing money from a neighbor and has at least considered suicide. Linda reveals that she finds a rubber tube in the basement with which Willy might asphyxiate himself. She pleads with her sons to reestablish their relationships with their father.
When Willy enters, the family discusses Biff's prospects. Torn between his love of working outdoors and the drive to be a success in the eyes of his father, Biff agrees to seek out an old employer, Bill Oliver, to try to get financial backing to start a sporting goods business with Happy.
Unfortunately, both Willy's and Biff's meetings go poorly. Bill Oliver refuses to give Biff the time of day, so he comes away empty-handed. Willy's boss, Howard, not only denies Willy's request to work locally, but he also fires him for poor performance.
When Happy, Biff, and Willy finally gather at Frank's Chop House that night for dinner—a meal intended to celebrate Biff's success—nobody is in the mood to party. Biff and Willy argue, and Willy's sons leave him at the restaurant while Willy is overwhelmed by memories of Biff's discovery of Willy's affair years ago in Boston. It becomes clear that Biff's disillusionment with his father—and perhaps with life—stems from the discovery that his father is not the fine, upstanding man he believed him to be.
Once Willy is back at home, his distress and disconnection from reality continue as he plants seeds in the backyard in the hope of building a garden. In his despair, he has an imaginary conversation with his brother, who reminds Willy that he has a life insurance policy worth $20,000.
Back inside the house, Willy and Biff have a final confrontation in which Biff calls Willy a "phony" and announces a plan to leave the family for good. Yet Biff is also clearly saddened by these events and goes to his room crying. Moved by his son's tears, Willy decides to put his suicide plan into action to provide the funds his family needs for the future.
After everyone else has gone to bed, Willy leaves the house, drives away quickly, and intentionally causes a car accident, which kills him.
In the Requiem of the play, the family and their neighbors, Charley and his son Bernard, reflect around the grave on Willy's life. Biff clearly recognizes that his father "had the wrong dreams." Happy is unable to face reality, declaring that Willy's life goals are admirable. Linda, although grieving deeply, acknowledges that the money from Willy's sacrifice has in fact set the family "free."
Death of a Salesman Plot Diagram