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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Death of a Salesman | Quotes


The grass don't grow any more, you can't raise a carrot in the back yard.

Willy Loman, Act 1, Section 1

Willy experiences ongoing tension between the natural and the man-made environments. In the final pages of the play, Willy's delusion leads him to plant seeds in the backyard despite the reality that they will not grow, a metaphor for the American Dream and his family.


I don't know what the future is ... what I'm supposed to want.

Biff Loman, Act 1, Section 2

In a conversation with his brother, Happy, Biff reveals his aimlessness. He is lost and does not know which purpose to serve—his own desire to be in the West in the outdoors or the American Dream of his father.


To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation ...

Biff Loman, Act 1, Section 2

Biff does not recognize the reward of the American work ethic. He continues to describe his disillusionment with the American Dream and with his father, contrasting it with the kind of life he actually enjoys.


I'll make it all up to you, Linda.

Willy Loman, Act 1, Section 4

Willy maintains a sense of guilt regarding his affair. It is unexpected that in the end, Willy's final attempt to "make it up" to his wife is a suicide that provides her with financial security but robs her of her marriage.


I walked into the jungle, ... I walked out ... I was rich.

Uncle Ben, Act 1, Section 5

Uncle Ben's statement of success plagues Willy his whole adult life. At times, Willy brags about his brother's success, and at other times, it is clear that Willy is disappointed in his own inability to achieve this kind of success for himself. There is no recognition that Ben's success may have come from unethical practices, just as Biff's stealing is overlooked to focus on his success.


Dad left when I was such a baby ... and I still feel— ... temporary about myself.

Willy Loman, Act 1, Section 5

Willy ties together his sense of betrayal and abandonment in the past with his need for kinship in the present as he begs Ben to stay.


A man is not a bird, to come and go with the springtime.

Linda Loman, Act 1, Section 6

When Biff explains that he "can't take hold of some kind of life," Linda responds that a human being needs to settle down; he is not driven by the seasons as a bird is. Yet it is this social pressure to settle down rather than roam that destroys Willy and threatens to destroy Biff.


He's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him ... attention must be paid.

Linda Loman, Act 1, Section 6

Linda defends her husband when she claims that all human suffering requires attention. Painfully, at the end of the play, Willy does "fall into his grave" without any fanfare or attention.


It'd be the family again. There'd be the old honor, and comradeship.

Happy Loman, Act 1, Section 7

Happy appeals to both Willy's and Biff's deep needs for family cohesion. He understands that even though they all long for financial success, there is something about family that can provide stability and happiness. Yet the Lomans struggle to define and achieve this quality of family.


He died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers.

Willy Loman, Act 2, Section 1

Willy describes the life and death of the salesman who inspires him, Dave Singleman. The outcome of Willy's romantic description of Singleman's life contrasts sharply with the reality of Willy's life. Willy takes his own life, alone and in debt. His funeral is attended only by his family and two friends.


It's not what you do ... It's who you know and the smile on your face!

Willy Loman, Act 2, Section 2

Willy speaks to Ben about his ambitions for Biff, maintaining that it is contacts and being liked that make dreams come true. In reality, the outcome of the play undercuts this claim, as it is Willy's suicide that provides the financial capital for his family's dreams even as it destroys the family.


After all the highways ... and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.

Willy Loman, Act 2, Section 2

Willy recognizes his life insurance makes him more valuable financially than his earnings, and Willy equates his value as a person with his financial worth. It is distressing that a person's life work is worthless and that the best way Willy sees to help his family is through suicide.


We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!

Biff Loman, Act 2, Section 5

Late in the play, after all the arguments, Biff finally states the obvious: the family cannot speak truthfully to each other or about each other, emphasizing the theme of Illusion versus Reality.


I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you.

Biff Loman, Act 2, Section 5

Biff states the truth about himself and his father: they are not men who reach the American Dream of financial success. Instead, they are average men who live lives of hard work that result in little wealth or recognition.

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