A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 968 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

Words: 968|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Understanding Arthur Miller's Life and Perspective
  2. Parenting and the Development of Character Flaws
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

Arthur Miller's play, "The Death of a Salesman," delves into the notion of the American Dream and serves as a poignant illustration of humanity's tendency to misinterpret what constitutes a fulfilling life. Miller employs the character of Willy as a tragic hero, demonstrating that one need not be flawless or living the quintessential American dream to embody this archetype. Instead, it portrays a common man striving to make a living, which resonates deeply with the audience and draws parallels to the era in which the story is set. The play unravels the unfortunate destinies of both the salesman, Willy Loman, and his son, Biff, highlighting their character flaws and raising questions about the origins of these imperfections. Therefore this essay will explore the theme of following the false hope in Arthur Miller's "The Death of a Salesman".

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Understanding Arthur Miller's Life and Perspective

To fully grasp Arthur Miller's perspective in his plays, it is essential to consider his life and upbringing. Born in 1915 in New York City, Miller had a relatively sheltered childhood when it came to delinquency. However, later in 1957, while in the streets of New York, he engaged with sociologists and psychiatrists, aspiring to delve into the topic of juvenile delinquency, as he revealed in an interview with Richard Evans. This research on juvenile delinquency may have played a pivotal role in the creation of the character Biff, who exhibits delinquent tendencies as a child. Furthermore, Miller's personal experience of parenting a child with Down syndrome provides a connection to Willy's character. Miller's understanding of raising a child with special needs likely informed his portrayal of parenting and offered insights into mental health. "The Death of a Salesman" weaves a narrative that traverses both the present and past, primarily focusing on Willy Loman, a salesman on a downward spiral.

Willy Loman, a salesman returning from a business trip, is greeted by the unexpected visit of his sons. It is crucial to note that Willy has been experiencing difficulties with his driving abilities and has begun conversing with himself more frequently. Recently demoted from his job and grappling with immense stress, Willy's descent into hallucinations, predominantly concerning his past, becomes increasingly evident. In his hallucinatory episodes, he engages with his deceased brother Ben, recounting Ben's remarkable fortune amassed in the diamond mining industry. Throughout the play, Biff appears distressed by his father's tragic trajectory, while Happy, his brother, acknowledges his father's tendency to talk to himself but remains unaware of the extent of Willy's mental deterioration. Ultimately, as the play concludes, both sons leave their father alone in a restaurant.

Parenting and the Development of Character Flaws

A careful analysis suggests that it is Willy's flawed parenting that contributes significantly to Biff's character flaws, which manifest in flashbacks throughout the play. Miller's inclusion of these flashbacks serves multiple purposes, including emphasizing the importance of family to Willy and character development. Moreover, the flashbacks mirror Willy's deteriorating mental state and growing disillusionment.

One pivotal flashback in Scene Three of Act Two takes place entirely in the past. This scene underscores the theme of pride, with Biff and Happy idolizing Willy. It becomes evident that Willy holds this memory close to his heart, perceiving it as the embodiment of the American Dream. Biff, his hero, exclaims toward the end of the scene, "This Saturday, Pop, this Saturday -just for you, I’m going to breakthrough a touchdown." Willy's recollection of this scene contrasts sharply with the realities of his life, and these moments of nostalgia are interspersed with rapid outbursts and the revisiting of his past.

Another critical scene occurs in Scene Ten, set in a hotel room where Willy is discovered with another woman by Biff. Biff confronts Willy, labeling him a "liar" and a "phony little fake." This encounter shatters Biff's illusion of his father's perfection and deepens his resentment toward Willy. This scene holds significance as it marks the point where Biff's respect for his father irreparably diminishes. Miller's own life experiences, including his separation from his first wife, may have influenced his portrayal of Willy and his exploration of complex family dynamics.

Scene Thirteen features another pivotal moment, as an argument between Willy and Biff escalates. As Biff attempts to leave his father's residence, Willy, in a fit of rage, refuses a handshake and exclaims, "May you rot in hell if you leave this house!" This altercation pushes Biff to confront Willy about his attempt at suicide. Biff, exhausted from constantly dealing with his father's issues, reveals a rubber hose that Willy intended to use for suicide, exposing the harsh reality of his father's intentions and dashing his hopes of redemption.

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In conclusion, Willy's ultimate act of taking his own life brings to light the harsh truth that not everyone attains the American Dream they fervently chase. "The Death of a Salesman" serves as a chilling reminder that following a false hope or an idealized version of the American Dream can lead to outcomes far more harrowing than one's initial fears. The requiem, which marks Willy's funeral, is a somber affair with minimal attendees, comprising only his wife and sons. It is Willy who ultimately discovers that not everyone emerges victorious in the game of life, and even in the face of overwhelming odds, hope in reality often remains elusive.


  1. Miller, A. (1949). Death of a Salesman. Viking Press.
  2. Evans, R. (1987). Arthur Miller: A Conversation. Applause Theatre Book Publishers.
  3. Miller, A. (1983). Introduction to Collected Plays. Penguin Books.
  4. Hurell, J. D. (2005). The Critical Reception of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: A Reassessment. The Arthur Miller Journal, 1(1), 27-40.
  5. Centola, S. R. (1983). Death of a Salesman and the Poetics of Arthur Miller. Modern Drama, 26(4), 471-478.
  6. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Infobase Publishing.
  7. Prenshaw, P. W. (Ed.). (2010). Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman. Cambridge University Press.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s the Death of a Salesman. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s the Death of a Salesman.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
A Theme of Following a False Hope in Arthur Miller’s the Death of a Salesman. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
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