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Death of a Salesman: Free Study Guide / Summary / Analysis

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DEATH OF A SALESMAN: FREE STUDY GUIDE / ANALYSIS

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The play is told partly through the mind and memory of Willy Loman. The times of the play fluctuate between the year 1942 and 1928. Miller uses various techniques in setting to help distinguish when the actors are in the present time or in the past. Most of the play is set in one part of the Loman house. When the action of the play is in the present (1942), the characters observe all the physical boundaries such as doors and walls. But when the time shifts to the past, the characters ignore the walls and walk right through them. Also, when the time shifts to the past, there is joyous music that shows the happiness of the past. Blaring music becomes part of the setting during Willy Loman's affair in the hotel room. Willy, in the present time, walks with stooped shoulders and looks weary since he is old. In the flashbacks, however, he walks forcefully. Biff and Happy also change their clothes in the scenes of the past and dress as youngsters.

The play is structured to show the pleasures and hopes of the past and how these aspects of the past contribute to the agonies of the present. The scenes of the past are shown as illusions of Willy Loman. There are some scenes where there is rapid transition to the past, pointing out that Loman is caught in his illusions and unable to distinguish them from reality. The play opens at a moment when Willy feels especially trapped by all the events of his past.

The time of the present play is only twenty-four hours, but because of the flashbacks to the past, the play stretches over a longer period of time.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Willy Loman
A traveling salesman who has worked for the Wagner firm for thirty-four years. He is now sixty-one years old and has been cruelly taken off salary and put on straight commission. At the end of the play, he is fired from his job.

Linda Loman
Willy Loman's wife, who truly loves her husband. She is a mother figure in the play, though more to her husband than to her sons.


Biff Loman
The eldest son of Willy Loman. He was a star football player in high school with several scholarships, but for the last fourteen years, he has been moving from one job to another "unable to find himself." He has just returned home. Willy Loman's hopes are centered on Biff.

Happy Loman
The younger son of Willy Loman. He works in a department store and has his own apartment and car.

Charley
A life-long acquaintance of the Lomans. He is a sincere, hard worker and a good friend to Willy Loman.

Bernard
Charley's son who has become a very successful lawyer. He was a childhood friend of Biff.

Ben
Willy's dead brother who left home early and became tremendously rich. He appears only in Willy's dreams or illusions.


Minor Characters

Howard Wagner
The son of the former owner of the Wagner Company. He now runs the company and is responsible for putting Willy on straight commission. Later he fires Willy from the job.

Miss Frances
The woman in Boston with whom Willy has an affair.

Letta and Miss Forsythe
The two women that Happy picks up in the restaurant.


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