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Death of a Salesman summary

Arthur Miller

A Play About the Success and Disappointments of the American Dream

4.3 (46 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is a play that portrays the tragedy of Willy Loman, a delusional salesman. It explores the unsuccessful pursuit of the American Dream and the complexities of family relationships.

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    Death of a Salesman
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    Part 1: “I’m tired to the death”

    Willy Loman, a 63-year-old traveling salesman, arrives home from a business trip exhausted and disheveled. His wife, Linda, is clearly concerned. Willy admits that he kept falling into a daze while driving, almost careening into an embankment. Linda reminds him of when he accidentally drove off a bridge and into a river. 

    From the outset, Willy’s psychological state is constantly called into question. He’s agitated, unreliable, and often contradicts himself. His two adult sons, Biff and Happy, are visiting. That morning, Willy berated Biff for his laziness and inability to hold down a steady job. Now, he asserts that Biff isn’t lazy in the slightest. 

    Happy is more successful than Biff, but is distressed that his father has begun talking to himself. Mostly, Willy has conversations with an imaginary Biff, as if his son were actually in the room with him. They reveal Willy’s anger and disappointment in how Biff has chosen to live his life, flitting between menial jobs and drifting from place to place. There’s a chasm between Biff’s adulthood and the values Willy tried to instill in him as a child. 

    These values are also the ones that Willy lives by. In fact, they obsessively dominate his life, and lie at the very heart of Miller’s play. The salesman believes in a twisted version of the American Dream, where ambition, confidence, and being “well liked” will lead to fabulous success and material wealth. 

    With a modest house and a modest car, we can clearly see that Willy hasn’t achieved the fame and fortune that his interpretation of the American Dream promised. What’s more, we already see his unsteady mental state, and his willingness to reinterpret reality to suit the moment. 

    This tension between Willy’s unrealistic aspirations and his actual existence is the driving force behind the entire play – and will lead us to its tragic ending.

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    What is Death of a Salesman about?

    Death of a Salesman (1949) is widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest plays. A poignant critique of the promises and pitfalls of capitalism and the American Dream, it follows the salesman Willy Loman, his increasingly tense relationships with his family and colleagues, and his tragic, hallucinatory descent into fantasy and madness. 

    Death of a Salesman Review

    Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller offers a thought-provoking examination of the American Dream and the human condition. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It provides a deep exploration of the complexities of family, identity, and the pursuit of success, making it a compelling and relatable read.
    • Through its realistic characters and powerful dialogue, the book offers poignant insights into the human struggle for meaning and acceptance.
    • The timeless themes of disillusionment, ambition, and the harsh realities of society make the story engaging and thought-provoking, ensuring it never becomes boring.

    Who should read Death of a Salesman?

    • Budding playwrights and theater enthusiasts
    • People curious about the dangers of unbridled capitalism
    • Anyone interested in modern drama

    About the Author

    Arthur Miller was an American playwright who had an enormous influence on postwar drama through his plays Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View from the Bridge. He was deeply critical of the cutthroat ambition and greedy consumerism which he saw developing in modern America, and at the height of Cold War paranoia was forced to testify before the US government’s anti-communist committee. 

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    Death of a Salesman FAQs 

    What is the main message of Death of a Salesman?

    The main message of Death of a Salesman is an exploration of the American Dream and the human desire for success and validation.

    How long does it take to read Death of a Salesman?

    The reading time for Death of a Salesman varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Death of a Salesman a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Death of a Salesman is a thought-provoking play that delves into themes of identity, disillusionment, and the American Dream. It is definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Death of a Salesman?

    The author of Death of a Salesman is Arthur Miller.

    What to read after Death of a Salesman?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Death of a Salesman, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
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    • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
    • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
    • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky