Death of a Salesman  Key facts and Summary

By American playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) 

Key Information 

  1. Time of composition: 1947 
  1. Published Date: 1949 
  1. Award: Pulitzer Prize in 1949 
  1. Time Setting: 1940s 
  1. Place Setting: New York City 
  1. Number Acts: Two Acts play in 24-hour period 
  1. Genre: Tragedy 


Major characters 

Willy Loman 

He is a sixty plus travelling salesman. He is the tragic character and protagonist of the play. He has been serving in a company as a travelling salesman for nearly 36 years but because of his poor performance in product selling he has been not given salary now. He earns from selling commission that is insufficient for leading a standard life. He is basically the paradigm of failure of the American dream of quick success. 


She is the decent and dutiful of wife of Willy Loman. She supports her husband whatever the matter is. She is the center of moral of the play. 

Biff Loman 

He is thirty years old adult elder son of Willy Loman. He does not have a specific job. He is rejected from twenty to thirty jobs. It is the belief of his father that his will has been chaotic because of his father. 

Happy Loman 

He is thirty-two years old younger son of Willy Loman. He is basically a womanizer. He has apartment, car and a pretty good job but he is not happy in his position at all. 


He is neighbor and the best friend of Willy Loman. He is a very successful businessman. He helps Willy Loman giving loan and, in any crisis, but Willy Loman cannot accept Charley’s job proposal in his company because of his pride. 


He is the intelligent son of Charley. He is now a successful lawyer. He was Biff’s classmate in high school, but Biff could not pass even high school because he failed in math. 

Minor characters 


He is the dead brother of Willy Loman. He is not a real character in the play. He comes to hallucination of Willy Loman again and again. 

Dave Singleman 

He is not a real character in the play but Willy Loman’s inspiration. He was one of the famous salesmen in America and in his funeral, national and international persons came to show glowing tribute for him. Willy Loman wanted to be a rich and reputed salesman like Dave Singleman but he cannot be. 

Howard Wagner 

He is present boss of Willy Loman. He is thirty-six years old. 

Frank Wagner 

He is the father of Howard Wagner. After his death, his capable son, Howard Wagner runs his company. 

Bill Oliver 

He is the ex-boss of Biff Loman. Biff goes to him for a loan to start sporting products business, but he is neat and clean rejected by Bill Oliver to provide any loan. In fact, Bill could not even recognize Biff. 


Jenny is Charley’s secretary. 


A prostitute who meets Biff and Happy at Frank’s Chop House. 

Miss Forsythe 

A prostitute who meets Biff and Happy at Frank’s Chop House. 


Stanley is a waiter at Frank’s Chop House, where the Loman men plan to dine. 

The Woman 

Years in the past, Willy Loman had an affair with a woman; when his son Biff discovers the affair, the father-son relationship is compromised forever. 


The story of the tragedy starts when Willy Loman returns home at late night. He is very frustrated and looks haphazard. His life is in very difficult situation since he is not paid any salary from his company. He is now earning only from selling commission that is really insufficient for leading standard life. His decent and dutiful wife Linda comes to him and tries to console him. she repeatedly tells Willy to talk to his Boss Howard to post him in New York so that he can work without traveling. Willy tells that it may be possible if his former boss Frank Howard were alive. Then Willy asks about their sons – Biff and Happy. Linda retorts that Biff have just return from the west to get settlement in the east. Willy criticizes Biff for his irresponsibility because Biff has already left twenty to twenty-five jobs and he went to the west for farming. And it is really shocking that Biff does not earn. Linda requests Willy not to talk in such a way as to Biff. She offers her husband some snacks, but Willy tells her that he is okay and wants to stay alone. Linda goes to bedroom for sleeping. 

Willy then takes milk from the refrigerator and while drinking milk remembers past memories and gets hallucinated. Willy first gets hallucinated how his elder brother Ben became a successful, rich and reputed diamond businessman at the age of 21 only. Ben went out for Alaska, that is one of the states of America, for searching his father but he lost way and entered African Jungle where he discovered a diamond mine. Thus, only at the age of twenty-one he became a successful businessman. Basically, Willy’s hallucination as to his dead successful brother is his only dream to be a successful businessman but he can never be this in his life. 

Willy also dreams how his two sons helped him to wash his car in their boyhood. At the that moment too, Willy was not a happy and successful Salesman, but his dream was that his elder son Biff would be a very successful businessman. His son would exceed Charley in business. He always taught his sons that in business world the institutional knowledge was not so important but rather performance, smart and handsome appearance and practical knowledge were pivotal. While dreaming, perhaps a glass fells in the floor from the table. Hearing this noise Charley comes to Willy’s house. 

Willy asks Charley whether he has cards in his pocket. Willy offers Charley for playing cards, but Charley suggests willy that he needs rest. But Willy mentions that he is perfectly okay. They start playing cards. While playing cards, Charley offers Willy a job in his company that insults Willy Loman very much. However, Charley gives Willy company in playing cards silently. But suddenly Willy gets hallucinated and he starts to talk his dead brother Ben. Seeing this, Charley gets scared and leaves Willy hurriedly.  

Then Willy shouts in his hallucination. Hearing harsh talking sound, all the family members of Willy get up from sleep. Linda takes Willy to bedroom, but Biff rebukes his father’s behavior. Linda interrupts Biff to talk in such way about his father. Biff blames Willy as a fake man. Linda now rudely protests Biff. She sorrowfully explains that their father’s mental condition is very because five weeks ago his company stopped his salary and he is now earning just from sales commission which is very trifling in amount to carry family expenses. Since last five weeks, he secretly borrows fifty dollars every week from Charley and he tells me that fifty dollars is his weekend sales commission. Linda also informs her sons that their has tried to commit suicide for two times – through car accident in a bridge and suffocating breath with rubber tube. 

Happy tells his mother that he sent money for them. Linda retorts with tears ‘only fifty dollars in the last Christmas’. On the other hand, Biff becomes furious to the authority of the company because his father has been working in the same for nearly thirty-six years. 

Biff tells his mother not to worry because he has great business idea which will solve all their problems. He offers Happy to be his business partner in sporting products and the name of their company will be “Lowman Line”. Hearing this discussion from bedroom, Willy Loman comes to the kitchen and declares that this is a one-million-dollar idea. 

Biff tells his father that tomorrow he will go to his former boss Bill Oliver to borrow some money so that he can start his business. Happy adds that he will also provide a handsome amount of money in business. Willy asks how much you will borrow Biff. Biff replies he does not know. Willy then tells him to borrow fifteen thousand dollars from his former boss. Willy tells his wife Linda that he will go to his boss to talk about his work in New York tomorrow and he will demand a fix salary. 

Now the scene shifts to the morning. Linda tells Willy that an insurance premium is due, the last installment of refrigerator has to be paid and the last mortgage of their house is also due. So, she tells Willy to take two hundred dollars advanced from his boss. Willy consoles his wife that everything will be okay. After breakfast, he sweetly mentions that he has to go now because he is already late. At this moment, Linda informs Willy that the sons have already gone to their business and they will serve Willy a gigantic dinner in restaurant named Frank’s Chop House at six o’clock. 

Willy enters his boss Howard Wagner’s chamber and requests him for fixed salary and a salesman post in New York because Willy has been posted in New England since his early stage of career. Now Willy is old, and he has lost his strength to journey nearly five hundred kilometers from New York every week. But is very ironic that his boss Howard tells him to work previously and shows Willy a chart of his recent performance that is very poor. When Willy insists his boss for his demands, Howard furiously fires Willy from his post. 

Being so frustrated, Willy goes to Charley’s office. Charley’s secretary Jenny informs Charley about Willy’s arrival. Charley tries to console Willy and offers an official post in his office and tells Willy that he will be paid fifty dollars per week. This offer adds fuel to Willy’s frustration and he ready to return but in the meantime, Willy notices Charley’s only Bernard in decorated dress. Willy asks Charley about Bernard’s recent job. Charley smilingly and satisfactorily answers that his only son Bernard is now a successful lawyer and he is now practice in supreme court situated at Washing Ton Dc.  

Willy once again goes back to his past memory because his elder son Biff was Bernard’s classmate. Bernard now is well settled but his talented football champion son Biff is still a vagrant. Thinking this, Willy feels guilty and he considers that he is heavily responsible for destroying Biff’s career. 

Now, the scene turns to the restaurant. Happy asks Biff about the loan. Biff is looking helpless. He retorts lowly that Bill Oliver denies to recognize him and forbids Biff not waste his valuable time let alone loan. They plan that they will not tell their father about this failure. Willy reaches to the restaurant and tells his sons that he has been fired. Hearing this Biff starts arguing with his father for Willy’s wrong American dream, but Willy pretends to go to the Washroom. On the other hand, Biff and Happy leaves the restaurant with two prostitutes. 

While going to the washroom, Willy again goes back to his past memory. He thinks that if his infidelity was not discovered by Biff, Biff’s career would not be destroyed. When Biff failed in math in high school, he traveled to New England from New York to tell his father about his frustration. But Willy was so unlucky because his illicit love affair was discovered by his own son. At the hotel room, Willy is discovered by Biff and since then Biff became haphazard. 

Now, scene turns to Willy’s house at Brooklyn. Willy buys some seeds from the market and arriving at house, he goes to backward and starts to seed seeds for the purpose of gardening. While seeding seeds, he repeatedly thinks about committing suicide but in hallucination his dead brother Ben calls him crowd for his thinking. 

Biff and Happy return home. Linda charges them why they have misbehaved with their father. Biff requests his mother not to talk to him about his father because his father is totally a ‘phony’. Biff also requests Willy to come out from the wrong American dream. Biff blames and insults his father very much. Then all go to sleep. But Willy in the kitchen thinks how he can rescue his family and sons especially Biff from this crisis. In the meantime, in hallucination, he starts talking with Ben. His dead brother Ben now remembers him his insurance policy that is worth twenty thousand dollars. After his death, the money of the insurance policy will be given to his family. Now Willy strongly decides that he must commit suicide. He takes his car and drives very fast and commits suicide through accident. 

In Willy’s funeral, nobody comes from outside. His family members, Charley and Bernard finish his funeral. In requiem of the play that takes place several days later after Willy’s funeral, Biff declares that his father was wrong but Happy remains unchanged and he announces that he will prove it that his father was not wrong. Linda asks herself why Willy has committed suicide. She realizes that Willy has not committed suicide, but he has sacrificed his life to save his family and his sons. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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