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The dominant emotion throughout this play is nostalgia, tinged with regret. All of the Lomans feel that they have made mistakes or wrong choices. The technical aspects of the play feed this emotion by making seamless transitions back and forth from happier, earlier times in the play. Youth is more suited to the American dream, and Willy's business ideas do not seem as sad or as bankrupt when he has an entire lifetime ahead of him to prove their merit. Biff looks back nostalgic for a time that he was a high school athletic hero, and, more importantly, for a time when he did not know that his father was a fake and a cheat, and still idolized him.
BIFF: I Crossed my eyes and talked with a lithp.
Linda says that there's no reason why he can't work in New York, but Willy says he's not needed there. Willy claims that if Frank Wagner were alive he would be in charge of New York by now, but that his son, Howard, doesn't appreciate him. Linda tells him that Happy took Biff on a double date, and that it was nice to see them shaving together. Linda reminds him not to lose his temper with Biff, but Willy claims that he simply had asked him if he was making any money. Willy says that there is an undercurrent of resentment in Biff, but Linda says that Biff admires his father. Willy calls Biff a lazy bum and says that he is lost. Willy longs for the days when their neighborhood was less developed and less crowded. He wakes up his sons Biff and Happy, both of whom are in the double bunk in the boys' bedroom.
Tied up intimately with the idea of the American dream is the concept of opportunity. America claims to be the land of opportunity, of social mobility. Even the poorest man should be able to move upward in life through his own hard work. Miller complicates this idea of opportunity by linking it to time, and illustrating that new opportunity does not occur over and over again. has made the most of his opportunities; by studying hard in school, he has risen through the ranks of his profession and is now preparing to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. Biff, on the other hand, while technically given the same opportunities as Bernard, has ruined his prospects by a decision that he made at the age of eighteen. There seems to be no going back for Biff, after he made the fatal decision not to finish high school.
Of course, Willy’s version of the American Dream never pans out.
Death of a Salesman study guide contains a biography of Arthur Miller, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
This is displayed when Ben horses around with his nephew Biff.
Death of a Salesman essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.
PANTOUM: A variant spelling of pantun (see below).
The major conflict in is between and his father. Even before Biff appears on stage, Linda indicates that Biff and Willy are perpetually at odds with one another because of Biff's inability to live up to his father's expectations. As Linda says, Biff is a man who has not yet "found himself." At thirty-four years old, Biff remains to some degree an adolescent. This is best demonstrated by his inability to keep a job. He and Happy still live in their old bunk beds; despite the fact that this reminds Linda of better times, it is a clear sign that neither of the sons has matured.
PICKUP SYLLABLE: Another term for the unstressed syllable in .
One of Miller's techniques throughout the play is to familiarize certain characters by having them repeat the same key line over and over. Willy's most common line is that businessmen must be well-liked, rather than merely liked, and his business strategy is based entirely on the idea of a cult of personality. He believes that it is not what a person is able to accomplish, but who he knows and how he treats them that will get a man ahead in the world. This viewpoint is tragically undermined not only by Willy's failure, but also by that of his sons, who assumed that they could make their way in life using only their charms and good looks, rather than any more solid talents.
PRAENOMEN (plural, praenomina): See discussion under .
A major theme of the play is the lost opportunities that each of the characters face. Linda Loman, reminiscing about the days when her sons were not yet grown and had a less contentious relationship with their father, regrets the state of disarray into which her family has fallen. Willy Loman believes that if Frank Wagner had survived, he would have been given greater respect and power within the company. Willy also regrets the opportunities that have passed by Biff, whom he believes to have the capability to be a great man.