• General

    Studying on your own requires self-discipline and a carefully thought-out work plan in order to be effective.

    1. Drama is a special kind of writing (the technical term is 'genre') because it needs a performance in the theatre to arrive at a full interpretation of its meaning. Try to imagine that you are a member of the audience when reading the play. Think about how it could be presented on the stage, not just about the words on the page.
    2. Drama is always about conflict of some sort (which may be below the surface). Identify the conflicts in the play and you will be close to identifying the large ideas or themes which bind all the parts together.
    3. Make careful notes on plot and any sub-plotsthemescharacters of the play
    4. Why do you like or dislike the characters in the play? How do your feelings towards them develop and change?
    5. Playwrights find non-realistic ways of allowing an audience to see into the minds and motives of their characters, for example soliloquy, aside or music. Consider how much such dramatic devices are used in the play you are studying.
    6. Think of the playwright writing the play. Why were these particular arrangements of events, characters and speeches chose?
    7. Cite exact sources for all quotations, whether from the text itself or from critical commentaries. Wherever possible find your own examples from the play to back up your opinions.
    8. Always express your ideas in your own words.

    OPEF Learning platform offers an introduction and insight to Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller; OPEF Learning online revision notes cannot substitute for close reading of the text and the study of secondary sources.

  • Synopsis

    Willy Loman, an ageing salesman with two grown up sons, Biff and Happy, has reached the point where he is so tired he can no longer travel to sell his goods by car.
    The play follows the last 24 hours of Willy Loman's life. His sons are concerned about his mental state, but his wife is always supportive. Willy's thoughts are shown to us in a number of dreamlike scenes from the past which are enacted during the play's course. Willy has always focused his hopes on Biff and he has coached him to be a sports star and to follow in his father's footsteps by using his charm like a salesman. He is very unhappy that Biff has a manual job on a farm and he argues with Biff about his future career.
    Biff is insecure and anxious to improve himself and to 'get on'.

    Act 1 ends on an optimistic note as Happy comes up with the idea that he and Biff will sell sports goods and organise basketball demonstrations to promote them.
    Willy and Linda also think this is a 'one-million-dollar idea' (p.50), and Biff promises to visit his former employer, Bill Oliver, to ask for a loan to start the business. Willy has always been very proud of Biff's sporting skills and has despised other boys such as Bernard who have been more academic. This scheme, if successful, will enable Biff to make something of himself and Willy to see his hopes for the family's financial security come true at last. Willy decides at the same time to ask his boss, Howard, to allow him to work in New York rather than travelling by car to distant locations.

    At the beginning of Act 11, Willy is refused a non-travelling job and Howard asks him to stop working together. There are more and more daydreams where Willy relives pass glories with Biff on the sports field and discusses the route to success with his now dead brother Ben. Ben is held up as an ideal by Willy since he fulfilled the American Dream of starting out with nothing and becoming rich by effort.
    Charley, a neighbour, offers Willy a job, but it is refused.
    An ordinary job would not fulfill the great expectations Willy has of himself and Biff.Willy goes to meet Biff and Happy in the restaurant where their celebration is planned, but the boys are trying to seduce two young woman. Biff has failed to reach any kind of deal with Bill Oliver and has, in fact, run out of the building having stolen his fountain pen. Biff begins to realise that he is chasing a form of career success which will not really make him happy. He also realises that his past has been made to seem more glamorous than it really was. Willy demands to know how the meeting with. 
    Bill Oliver went and is furious when he is told that no deal was concluded.He desperately needs good news. Eventually the boys seek to rebuild his optimism as he becomes increasingly distressed. Willy's mind then drifts back to incidents in the past, including the moment when Biff discovered him in a hotel room with another woman.

    The boys leave Willy in the restaurant, and when they return home their mother is outraged that they have abandoned their father.Willy, meanwhile has bought some seeds and is trying to sow them in the garden at night.
    This is a bizarre attempt to fulfill a long-held ambition to have something behind him that will grow. This leads to a family row. Biff has decided that he is to blame for his own lack of success, and tries to leave the family home for good, but Willy accuses him of attempting to hurt him. In frustration, Biff declares that no one in the house has ever told the truth for ten minutes. He shows Willy the gas piping which his father had concealed so that he could commit suicide. Biff also reveals that he has been in prison for theft and informs Willy that his dream of having a son who will achieve greatness is not going to happen. Biff's love for his father becomes apparent, however, and in a final gesture of love for his son, Willy commits suicide in order that the family can collect the twenty thousand dollars' insurance.