Death of a Salesman Summary

The main character of the story is sixty-year-old salesman Willy Loman. We hear the serene flute melody at the start of the play and see him returning to his home with two large suitcases. Loman’s house is small and old, with the tiny garden, squeezed between modern skyscrapers in New York. Willy is exhausted and anxious. After he left in the morning with the samples of his goods, his car kept breaking, he couldn’t drive, so he now has to return home without any sales.

His wife Linda meets him and asks about his day. She is worried about her husband and asks him to talk to his boss about working in New York only. It’s hard to be a travelling salesman in his age. But Willy still believes in his dream, he denies the reality and prefers to believe that he is still young and full of potential and he (and his two sons Biff and Happy who he wants to follow his steps) needs to try a bit harder to reach the success awaiting for him.

Willy often daydreams about that happy times or about the past when his sons and wife looked at him with excitement thinking that he is the greatest dad and husband. Sometimes he sees his older brother Ben who left home at his seventeen and had a dramatic career in the diamond mines of Africa, reaching fame and fortune at twenty. Ben is an embodiment of American dream for Willy and he wants his sons, especially the older, Biff, to reach the same success. But Biff, who was a good student and the soccer star once, suddenly became ignorant, lost all the motivation and now, at his forties, constantly changes his work places never stopping anywhere for long. Willy can’t understand what happened and why his bright and promising son changed so much.

The real cause of this change lies in the past. Biff was constantly reminded that success is the only and the most important thing in his life. Willy said him that Biff is charismatic and charming and using this charm is the easiest way to reach success. So Biff relied at his charm, but it didn’t help him to get the passable score in math. Biff did not graduate. The last straw for him was seeing his father with a mistress in the hotel room, when he rushed to him in despair to cry about his failure. Biff’s worldview collapsed that day, his father, his ideal whose words he always believed without questioning, was a pathetic liar in everything.

Biff quitted school and ran from home to travel around the country in search of himself. When he returned home hoping that his former boss, Oliver, a sports goods seller, would be glad to take him back to work. He still thought of himself as of extraordinary and charming young man. However, Oliver didn’t even recognize Biff and, walking out of the office, just passed by. 

Biff, who has already booked a table in the restaurant to celebrate his new work with family is embarrassed, discouraged and almost broken. In the restaurant, he tells his brother Happy, who came first, all the story and decides to repeat it to their father as it is. He wants his father to face the truth at least once in his life and understand that Biff isn’t created for commerce and “success” in that style. Biff thinks that the biggest trouble is that they all are too naive and honest, seeing salesman’s job as romantic one. Willy places human relations in the centre of his work, rather than self-interest. He tries to be helpful for real, not just sell anything. Billy doesn’t want to live in his father’s illusions and decides to go find his own place in the world after today’s talk. He just doesn’t want to be another salesman with polished shoes, bright smile and ruined life.

Happy is frightened by this change in his brother. He himself also achieved almost nothing, despite the loud name of his work he is, actually, only a humble assistant. But Happy is more alike to his father, he is contempt to live in dreams and hopes that optimism and smile are what he needs to become wealthy. Happy asks Biff to have mercy on their father and say that Oliver was really glad to see him and was delighted to take him back to work.

Biff agrees. For a while he manages to play the role of a successful job applicant, but his father is too shiny and artificial with the stock phrases about charisma as a key to success in commercial world. Finally, Biff breaks and tells Willy the bitter truth: not only Oliver didn’t give him a job, he didn’t even recognize him at all.

Willy snaps. He shouts at Biff and slaps him. Biff runs away followed by Happy. Their father sits at the empty table having another daydream. Vivid but fractured visions flash before him. His brother Ben is calling him into the jungle to search for treasure. Little Biff on the soccer game, looking at him with adoration and believing in every his word. The laughing and flirting woman - the same who Biff saw with him in the hotel room. She thanks Willy for selling such great stockings to her.

The waiter sees that something is wrong with the visitor and helps him dress up and go out into the streets. Willy agitatedly repeats that he needs to buy seeds urgently.

Linda meets her children in great excitement that instantly turns into anger. How could they leave their father alone? Don’t they see his nervous and delusional state? Linda says even more: she thinks Willy is suicidal and his permanent car accidents are not accidents - he is permanently seeking death. She shows Happy and Biff the things she found in the kitchen last night, a rubber tube attached to the burner. Willy thought about inhaling poisonous gas.

Willy returns with the seeds and seems glad and excited. He says that he needs to plant carrots, beets and lettuce in the garden right now, takes a flashlight and sows seeds in the middle of the night. Linda bitterly tells Biff that it’s better for him to leave home and not to torment his father anymore. Biff asks his mother if he can talk to his father for the last time. He understands that he needs to live separately and accept himself as he is.

Meanwhile, Willy works in the garden, a little man trapped in troubles like his house is trapped between modern and cold skyscrapers. Today is, probably, the most unfortunate day in Willy’s life: his sons abandoned him and later his boss fired him. He wasn’t rude, he did it with the shining smile, pretending to care about Willy’s health, but it didn’t matter. Now Willy is unemployed.

He sees his brother Ben again, this time as clearly as if he was really sitting in the garden in New York. Willy asks about committing suicide and Ben consults him: if the insurance company doesn’t suspect suicide, his family will get a decent sum of money. Willy thinks that Biff will find a use for that money, he is so talented and, maybe, this sum will finally lead him to success. Ben agrees, the suicide itself is cowardice but the idea with insurance shall work.

Linda and children come in the middle of the conversation, but they aren’t surprised, they all got used to the fact that Willy often talks to someone invisible. Saying goodbye to his father Biff cries and Willy is shocked by this fact. He later gladly says to Linda that Biff does love him. His son’s tears solidify Willy’s decision. He is now more than ever convinced that he is doing the right thing.

When his family goes to sleep, Willy slowly slips out of the house and gets into his car, this time to meet his death for sure.

Later, after the funeral, the mourning family reconciles again. Linda says that her husband was always only a small boat looking for a quiet pier. Biff tells her that his father didn’t understand who he is for all his life, and Biff isn’t going to repeat that. He moves to the countryside to live a quiet life. The younger son, Happy, still believes in what Willy told, though. He decides to stay in New York and reach his American dream.