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Death of a Salesman Psychoanalitic Analysis


The play “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller depicts life and destiny of an American family which dreams about prosperity and high social position in society. in this play, Miller tries to escape social contradictions and economic situation in society but portrays psychological difficulties experienced by the family. Fundamental in this play is the fact that Miller does not mask the analysis of social values and low morals. The play vividly portrays that the past is no longer forced into open conversation by a dramatic conflict; the main character of Willy Loman is no longer portrayed as master of the past to satisfy a formal code when in fact he is its helpless victim. Psychological problems and communication difficulties prevent the Loman’s from happy life and lead to breakdown of values, personal principles and family life.

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Miller portrays Willy as authoritarian head of the family who leaves no freedom for his wife and children. The play reflects ideas and feelings of the family members and allows readers to understand opinion differences and worldviews of Linda, Biff and Happy. Willy replies to Linda “[wildly enthused, to Linda]: Stop interrupting! [To biff] But don’t wear sport jacket and slacks when you see Oliver” (Miller 47). The psychoanalytic book states that “He gives, in effect, only flawed ideas and desires to his sons. In Miller’s world, what is unspoken but assumed and hinted at is a morality that holds that there can be no such thing as happiness, no such thing as love, without honesty” (Bloom 49). Bloom deceits that the past achieves representation in the same way that it appears in life itself. Thus, for all characters the past remains a painful experience and can create no deceptive bridges between the family members and Willy whom the analysis brings together— the family members whom it had left in lifelong separation. Therefore, instead of an interpersonal action that would call forth representation of the past, the present conversation generated by the family members overpowered by memory (Felman 11).

Miller portrays that the family has recently begun to notice that Willy has psychological and emotions problems but do not take any action to help him in this situation. In fact, Willy is actually talking to them, not in the real present but in the past Willy remembers, which no longer leaves him alone. Willy says: “I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life” (Miller 89). The self analysis is more emotional and moving as it reflects real life feelings of the three characters. These scenes in turn create a means of introducing the past into the space beyond conversation. The psychoanalysis would say that “Willy never really shows any evidence of self-knowledge or awareness of the reality of the situation in which he is involved. His dreams, described by Miller as massive, are in reality petty and sustained by sacrificing not only himself but those around him” (Bloom 125). The scene shifts constantly towards negative representation of Biff and Happy. Remembrance in the play occurs without being spoken of—that is, completely on the level of form. The Linda regards herself in the past and, as self-remembering I, is fascinated into the formal prejudice. Even when Linda tells Willy that this is not the case he is skeptical because, from where he stands after years of daydreaming, her ideas look like a spur-of-the-moment notion. Had Willy been listening to what she was saying all along, he could have saved her years of false dreams and, what is more, could now be sharing, as an involved and confirming husband, in Linda’s life. The play depicts that marriage require constant attention if wife and husband are to continue to provide for the developing needs of each other. This is especially true if both wife and husband are attempting to live a definitely eccentric life style paying no attention to world and events around them (Felman 12).

The feeling of frustration dominates in the play and helps readers to grasp the main idea and emotional tension created by the lost dreams. Miller presents only the object of this crusade, the salesman in the past, his relations with the members of his family. The latter are no longer free characters; they emerge as references to the central role of the past, in the same manner as do the character reflections in dramaturgy. One can readily grasp the dramatic nature of this scene in the play of memory, which presents the imagined ideals ad values in order to impress the audience. Biff comments “He thinks I’ve been spiting him all these years and it’s eating him up”—pointedly economical—”We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years” (Miller 55). The episode constitutes a closed field that leaves the world of action intact. Because this play is a thematic work that does not need to mask the fact of its performance, the time and place of the play are not in conflict— the dramatic unities and the absoluteness of the actions are maintained by emotional and impressive play of the main characters. The psychoanalysis would say that “ambiguity, irony, and tension occur in the action and stage pictures, not in the wording where they might, more conventionally, be expected. It is a metaphor in time” (Bloom 30). In the play, emotional tension is not played as a thematic element; the plot development and its action constantly overflow into the play. No troupe of actors enters; without saying a word, the main actors can become actors enacting themselves because the alternation between personal and non-personal events anchored in the principle of form operative. In the play, the sense: memory determines the structure and development of the emotional base and psychological state of the characters.

The theme of “American dream” signifies not only a multiplicity of times and places but also the loss of character’s future. Taking into account the social environment, the temporal-spatial hopes are not simply depicted in terms of other events. So, there is no real change in the play setting, and, at the same time, it is continually transformed. The salesman’s house remains the main setting, but in the scenes remembered, its walls are of no concern—as is the case with future hopes and past troubles, which have no temporal or spatial limits. This relativity of the hopes and ideals shared by Willy and Linda becomes clear in transitional scenes that belong to the outer as well as the inner setting. Willy Loman says nothing that indicates he accepts his sons and his wife. Happy says: “it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women” (Miller 56). The play vividly portrays that Willy’s appearance is a hallucination, but only within dramatic shape, which by definition excludes the inner world. Yet, in the play, future hopes and the past achieve simultaneous representation. Their synchronized representation sets in motion the new standard of form: when all characters are appeared on the scene simultaneously. The supporting theme in the play is symbolic and remains vague. The psychoanalysis would say that “that happiness comes not in the fulfilling of dream but in ever believing in it and reaching for it” (Bloom 56). This situation introduces the possibility of mutual misunderstanding, but it, moreover, hides the real source of this conflict—the Willy’s preoccupation with himself and with a remembered past. In the play, this scene remains a permanent and heavily guarded by all characters. In the play, this scene plays a significant role as it helps readers to understand the conflict, struggle and problems faced by family members (Felman 23).

In sum, the superficial shape of the play, the way it blends the workings of Willy’s mind with truth, demonstrates that Willy has no control over his mind. Willy is, merely, a man breaking down. In addition lacking mental ability, Willy also does not possess moral values. Careful psychological analysis and elements of social behavior patterns create vivid emotional representation of the characters and their actions. The conclusion of this analysis is that Willy’s lack of control over his world and dreams, his lack of moral strength, his victimization, his faith in what is for him a misguided definition of wealth and the American dream, his ensuing lying and self-delusion is that Willy is pathetic. The play shows that Linda and the sons somehow have the stature of a hero. However, though they are movingly humans, but remain pathetic. Besides an admission of family failure, this act is yet another sign that the family is breaking down. Miller dramatizes the conflict and differences between Linda, the bots and wily and criticizes principles of the Loman family and the setting that, in boxing them in, seems to assist their crusade. The scene under analysis shows Linda asserting too late—and not intentionally but impulsively—that possible true self who is good with her hands, who might have been a good wife. The failure of the Lomans is a result of contradictory elements in their lives, mixed motivations, and the varied structure of emotions and feelings.

Works Cited

Bloom, H. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Chelsea House, 1988.

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Felman, S. Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading: Otherwise. The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition, 2002.

Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.

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