Symbolism in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller


In Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, the sub-surface ideals of the American Dream are investigated and a very close ruinous look is the outcome. The artificial makeup of this dream is well revealed by means of appropriate and interesting symbols. Miller employs diamonds to delineate the fragility of the Willy s’ prescription of success. He is unable to comprehend that material things are intangible and cannot last forever. He cherishes the view that all things he possesses will never undergo change and remain as such. His job, his stature, home and even the machines would not experience any alterations. Appliances are representation of success and wealth, and when Willy comes to know that it is all but superficial and transitory, he is obsessed with the gloom of their impermanence and is highly disappointed. He perceives himself as if he has not got anything in his life, and is a deprived person. All these symbols are eventually coming out in the open to reveal the hollowness and little tensile strength of pursuit of happiness through personal attraction.

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In this play, Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller uses several symbols to explain the philosophy of success and failure. Many symbols are integral part of the play and they in turn cultivate both character and the plot. In them are ‘the rubber hose, the tape recorder, diamonds, Linda’s stockings, and the seeds for the garden’. These symbols stand for Willy’s cravings for success and the failure, which is but entwined with him. Willy Loman is a salesman who thinks that personal charm and enchantment will be instrumental in fulfilling the desire for financial success. The rubber hose is meant for both sides of life, that is, success and failure. It also is relevant to the theme of death. It conveys the meanings of gloom and deception as well. It is linked with the gas main in Willy’s house and gives him the chance to commit suicide. Willy takes it into account as means of doing something for the family and a response to the long years of hopelessness. He thinks of himself as a burden and when he would die, it would be no more and the sufferings of the family will also end. However, this is just an eyewash because under the veil of this false justification lies the realities of practical life. He is incapable of facing the harsh realities. He has lost his job and could not succeed. Even though, he could dare to accomplish the execution of suicide and faces failure here too. When Linda, Willy’s wife, gets the hose, she is disturbed by its intentions. Its dual nature is obvious when Willy has to face it by his son and the former refuses to accept its reality. An identical denial is manifest when Willy has to meet the challenge of tape recorder in Howard’s office. The tape recorder signals the transformation in his life by means of progress of technology. It also represents the end of Willy’s career.

When Willy and Linda bought their home in Brooklyn, it seemed detached from the city. Willy was in his youth and resolute and believed that he has glorious future, which is desperately waiting for him. He and his sons broke the three limbs that endangered the safety of his home. The green fields helped to provide a beautiful sight and led to the filling of his home with highly appreciable aromas. For many years when Willy was trying to pay for his home, the city experienced expansions and their house was also surrounded by too many homes. There were huge apartment buildings, which ‘trapped’ his home. Now the fragrant aromas were replaced with foul smells that engulfed their once beautiful home. Similar undesirable developments start happening in his career too. The symbols used here are not an end in themselves rather than they are a means towards an end. The sense of dispossession slowly but steadily comes to grip this main character s’ life and he is absolutely buried under the burden of feelings of deprivation. His philosophy of life has cheated him in the end and now he feels himself be fooled by his own cherished views, which are repulsed by the weight of sheer circumstances. He finds himself incapable of overcoming the difficulties of life he is now facing and they are almost crushing one. His contentment in life is gone. He has lost his feelings of being a human being and this has happened to the deception, with which he is now confronted. The glittering dreams are done to disperse. All that he has slipped away from his hands and he is alive to see all this. The feelings of hopelessness are now causing him to have a declining interest in life. There is such a high intensity of this bar that he now wants to seek refuge in suicide. This state of mind is the product of his philosophy of life, which ultimately led to nowhere but ruin. The worth of shallow imagination is well proved by the author who shows that the superficial and false sheen is destined to be unraveled one day and that is most gruesome for those who believe in such line of thinking. The stockings are means to show Willy s’ affair with another woman. The long road trips may have been intended for symbolizing the fracture in family. Plants could have been speaking of the rebirth by doling life to someone, as Willy desired. Miller says, “I wished to create a form which, in itself as a form, would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s way of mind.” (Jacobus lee, 250).

In this play, all these ideals lacking depth are screened with the help of characters and most significant symbols which very well convey the theme of the play. The audience is beautifully taught the lessons and no ambiguity is left in their mind, which is the work of symbolism itself. Symbols stand for as mentioned above the desire and lust of the characters, reflection of circumstances and the means to make more crystal clear the actual underlying motif of the play. All this is the work of symbolism that the audience is enamored of the theme of the play, which brings to their mind the lessons taught by having desires for momentous and false pleasures. These wishes, which are steeped in running after the obvious shining things, are no panacea for the satisfaction of human beings and their nature. As Willy’s life is being destroyed, he utters, “The woods are burning! I can’t drive a car!” Human soul cannot be ignored and being oblivious to it unleashes very sad consequences. We should not believe in such things, which are nothing but happy past times and have no reality of their own. The success and failure do not depend upon the personal attractiveness as thought by Willy. The symbols are coming to our rescue to acquaint us with the daunting and adamant realities of life. The play can also be taken in the sense that time and tide wit for none and those who consume themselves and their time in fact waste themselves and none others and they have nothing but repentances in the end but all this is now in vain. Timely actions and correct beliefs save men from unwanted results and it is very difficult to lift us from the quagmire, which is built by our own blunders.


Everything animate or animate is subject to change in this universe. Nothing is everlasting. The desires themselves change even if we keep them close to our hearts for a very long period of time. Everything has shelf life of its own and should be taken in its true perspective otherwise it would be like striking ourselves with the tools we ourselves devise. When one is trapped by one s’ own feelings, it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to get out of it successfully. Similar is the case with Willy who cannot come to terms with the realities if life. He lives in a make-believe world which is apparently bright but very much dark inside. There is then no escape from these undesirable conditions, which has been brought about by relying on the obvious glittering things. The play is laudable for showing the subtle realities and fragmented nature of ‘American Dream’.


Jacobus lee, The Bedford Introduction to Drama, Fifth Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s. ISBN-13: 978-0312255435.

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman. The play.

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StudyCorgi. "Symbolism in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller." August 25, 2021.


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