Writing a Death of a Salesman Essay

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Short Synopsis

This famous play, written by Arthur Miller, is set in the last 24 hours of salesman Willie Loman’s life before he commits suicide. 

The Loman family, Willie, wife Linda, and sons, Biff and Happy, are a wholly dysfunctional family that lives in denial and disorder much of the time. Much of this current state is the result of a single incident in Willy’s life – an affair he had 15 years earlier, which Biff discovered. Beyond that, Biff has come to realize that his father is presenting a false image of himself to everyone, just in order to “be liked.” In fact, he is a failing salesman, husband, and father. 

Willy, in dealing with his failures, spends much of his time at home daydreaming about the past and “what might have been.” His forays into his daydreams make up much of the play – his jealousies of successful men he knows, lost chances for his own success, etc. Linda and Happy are also drawn into Willy’s denial and disorder, and Linda especially attempts to be supportive by “buying into” Willy’s distorted view of himself and the world. And Happy begins to copy his father’s exaggerations and denials about his own life and career.

As Will has grown older, he has become increasingly less successful but cannot accept the reality that he has not achieved The American Dream – therefore, the constant retreat into his world of daydreams. When he does face reality at times, he attempts suicide. This last reality check results in a successful suicide.

Sample Death of a Salesman Essay

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Death of a Salesman Themes

There are a number of universal themes in this play, all of which are quite negative in scope.

  1. Failure: How people cope with failure is a big factor in their personal and professional lives. 
  2. Regret: Everyone has regrets. They either let them impact the rest of their lives or move forward. 
  3. Self-Deprecation/Criticism: This activity can paralyze a person because he is unable to see positives about himself. It results in a pessimistic rather than optimistic outlook.

Best Death of a Salesman essay topics:

  1. How have Willy Loman’s ideas of the American Dream been unfulfilled?
  2. What is Arthur Miller’s idea of The American Dream as depicted in the play? Is this idea still relevant today?
  3. Discuss the relationships among the major characters of the play?
  4. How was Willy Loman’s death foreshadowed by the author?
  5. What is meant by the statement, “Willy Loman died before he actually died.”
  6. What is meant by Biff’s statement, “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you.”
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Writing the Death of a Salesman Essay

Any essay, including an essay on Death of a Salesman, must follow the standard scholastic essay format and structure – introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

Be certain that you have a strong thesis statement for your essay topic. And then be certain that every paragraph is a single point that relates to that thesis.

Suppose, for example, that you chose a topic of the foreshadowing of Loman’s death throughout the play. Your thesis statement might read, “Miller gave the viewers plenty of hints that the final end would be Willy’s actual death.” You will then have to find evidence of this (at least three instances) for your body paragraphs.

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