Essay on Symbolism in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Symbolism in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman is wrought with symbolism from the opening scene. Many symbols illustrate the themes of success and failure. They include the apartment buildings, the rubber hose, Willy’s brother Ben, the tape recorder, and the seeds for the garden. These symbols represent Willy’s attempts to be successful and his impending failure.

When Willy and Linda purchased their home in Brooklyn, it seemed far removed form the city. Willy was young and strong and he believed he had a future full of success. He and his sons cut the tree limbs that threatened his home and put up a hammock that he would enjoy with his children. The green fields
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His wife Linda, who finds the hose, knows what he was going to do with it, as does Biff. When confronted by Biff, Willy not only denies that he was going to use the hose, but also denies ever seeing it before. Instead of being remembered as a successful businessman who died, Willy is seen by his family as a failure who cannot even commit suicide or tell the truth.

Willy’s brother Ben seems to symbolize all of Willy's dreams that have not borne fruit. Ben provides an example of the type of success that Willy desires. Ben went into the “jungle” with nothing and became extremely wealthy. Ben achieved in a few years what Willy has dreamed about his entire life. Ben also provides additional evidence on the foolish behavior and poor decisions made by Willy. Ben offers to take Willy with him and make him rich – an offer that Willy declines.

Another important symbol is Howard’s tape recorder. It represents the many material objects wealthy businessmen could provide for their families and for themselves. Willy wanted this lifestyle; he wanted “something he could lay his hands on” (Miller pg. ). It would not be enough to just be successful; Willy wanted to be able to show people material representations of his success. The tape recorder shows that Howard has reached this level of success. Yet while the recorder symbolizes the wealth and power of Howard, it also represents Willy’s discouragement and
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