Death of a Salesman
Film Guide

Arthur Miller

Literary Elements
Tragedy, tragic hero, tragic flaw

Essential Questions
· What is a tragedy, and why do we enjoy watching it?
· Is there anything to criticize about our American capitalist system?
· How do society’s values influence one’s ideas of success?
· How does one attain success in one’s life?
· How do one’s parents influence one’s own values, worldview, and morals?
· Is there such a thing as the American Dream, and do people ever attain it?

Getting Things Straight

1. Why is Willy home? Why is Linda alarmed that he’s home?
2. Why is Willy annoyed at Biff? How does he describe Biff? What does this tell us about Willy?
3. How has the neighborhood changed? Why does it matter to the story that his surroundings are no longer the way they used to be?
4. How does Linda treat Willy? How do the boys feel about him? Is Biff trying to spite Willy? Why does Biff come home in the spring?
5. Why won’t Happy go out West with Biff, and why won’t Biff sty? Why doesn’t either son get married and settle down?
6. How does Willy act toward the boys when they are young? How do they act toward him? How does Willy feel about Charley and Bernard?
7. What does Willy’s reaction to Biff’s theft of the football tell us about Willy? He says the boys look like Adonises. What other clues show that Willy believes in appearances?
8. Willy praises and then curses the Chevrolet; he tells Linda that he’s very well liked and then says that people don’t seem to take to him. What doe these inconsistencies tell us about Silly?
9. “Five hundred gross in Providence” becomes “roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip.” How does Linda take Willy’s stories? What does this reveal about her? Why does Willy make a fuss about Linda’s mending stockings? How is this important to the play?
10. Why does Charley visit? How does he feel about Willy? How and why do they insult each other?
11. Who is Ben? Why does Ben appear? What does Willy think about the future? About the past? What does Ben teach Biff? Why does Willy feel “kind of temporary” about himself and want Ben to stay?
12. What does Linda think is the trouble with Willy’s life? Why is she angry at her sons? Why does she put the rubber hose back after she had taken it? What does this tell about her?
13. Why is Willy interested when Biff mentions Billy Oliver? Why do they argue? How does Happy try to capture attention?
14. Why is Willy’s mood upbeat at the start of Act Two? What does he expect to happen?
15. Why does Willy tell Howard about Dave Singleman? Describe the dramatic effect when Howard listens to the voices of his family while Willy tries to talk business. Why does Howard tell Willy to drop off his samples and forbid him to go to Boston? Why is this such a blow to Willy?
16. What is Willy’s philosophy? How does Biff as a football hero embody his father’s dreams? Why does Charley say Willy hasn’t grown up?
17. What is Willy’s impression of Bernard when he sees him in his father’s office? Why does Willy exaggerate Biff’s importance? Why does Bernard ask what happened after the game at Ebbets Field?
18. Why won’t Willy work for Charley? Why is Willy able to ask Charley for money? How is Charley’s view of what a salesman needs different from Willy’s view?
19. In the restaurant, how does Happy reflect Willy’s values? Why does Miller have the girls come in?
20. How does Biff’s realization that his life is a lie underline the theme of the play? Why does Biff take Bill Oliver’s fountain pen? Why can’t he tell his father what happened with Bill Oliver? Why do Biff and Happy leave Willy at the restaurant?
21. Why did Biff go to Boston? What does he discover when he sees the Woman? Why is it that Biff never went to summer school? Why can’t he believe in his father?
22. Why does Linda tell the boys, “Get out of here, both of you and don’t come back!”?
23. Why does Willy keep planting seeds if they’ve never grown before? Why does Willy think Biff will be impressed with his funeral? Why does Ben say that Biff will call Willy a fool?
24. Why doesn’t Willy want to see Linda? Why does he think that Biff is spiting him? Why does Biff show him the rubber hose? Why does Biff confront Willy and Happy?
25. What does Biff do that elates Willy? How does Happy try to attract Willy’s attention? How does Ben influence Willy at this point?

1. What is a requiem? What is the purpose of this final act? To what extent is it successful?
2. Charley says: No man only needs a little salary.” To what is he referring? What else does a man need?
3. Explain the irony of Linda’s last speech.

Delving In—You must choose two of these analysis questions to answer in a fully developed Delve In paragraph.

1. In what ways does Willy not fit into the definition of an average working man building a secure home for his family? In what ways does he represent Everyman? How does Willy represent more?
2. How does Miller use tension in the family to underscore Willy’s character? How does he use the stage to influence the audience’s perception of the tension?
3. What is the turning point in Willy’s life? Is Willy the main character in this play or is Biff? Why? What does Biff discover about himself? How does this discovery affect his relationship with Willy? How is Biff’s self-realization dramatic? What is the climax of the play?
4. Who suffers most from Willy’s delusions? Why?
5. Does Linda help or hinder Willy in overlooking his small sales and his dishonest attempts to make them seem bigger? How else does she influence Willy? Discuss Linda’s remark, “Attention—attention must finally be paid to such a man!” What is the effect of the switch in Linda’s speech to this very formal statement? Why does Miller use it?
6. How is Willy’s killing himself for the insurance money symptomatic of the way he has lived? What legacy does Willy leave his family?
7. What is Willy’s dream? What is he searching for throughout the play? Why doesn’t he find it? Did he have a chance of fulfilling it? Did he have the wrong dream? Inappropriate attitudes? Is he a born loser, or does he stand in his own way to success? Explain.
8. How does what Biff learns in Boston influence his life? (Think about…Why can’t Biff be what his father wants him to be? Why does Biff steal things? Does Biff use Willy’s behavior as an excuse for his own waywardness? What does he say to Willy about the way he wants to live and what Willy expects of him?)
9. Compare the way Biff treats his father with the way Happy does. Why is it hard for Biff to tell Willy the truth? Why doesn’t Happy want him to?
10. How does Ben affect Willy? How does he influence the events in the play?
11. Discuss the symbolism of the two heavy sample cases and the stockings. How does Miller use the characters’ names as symbols? What do they mean? What is the significance of Loman? Why Willy instead of Bill? What other symbols does Miller use and to what purpose?
12. How are the angular shapes and the lighting described in the opening scenes important to the meaning of the play? Why does Miller have the buildings closed in by other buildings? How does he use the stage setting as a statement about time? What do the leaves stand for? How is music used?
13. What is the effect of having scenes from the past staged in addition to the current action of the play?
14. What would say are the false values which the play reveals? What are the true values which the play upholds? Prove your claim.
15. Some reviewers believe that the play is a criticism of capitalism and the American way of life. Discuss your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them. What are the social implications of the play?

Academic Challenge
Read article on “Tragedy and the Common Man” by Arthur Miller and explain what “tragedy” and “tragic hero” mean to Miller. Also, explain why he chose the “common man” as a tragic hero.

Taken from: