Exploring the Key Themes and Symbols in Death of a Salesman

Exploring the Key Themes and Symbols in Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” delves into the complex web of relationships between family members and the American Dream. Through the use of symbolism and themes, Miller offers a compelling portrayal of the struggles faced by individuals in pursuit of success and happiness.

One of the main themes of the play is the conflict between illusion and reality. Willy Loman, the protagonist, is a salesman who dreams of becoming successful, like the “big shots” he admires. However, his dreams are shattered as he is confronted with the harsh reality of his life. This dichotomy between dreams and reality is exemplified by the symbolism of seeds and diamonds, which represent the hopes and aspirations of Willy and his sons, Biff and Happy.

Another important theme in the play is the exploration of the relationship between fathers and sons. Willy’s relationship with his sons is strained, as he places unrealistic expectations on them and fails to truly understand their desires and ambitions. This tension is best encapsulated by the symbol of Willy’s stockings, which serve as a constant reminder of his betrayal and the shattered dreams of his children.

The symbolism in “Death of a Salesman” is not limited to objects, but also extends to the characters themselves. Willy, the “salesman,” symbolizes the hard-working, middle-class American who is struggling to make a living. His death becomes a tragic metaphor for the death of the American Dream, as he is unable to achieve the success and happiness he yearns for.

Works Cited:

Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman.”

‘Death of a Salesman’ Themes and Symbols


One recurring theme in “Death of a Salesman” is the notion of the American Dream. Willy Loman, the protagonist, is constantly looking for success and validation but finds himself hard-pressed to afford the fruits of his labor. The play explores the betrayal of the American Dream, as Willy becomes disillusioned with the idea of achieving greatness.

Another theme in the play is the breakdown of family relationships. Willy’s relationship with his sons, Biff and Happy, is strained and full of unfulfilled expectations. This theme is further highlighted through the character Linda, Willy’s wife, who remains loyal and supportive despite the turmoil within their family.


Symbolism plays a significant role in “Death of a Salesman”. For instance, Willy’s car symbolizes his desire for mobility and escape from his mundane reality. The stockings symbolize Willy’s infidelity and his guilt associated with betraying Linda’s trust.

The title itself, “Death of a Salesman”, is symbolic, representing the death of Willy Loman’s dreams and the demise of the American Dream as a whole. Willy’s death becomes a metaphorical decision to give up on his dreams and escape the pressure and disappointment.

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The American Dream

However, Willy’s dreams and expectations are unrealistic, and he struggles to make them a reality. This is symbolized by the seeds he is constantly planting, which never grow into anything substantial. Willy’s obsession with the American Dream becomes a betrayal to his family, as he is unable to provide for them and ultimately dies a lonely death.

The American Dream is often cited as a central theme in many of Miller’s plays, and it is a recurring motif in “Death of a Salesman”. The Lomans, like many other people in America, are caught up in the illusion that success and happiness can be achieved through material wealth and social status. However, as the play demonstrates, this dream often leads to disillusionment and disappointment.

Another symbol that is tied to the theme of the American Dream is the diamond stockings. This is a symbol of Willy’s infidelity and his inability to live up to the expectations of his wife, Linda. The stockings symbolize the desire for material success and the betrayal that lies beneath the surface of their relationship.

Throughout the play, Willy’s pursuit of the American Dream is contrasted with his sons’, Biff and Happy, who also have dreams of their own. Biff, in particular, is unable to live up to his father’s expectations and feels trapped by the pressure to succeed in the business world. Through the characters of Biff and Happy, Miller explores the tension between the desire for success and the reality of one’s own dreams.

Family Relationships – The Jungle

The stockings play a symbolic role in the play, representing betrayal and the deterioration of family relationships. Biff’s discovery of Willy’s affair while looking for a pair of stockings for Linda sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads to the breakdown of their family.

Willy’s dream of becoming a successful salesman is also explored in the play. The jungle symbolizes the harsh reality of the American Dream and the cutthroat nature of the business world. Willy’s inability to achieve his dreams becomes a source of frustration and anger, leading to the decision that “nothing’ll grow anymore” and ultimately his own death.

The Loman family dynamics are characterized by tension and conflict. Willy’s constant disappointment in Biff’s apparent lack of success and his desire for his sons to “be well liked and get ahead” puts strain on their relationship. The seeds and fruits symbolize Willy’s hope for his sons’ success, but they never truly flourish.

Symbolism in Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” uses various symbols to explore its key themes and illuminate the characters’ struggles. These symbols serve as a means of conveying deeper meanings and emotions, allowing the audience to delve into the complex relationships and dreams within the Loman family.

The American Dream

One of the central symbols in the play is the American Dream, which becomes a recurring theme. Willy Loman, the titular salesman, is driven by his unrealistic expectations and aspirations of achieving success in America.

Wilky’s obsession with the American Dream is evident from the very beginning. He wants his sons, Biff and Happy, to follow in his footsteps and become successful businessmen. However, this dream ultimately leads to disappointment and feelings of betrayal when Willy realizes that his dreams are unattainable and not aligned with reality.

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The Stockings

Another symbol in “Death of a Salesman” is the stockings. These stockings symbolize the infidelity and betrayal that Willy experiences within his family. Linda, Willy’s wife, discovers a pair of stockings that do not belong to her, indicating that Willy is having an affair.

These stockings also represent Willy’s longing for the past, as they remind him of a time when he was younger and more successful. The stockings serve as a reminder of the failure and disappointment that Willy feels in his current life.

The Diamonds

The diamonds that Willy’s father, called “The Jungle,” leaves him upon his death serve as a symbol of his father’s abandonment and the corrupted American Dream. Willy idolizes his father and holds onto the belief that his father was a successful and respected man.

However, Willy later learns that his father was a failure and had left him with nothing except some seeds. The diamonds therefore represent the shattered illusions and false promises of the American Dream.

Overall, the symbols in “Death of a Salesman” help to deepen the audience’s understanding of the characters, their relationships, and the themes explored within the play. Through the use of symbols like the American Dream, stockings, and diamonds, Arthur Miller conveys the complex emotions and struggles of a family living in America.

Use of symbolism in the play

One of the central symbols in the play is the idea of the American Dream. Willy Loman, the protagonist, is driven by his belief in the American Dream and the idea that success and wealth are achievable for anyone who works hard enough. However, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that Willy’s dreams are unrealistic and unattainable. The American Dream, symbolized by Willy’s pursuit of success as a salesman, is ultimately shown to be a false promise.

Another important symbol in the play is the house and its contents, particularly the stockings that Willy gives to his mistress. Willy’s affair and his betrayal of Linda symbolize the destruction of Willy’s hopes and dreams, as well as the breakdown of his relationships within his family. The stockings also represent Willy’s inability to afford the fruits of the American Dream, as he can only afford to buy them for his mistress, further emphasizing his failure and disappointment.

Diamonds are another powerful symbol in the play, representing the unattainable success and wealth that Willy desires. Willy constantly references diamonds and their value, using them as a measure of worth and success. However, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that Willy’s pursuit of diamonds is futile and empty, symbolizing the futility of Willy’s dreams and the hollowness of the American Dream.

The jungle is also a significant symbol, representing the harsh and unforgiving nature of the world in which Willy lives. Willy sees himself as trapped in the jungle of the business world, where only the strongest survive. This symbolizes the cutthroat nature of capitalism and the struggles faced by ordinary people trying to achieve success in America.

Lastly, the title of the play itself is a symbol of the inevitable death and failure that awaits Willy. Throughout the play, Willy is consumed by his failures and the feeling that he has not achieved enough. His death, although tragic, symbolizes the release from the pressures and expectations of the American Dream.

Seeds – Symbols

The seeds symbolize the idea of growth and the potential for success. In the play, Willy is a struggling salesman who wants nothing more than to be successful. He wants to be able to afford nice things and make a name for himself. The seeds symbolize Willy’s belief that he can achieve these dreams. However, as the play progresses and Willy’s dreams become more unrealistic, the seeds also become a symbol of failure.

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As Willy’s relationship with his sons deteriorates, the symbolism of seeds becomes even more apparent. In a desperate attempt to connect with Biff, Willy reminisces about how he used to take Biff and his brother Happy to see the jungle and tells them that “the jungle is dark but full of diamonds.” This metaphor symbolizes Willy’s belief in the American Dream and his desire for his sons to be successful. However, just like the seeds, this dream is ultimately unattainable.

The symbolism of seeds is also seen in the character of Linda Loman, Willy’s wife. She tends to her garden throughout the play, using seeds to represent her hope for a better future. However, as Willy’s mental state worsens and he ultimately dies, the seeds symbolize the futility of her efforts and the harsh reality of their situation.

Stockings – Symbols of Unrealistic Dream and Expectations

Willy Loman, the protagonist and a struggling salesman, has a dream of becoming successful and providing for his family. This dream is represented by the stockings, which he promises to his wife Linda. The stockings symbolize his desire to make enough money to afford luxurious items like diamonds, something that seems unattainable for a lowly salesman like Willy.

Furthermore, the stockings also represent the idealized image of success and happiness that Willy holds onto. In Willy’s mind, the stockings are associated with the woman with whom he had an affair, a woman who represents his idea of success. However, this unrealistic dream is shattered when he realizes that his affair meant nothing in the long run.

Linda, Willy’s wife, also plays a role in the symbolism of the stockings. She mend the stockings herself, representing her unwavering loyalty and support for Willy, despite his failures. However, as the stockings gradually become worn and frayed, they symbolize the deteriorating state of their marriage and the elusive nature of Willy’s dreams.

Biff, Willy’s son, becomes aware of the symbolism behind the stockings when he discovers Willy’s affair. This realization destroys Biff’s trust in his father and shatters his own dreams of succeeding in the business world.


What are the key themes and symbols explored in Death of a Salesman?

The key themes explored in Death of a Salesman include the American Dream, family relationships, betrayal, and the unrealistic dream and expectations of success. The symbols in the play include diamonds, stockings, seeds, and the jungle.

How does Arthur Miller use symbolism in Death of a Salesman?

Arthur Miller uses symbolism in Death of a Salesman to enhance the themes of the play. For example, diamonds symbolize the unrealized dreams and expectations of success, while stockings symbolize betrayal and infidelity.

What are the symbols of unrealistic dream and expectations in Death of a Salesman?

In Death of a Salesman, the symbols of unrealistic dream and expectations include diamonds and stockings. The diamonds represent the unreachable goals and desires that the characters strive for, while the stockings symbolize the betrayal and infidelity within the family.

What symbols represent betrayal in Death of a Salesman?

Stockings are the symbols that represent betrayal in Death of a Salesman. They symbolize infidelity and the broken trust within the family.

How are family relationships depicted in Death of a Salesman?

In Death of a Salesman, family relationships are depicted as strained and damaged. The characters struggle with feelings of betrayal and resentment towards each other, which ultimately leads to the unraveling of the family unit.

What are some key themes in Death of a Salesman?

Some key themes in Death of a Salesman include the American Dream, betrayal, and the collapse of the individual.

What symbols are used in Death of a Salesman?

Symbols used in Death of a Salesman include diamonds, stockings, and the jungle.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.