Death of a Salesman

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Themes and Colors
The American Dream Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
Nature vs. City Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Death of a Salesman, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The American Dream that anyone can achieve financial success and material comfort lies at the heart of Death of a Salesman. Various secondary characters achieve the Dream in different ways: Ben goes off into the wilderness of Alaska and Africa and lucks into wealth by discovering a diamond mine; Howard Wagner inherits his Dream through his father's company; while Bernard, who seemed a studious bore as a child, becomes a successful lawyer through…

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The central conflict of the play is between Willy and his elder son Biff, who showed great promise as a young athlete and ladies' man, but in adulthood has become a thief and drifter with no clear direction. Willy's other son, Happy, while on a more secure career path, is superficial and seems to have no loyalty to anyone.

By delving into Willy's memories, the play is able to trace how the values…

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The towering apartment buildings that surround Willy's house, which make it difficult for him to see the stars and block the sunlight that would allow him to grow a garden in his back yard, represent the artificial world of the city—with all its commercialism and superficiality—encroaching on his little spot of self-determination. He yearns to follow the rugged trail his brother Ben has blazed, by going into the wildernesses of Africa and Alaska in…

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Inspired by his love for his family, Willy ironically abandons them (just as he himself was abandoned by his father when he was three). The tragedy of Willy's death comes about because of his inability to distinguish between his value as an economic resource and his identity as a human being. The Woman, with whom Willy cheats on Linda, is able to feed Willy's salesman ego by "liking" him. He is proud of being…

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