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.
Nature vs. City Theme Icon

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 search of diamonds, or even building wooden flutes and selling them on the rural frontier of America as his father did. But Willy is both too timid and too late. He does not have the courage to head out into nature and try his fortune, and, anyway, that world of a wild frontier waiting to be explored no longer exists. Instead, the urban world has replaced the rural, and Willy chooses to throw his lot in with the world of sales, which does not involve making things but rather selling oneself.

Biff and Happy embody these two sides of Willy's personality: the individualist dreamer and the eager-to-please salesman. Biff works with his hands on farms, helping horses give birth, while Happy schemes within the stifling atmosphere of a department store. While Willy collects household appliances and cars, as the American Dream has taught him to do, these things do not ultimately leave him satisfied, and he thinks of his own death in terms of finally venturing into nature, the dark jungle that the limits of his life have never allowed him to enter.

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Nature vs. City ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature vs. City appears in each act of Death of a Salesman. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature vs. City Quotes in Death of a Salesman

Below you will find the important quotes in Death of a Salesman related to the theme of Nature vs. City.
Act 1 Quotes
It's a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer... To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still - that's how you build a future.
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker)
Page Number: 10-11
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this moment Willy complains to Linda about how Biff has done nothing with his life. He is 34 years old, lives at home and barely makes an income. Meanwhile, Biff and Happy have woken up and are discussing their father's health. They are worried about his car accidents and his memory. Thinking about their father causes the boys to discuss their own futures. Here Biff reveals why he doesn't want to be a salesman. He doesn't understand why he has to prioritize making money, especially in the way Willy approves of. He then goes on to discuss his love for working on a farm, in nature. In the countryside, Biff feels, life is simple, natural, and clear. This sentiment is in deep opposition with the blue-collar, city lifestyle of Willy and Happy. Arthur Miller draws this comparison throughout the play, suggesting that the city represents the pursuit of material things, clouding (sometimes literally) the important things in life. Conversely, the countryside represents staying rooted and planted and following the simple passions in life.


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The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he's rich! The world is an oyster, but you don't crack it open on a mattress!
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker), Ben Loman
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Willy discusses his jealousy for his brother Ben's fortune. Ben came from nothing, but discovered a diamond mine in Africa and got rich. When Willy tells Happy this, Happy wonders how Ben did it. Willy replies with this quote. He tells Happy that dreams are acquired through perseverance, but also great luck. This moment once again plays on the idealized versus realized "American Dream." Adventuring to Africa and making a fortune overnight is Willy's idea of what the American dream should be. But Willy actually lives Arthur Miller's reality of the American dream: a blue-collar, middle-class working man who feels aimless and hasn't achieved any sense of fulfillment or happiness for all his striving. 

Gotta break your neck to see a star in this yard.
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Ben is leaving Willy's imagination, but Willy begs him to stay. He wants to learn from him—he asks Ben how he can teach his boys about making something of themselves. Ben replies by telling him to simply walk into the "jungle." Willy is then snapped out of his memory by Linda asking him to come up to bed. Willy replies with this quote.

The jungle is an elusive concept in the play. It was Ben's literal way toward fortune, but it also represents jumping into life and working at full force. Furthermore, Miller draws a stark contrast between nature and the city. For Willy, the jungle and the stars at night represent passion and what is natural, yet he is stuck in a city life, where he must work tirelessly for no gain. Stars are impossible to see in the city. They are clouded by industrialism and tall buildings, much like the life of the Loman men. The reference to him breaking his neck is a foreshadowing of Willy's own death; the only way he has to escape his own life. 

Act 2 Quotes
Funny, y'know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

After arguing about whether or not Charley should give Willy a loan, Charley finally caves. He throws money on the table and Willy tells him that after all of the bills and expenses, he is probably worth more dead than alive. Here, Willy verbally communicates the idea that he has been suggesting throughout the play; self worth is measured in wealth. Without wealth in life, he is likely worth more dead (as he would be able to give his family life insurance money). In his mind, it is worth more for him to be dead than it is to live the aimless and mediocre life he is living. He also refers to the city landscape here, revealing another moment where the city and countryside are used to compare different qualities and priorities in life. This skewed sense of self-worth and the meaning of life foreshadows what will ultimately become of Willy Loman. 

I've got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing's planted. I don't have a thing in the ground.
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Seeds
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Willy's fantasy about his affair dissolves and he finds himself in the bathroom of the restaurant he was in with his sons. When he returns to the table he sees that his sons are gone—they've paid the check and he is alone. Willy asks his server, Stanley where he can find some seeds to plant. Stanley tells him to go to a hardware store nearby. Willy exits.

Seeds here become a symbol of Willy's desire to die and leave something, no matter how small, behind him. He has nothing to care for anymore. His sons don't respect him, he has just had a vivid memory of his betrayal of his wife, he has lost his job, and he has lost his own sense of self worth. Miller also brings up the idea of nature versus city once again. If the city represents the clouded, capitalistic American Dream, coming back to nature, to the simple planting and reaping of seeds, represents the idea of finding truth and connection. Additionally, unlike Willy, seeds are planted—they are rooted to the ground, and do not travel or move. Willy is desperate for roots and desperate for growth, and he sees death and the planting of seeds as the only way to accomplish this. 

The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy.
Related Characters: Ben Loman (speaker), Willy Loman
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

After what seems to have been a revelatory moment with his family, Willy sinks back into his delusions, hearing the voice of his dead brother Ben telling him that "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds." Unbeknownst to his family, Willy turns and listens to this voice. In his delusional state, Ben tells Willy that with money, Biff will be magnificent one day. Ben urges Willy to not give up on his dreams, and to instead return to the "jungle." In a moment alone, Willy agrees. He chooses to abandon his family for the ultimate search of wealth; his life insurance policy. That night, he takes his car and kills himself. His American Dream has been realized, and he has at last reached the dark "jungle" of both death and money.