Symbolism in Miller's Death of a Salesman
By:
Sam Stillwell

Mrs. Carol Hake
English 101-503
23 April 2017

Outline

Thesis statement: The symbolism of the seeds, the tennis racket, the fountain pen, diamonds and the stockings are all essential for the general concept of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.



In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller uses common objects as symbols between the main characters in his play. Women's stockings and their holes symbolize the failing relationship between Willy and his wife. Seeds in a garden symbolize Willy's declining sense of self-worth and his need to leave something significant behind after his death. The tennis racket Willy observes when he chats with Bernard in Charley's office is a symbol of Bernard's success and Biff's failure. Finally, the fountain pen is a symbol of the burden Willy's son Biff carries as he tries to live up to his father's image even though he never wants to inhabit that role.
Linda is always sewing her old stockings to fix their holes. The holes resemble the things in her life that are broken. Willy gets frustrated with Linda when she tries to fix the old stockings; he feels she should throw them out. He says: "Will you stop mending stockings? At least while I am in the house. It gets me nervous. I can't tell you. Please" (75). Willy's reaction to the sewing suggests the guilt he feels for having an affair - he gave a pair of Linda's stockings to his mistress. To Biff, who witnessed that transaction, stockings represent betrayal and deep hurt. "You-you gave her mama's stockings" (121). Biff becomes aware that his father is messing around with another women and becomes very emotional. It almost seems that the stockings are the reason for Biff's anger. It also important note the new stockings are important for Willy's pride in being financially successful and thus able to provide for his family.
The seeds that Willy constantly talks about throughout the entire play are very significant to him. Seeds represent for Willy the opportunity to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. Willy is afraid when he dies he will have nothing to leave his family. Willy thinks that when he dies that there will be no one to put food on the table, so the vegetables are his attempt of doing so. Throughout the play you can notice Willy is always talking about the seeds and seems as if he is in a rush to plant the seeds, I think that is because every time he talks about seeds he is closer to the time he plans to commit his suicide. The seeds also symbolize Willy's sense of failure with Biff. Willy planned on raising Biff to be a smart salesman, but Biff got into trouble for stealing and Willy blames himself for raising his son, in what he thinks is the wrong way.
The fountain pen symbolizes dishonesty and greed in the business world. After Biff steals the pen and he is on the stairs, he thinks to himself that he doesn't want to be in the same position as his dad and be unhappy and miserable in his life. Biff comes to understand that the American dream only creates emptiness and frustration. The fountain pen also stands for a changing point for Biff and he returns the pen to the office and leaves. You can see this because at the end of the play Biff wants to reconcile with his dad and not argue like they always do. Especially since Biff already knows about his father's affair with the mistress, he does a good job of changing his attitude and keeping cool. "Every time I've left it's been a fight that sent me out of here" (128). This just simply shows that Biff and Willy constantly get into fights and Biff wants to actually change that.
"The Jungle is dark but full of diamonds" (85). The diamonds are the second biggest symbol in this play. Ben rubs the diamonds in Willy's face throughout the play. Willy is frustrated because he doesn't have any tangible evidence to show for his achievements in sales, while Ben can physically show his diamonds off.