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Motif in Death of a Salesman

Arthur MillerÆs Death of a Salesman is a drama of lies and delusions, most of them held by the protagonist, Willy Loman, a washed up salesman who maintains the illusion he is still skilled and in demand. Throughout the course of the drama, a number of thefts occur by WillyÆs sons, a series of actions that Willy justifies and encourages. Garaventa (537) maintains that Willy is ôportrayed as a complex individual, whose reactions are a function of his personality and self-interest.ö The motif of theft in the drama is important because Willy creates a dishonest vision of those acts that not only encourages deviant behavior in his sons but also makes him and they convinced that their lies about these acts are the truth.

There are a number of incidents in Death of a Salesman where the motif of theft intrudes on the course of action. One of these occurs when Biff steals a football from the high school locker room because the coach makes him angry by telling him he needs to practice his passing. Willy does ask Biff to return the football but acknowledges that the coach would be proud of his sonÆs initiative if he knew of the theft. Ironically, Willy insists that a man who is ôlikedàwill never want,ö he encourages dishonest behavior in his son (Miller 33). As Garaventa (543) argues, Willy worships the altar of character as a means of success but ôwhat is most striking about Willy is that the success tradition that is based on character means nothing to him.ö

WillyÆs delusions about himself and his sons only further serves to make him rationalize his sonÆs deviant behavior. Another incidence of theft occurs when Biff and Happy steal supplies from a construction site so Willy can build a stoop. Instead of condemning their actions, Willy maintains they are ôa couple of fearless charactersö (Miller 51). Likewise, when he is told Biff is being tracked by the siteÆs watchman, Will


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Motif in Death of a Salesman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:13, February 22, 2017, from