Death of a Salesman as a Psychological Play

Death of a Salesman as a Psychological Play

Arthur Miller wrote the play “Death of a Salesman” while keeping in mind modern psychological problems. He talks about the complex inner world not only of his major characters but also of his minor character. For example, he explores Willy Loman’s mind while mentioning in detail incidents involving his hope for a better future and his dreams that he wishes to be true. The playwright also talks about his regrets and the impact of his past experiences on his mind.

The playwright portrays Willy Loman as a major character in the play. The writer shows a series of past events from the perspective of Willy’s mind. Arthur Miller also shows a conflict between Willy’s inner world and the outer world. Being the protagonist of the play, Willy tries to find his place amongst others. He is also unable to balance his relationship between his family and career.

One of the major themes in this regard is of achieving American Dream. Willy cannot count his achievements. Besides Willy,  his son Biff and Happy also struggles to find their place in the world. In this way, the writer illustrates many broader societal themes and most of them are related to identity, purpose and success.

It is an undeniable fact that the writer has written the play “Death of a Salesman” from a psychological perspective. Indeed, the writer illustrates minutely the human psyche along with the theme of the American Dream and its impact on individuals and society.

It is necessary to know what is a psychological play before quoting examples from the play to analyse it from a psychological perspective.

What is a Psychological Play?

Psychology is a branch of science which mainly focuses on the mind. However, if we talk about theatre and literature, a play that focuses on the internal thoughts, feelings as well as motivations of the characters is called a psychological play. “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller is an example of a psychological play because of the mental problems about which the playwright writes. 

Psychological Elements in the Play

There are many incidents and events in the play that may be analysed from a psychological perspective. 

The major character, worth mentioning in this regard is Willy Loman. He experiences a series of flashbacks that shows a conflict between his present and the past. He is unable to justify his decisions in life and he often thinks about them. Thus, he remains mostly in trouble due to these conflicts. He is not happy with the decisions he makes and the consequences he faces because of them.

Willy is also not able to find his identity in the society. He often thinks about himself but his self-worth is also not enough to satisfy his needs. In this way, Willy’s character helps in demonstrating many significant themes related to psychology. He is a salesman by profession but he does not fit in this job. He considers that it is a failure on his part. In the play, he feels guilt and shame as he is unable to accomplish his goals in life. 

The writer also sketches Willy’s character while defining his family relationships. Willy is in disturbed relationships whether it is with his wife or with his sons. He has expectations but he is unable to fulfil them. One of the main reasons his family life is disturbed is a lack of communication and emotional expression.

The American Dream is not only the theme of this play but also a problem for Willy and some other characters. The American Dream is a term used to refer to happiness and prosperity for everyone but it does not seem possible in the case of Willy and his family. It is not hard but much more difficult to achieve success. Happiness is always subject to hard work and determination. However, not everyone can be successful. Thus, the American Dream impact negatively on the minds of almost all the characters of the play. The playwright shows negative psychological consequences in this regard. It is also a reason due to which the characters constantly face depression, anxiety and disillusionment.

Willy Lomans as a Psychological Character

The playwright Arthur Miller explores psychological problems in his play “Death of a Salesman”. The writer puts the inner world of the protagonist in front of the audience. 

The playwright also shows the impact of Willy’s psychological problems on his relationships. The protagonist of the play cannot strengthen his relationship even with his own sons, Biff and Happy. There are unresolved issues between him and his sons. Not only his own failure bothers him but he is disappointed by Biff’s non-performance. He time and again blames his son for his own failures.

He is also not happy with his son Happy. There is a strained relationship between him and Happy despite the fact that Happy’s achievements should be appreciated. Instead of appreciating Happy, he focuses mainly on Biff’s failures.

Lind, Willy’s wife also bothers him. However, Linda herself is a complex character. Willy does not only love his wife but also mistreats her. One of the main reasons for this strained relationship is the lack of communication. It ultimately leads the couple to a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Psychological Problems of Linda Loman

Linda Loman faces issues of loyalty, vulnerability, Willy’s bad behaviour and change. Indeed, Linda is loyal to Willy in spite of his bad behaviour toward her. Willy is dependent on his wife and she supports him. However, Linda does not find the love in return that she desires. It raises a conflict in his mind. She desires for finding her self-worth in her family. 

Linda also worries about his family’s protection. It is true that his family is safe from any outer harm yet there is tension in Linda’s mind in this regard. She always tries her best to shield her sons from any suffering. Willy’s bad behaviour towards her and her sons increases her psychological problems. Thus, she finds ways to balance his relationship with her husband and sons.

Change is the law of nature but Linda fears it. It is because she is uncertain about the future of her sons. She wants to maintain stability in her family. In other words, she does not want any more worries.

Hence, these are common inner conflicts about which the writer talks in the play through Linda’s character. Thus, the psychological problems in the play “Death of A Salesman” are not unique but common and universal in nature.

The Psyche of Biff Loman

Biff Loman is the eldest son of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”. He is similar to Willy and Linda in the context that he is also a complex and psychologically rich character. Like his father Willy, he also suffers due to the decision that he had made in the past. He had made mistakes and his regret is the result of those failures. 

Biff Loman always becomes ready to face his problems. Even he frankly admits his mistakes and responsibilities for his father’s unhappiness. This sense of guilt and shame disturbs Willy. Biff shows his anger towards his father for not being honest with him and misleading him about the nature of success and happiness. This resentment contributes to the tension and conflict in their relationship.

Undeniably, Biff Loman is a complex and psychological character in the play “Death of a Salesman”. He helps in portraying many of the critical themes of the play. His struggles with identity, guilt, shame, resentment and desire for authenticity reflect the complex inner lives of many people and contribute to the play’s universal appeal and relevance. Thus, the writer demonstrates many universal inner conflicts through Biff Loman’s character. 

Charley’s Simplistic Nature

The playwright focuses minutely while mentioning the psychological problems of characters in his play “Death of a Salesman”. Charley is the neighbour of Willy Lomans. He is a minor character but undoubtedly he is psychologically rich and complex. 

However, it is a matter of fact that Charley is a self-made man who has achieved success through hard work and determination. Unlike Willy, he does not blame others for his failures. He is proud of his success. His success always helps him in building confidence.

It is the reason he is a compassionate and empathetic character despite being successful. He always feels the pains and suffering that Willy experiences. He remains ready to help everybody including Willy. The writer does not associate problems with this character but sketches him to be compared with Willy. The calmness of his mind, his patience and his helping nature are mentioned in detail by the playwright.

The writer also shows Charley’s wisdom. He is not only successful but a mature and wise person. Compared to Willy, he has a deeper understanding of life. This maturity and wisdom contribute to his ability to help and support those around him. Thus, he serves the purpose of contrasting Willy’s character in the play.

The Psyche of Happy Loman

Happy Loman is another psychological and insecure character in the play “Death of a Salesman”. It is Happy’s drawback that he tries to mimic his father’s behaviour. He seems a confident and charming person outwardly but from inside, he is victim of inferiority complext. He also struggles to define his own identity outside of his brother’s shadow. 

Like his father, he measures his success in terms of wealth and status. In this way, his approach is entirely materialistic. He is of the view that only money and success can bring happiness.

It is also a key factor of his personality that he is unaware of the consequences of his actions. Happy is a complex and psychologically rich character who embodies many of the key themes and conflicts in the play. His desperate need for attention and approval, insecurity and low self-esteem, materialistic values as well as lack of self-awareness reflect the complexities of human psychology. Happy Lomans contribute to the play’s exploration of the American Dream and its impact on individuals and families.

Mental Sketch of Bernard

One of the minor characters Bernard is also worth mentioning in a psychological context.  He believes in hard work. Thus, he wants to achieve his goals through hard work and determination. It is the result of his hard work that he becomes a successful lawyer. He gains respect around him because of his hard work. The writer puts him in juxtaposition with Willy Loman’s heirs. 

Inner Conflicts of Ben

Ben is the older brother of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” whose psychological traits have also been mentioned by the playwright in the play. In pursuit of his ambitions, he is ready to take any risk. The audience sees Ben getting success subject to sacrificing her family life.

He is also a rival to Charley. He is successful just like Charely but there is a difference between these two characters. Charley is humble after getting success whereas Ben is unethical and ruthless after achieving wealth. Charley is a moralistic character but Ben lacks morality. The writer warns the audience through Ben’s character that success must not be achieved after risking family life.


Last but not least, the playwright Arthur Miller wrote his famous play “Death of a Salesman” to show the universal psychological problems of every era. It is true that the play extensively portrays the inner conflicts and psychological problems of its characters. In fact, the play is a powerful exploration of the human psyche and the effects of societal pressures and expectations on individuals.

The writer sketches characters like Willy Loman to show the struggles of a common man, his inability to achieve goals, his feeling of despair and hopelessness and many other psychological problems in him. 

Similarly, Willy’s wife is a typical common woman of Arthur Miller’s era. The writer also associates some common problems with this character. She is torn between her loyalty to Willy and her desire to help him overcome his problems.

The Loman sons, Biff and Happy, are also portrayed as psychologically complex characters. Especially, Biff is mentionable in this regard as he struggles with feelings of disappointment and disillusionment due to his father’s unrealistic dreams. Happy, on the other hand, has internalized his father’s values and is focused on superficial success and popularity.

Other characters, such as Bernard and Charley, are also portrayed as psychologically rich characters who reflect the complexities of human psychology. Bernard’s success and self-fulfilment contrast with the unfulfilled dreams of the Loman family, while Charley’s empathy and pragmatism serve as a counterpoint to Willy’s self-delusion and denial.

Thus, there is no denying the fact that the genre of the play “Death of a Salesman” is  psychological. The writer shows the inner conflicts of his characters as well as their psychological problems. He also depicts that these problems are universal in nature and that almost every human faces or sees people around him facing the same. Thus, these are universal human experiences.