'Death of a Salesman' Quotes

These quotes, selected from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, highlight what pleases Willy as a worker and as a man—tales of wondrous riches, his sense of humor being recognized—and how he is perceived by the characters who feel affection towards him despite his shortcomings.

Ben's Story

WILLY: No! Boys! Boys! [young Biff and Happy appear.] Listen to this. This is your Uncle Ben, a great man! Tell my boys, Ben!
BEN: Why boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. [He laughs.] And by God I was rich.
WILLY [to the boys]: You see what I been talking about? The greatest things can happen! (Act I)

The story of how Willy’s brother Ben became rich with his travels to Alaska and the jungle almost became a legend to Willy. Variations of the line “When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one” recur throughout the play. The jungle appears as a place that is “dark but full of diamonds,” which requires a “great kind of a man to crack [it].”

Willy is enamored with the ideal his brother embodies, and tries to instill his interpretation of the “jungle” parable into his sons, which, together with his obsession with being “well liked,” places unrealistic expectations in terms of success on Happy and Biff. “It’s not what you do,” he told Ben once. “It’s who you know and the smile on your face! It’s contacts.” And while Ben can find diamonds in a dark jungle, Willy claims that “a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked.”

The character of Ben is interesting also because he sheds light on his and Willy’s father. He made flutes and was a “great and very wild-hearted man,” who would move his family all over the country, from Boston all the way to the westernmost towns. “And we’d stop in the towns and sell the flutes that he’d made on the way,” Ben said. “Great inventor, Father. With one gadget he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime.” 

As we see in the events that unfold, the two brothers developed differently. Ben inherited the adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit of his father, while Willy is a failed salesman.

Willy's Affair With The Woman

THE WOMAN: Me? You didn’t make me, Willy. I picked you.
WILLY [pleased]: You picked me?
THE WOMAN [who is quite proper-looking, Willy’s age]: I did. I’ve been sitting at that desk watching all the salesmen go by, day in, day out. But you’ve got such a sense of humor, and we do have such a good time together, don’t we? (Act I)

Here, we learn what about Willy’s affair with The Woman stokes his ego. She and Willy share a lewd sense of humor, and she clearly states that she “picked” him because of it. To William, sense of humor is one of his core values as a salesman and part of a trait—likability—that he tries to teach his sons as being more important than sheer hard work when it comes to success. Yet, in their affair, she is able to tease William with unpleasant truths about himself. "Gee, you are self-centred! Why so sad? You are the saddest, self-centredest soul I ever did see-saw."

Miller does not make any effort to flesh out any depth about her character—he doesn’t even give her a name—because that’s not necessary for the sake of the play’s dynamics. While her presence precipitated the rift in Willy’s and Biff’s relationship, as it exposed him as a phony, she is no rival to Linda. The Woman is closely associated with her laughter, which can be interpreted as the laughter of the Fates in a tragedy. 

Linda's Devotion to Willy

BIFF: Those ungrateful bastards!
LINDA: Are they any worse than his sons? When he brought them business, when he was young, they were glad to see him. But now his old friends, the old buyers that loved him so and always found some order to hand him in a pinch—they’re all dead, retired. He used to be able to make six, seven calls a day in Boston. Now he takes his valises out of the car and puts them back and takes them out again and he’s exhausted. Instead of walking he talks now. He drives seven hundred miles, and when he gets there no one knows him any more, no one welcomes him. And what goes through a man’s mind, driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? Why shouldn’t he talk to himself? Why? When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it’s his pay? How long can that go on? How long? You see what I’m sitting here and waiting for? And you tell me he has no character? The man who never worked a day but for your benefit? When does he get the medal for that? (Act I)

This monologue showcases Linda’s strength and devotion to Willy and her family, while summarizing the downward trajectory in his career. Linda might appear as a meek character at first. She doesn't nag her husband for not being a better provider and, at first glance, she lacks assertiveness. Yet, throughout the play, she delivers speeches that define Willy beyond his shortcomings as a salesman and give him stature. She defends him as a worker, as a father, and, during Willy’s funeral service, she expresses disbelief at her husband’s suicide. 

Even though she acknowledges that Willy makes “mountains out of molehills,” she is always prone to lifting him up, saying things like “you don’t talk too much, you’re just lively.” “You’re the handsomest man in the world […] few men are idolized by their children the way you are.” To the children, she says “He’s the dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue.” Despite the bleakness of his life, Willy Loman himself recognizes the devotion of Linda. “You’re my foundation and my support, Linda,” he tells her in the play.

Ben vs. Linda

WILLY: No, wait! Linda, he’s got a proposition for me in Alaska.
LINDA: But you’ve got—[To Ben] He’s got a beautiful job here.
WILLY: But in Alaska, kid, I could—
LINDA: You’re doing well enough, Willy!
BEN [to linda]: Enough for what, my dear?
LINDA [ frightened of Ben and angry at him]: Don’t say those things to him! Enough to be happy right here, right now. [To Willy, while Ben laughs] Why must everybody conquer the world? (Act II)

A conflict between Linda and Ben is apparent in these lines, as he is trying to convince Willy to go into business with him (he bought timberland in Alaska and he needs someone to look after things for him). Linda emphasizes that what Willy has—he is still doing relatively fine at his job—is just enough for him.

The conflict between the city and the wilderness is also latent in this exchange. The former is full of “talk and time payments and courts of law,” while the latter just requires you to “screw on your fists and you can fight for a fortune.” Ben looks down on his brother, whose career as a salesman resulted in him building nothing tangible. “What are you building? Lay your hand on it. Where is it?,” he says.

In general, Linda disapproves of Ben and his ways. In another timeswitch, he challenges Biff to a fight and uses unfair methods to defeat him—he laughs it off, claiming to be teaching Biff "never to fight fair with a stranger." The reasoning behind his lesson? “You’ll never get out of the jungle that way.”

Charley's Appreciation of Willy

Linda's and Charley’s monologues on Willy fully and sympathetically show how tragic the character is: 

CHARLEY: Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory. (Requiem)

Charley utters this monologue during Willy’s funeral, where nobody but Willy’s family, himself, and his son Bernard show up. Charley had been lending Willy money for some time before the events of the play, and even though Willy always had quite a disparaging attitude towards him and his son (who was considered a nerd compared to Biff, the football star), Charley maintained an attitude of kindness. In particular, he defends Willy from Biff’s remarks, namely that he “had the wrong dreams” and “never knew who he was.” He goes on to define the attitude of salesmen, category of people whose livelihoods depend on successful interactions with customers. When their success rate wanes, so does their career and, according to the American values of the time, their life’s worth.

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Frey, Angelica. "'Death of a Salesman' Quotes." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/death-of-a-salesman-quotes-4588258. Frey, Angelica. (2020, January 29). 'Death of a Salesman' Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/death-of-a-salesman-quotes-4588258 Frey, Angelica. "'Death of a Salesman' Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/death-of-a-salesman-quotes-4588258 (accessed June 7, 2023).