The play is set in twentieth century industrial society, complete with appartmenz blocks, financial difficulties and pressures to succeed. Money definies success: people are judged by the amount they acquire, and the amount of success is linked with the amount of money they have. Since the play is about city life there are frequent references to money and the worries which it brings.
Willy feels he has to succeed, and the only way to show his success is to acquire money and material goods. He doesn`t want to face the fact that he isn`t earning enough.
Willy is not typical of society he feels he has to be within it, yet looks back to a golden age when life was simpler. The society in which the Lomans live is governed by people like Ben - rutheless managers who care little for the opinions of others, and in such a society the Lomans are uot of place.
There are however two types of society presented in the play. The modern consumer society is in contrast with the countryside: the structure of the countryside is much simpler and different, the image of an olde America. Biff needs to escape to it, to enjoy the pleasures of nature without modern pressure. But this is only a dream, and the realities of modern life dominate.
One of Willy`s basic beliefs is in the Land of opportunity, a land were men were created equal, with equal opportunity to become rich and successful. This land is America. Despite his standard of living, despite the obvious fact that he hasn`t made good in America society, he never criticises that society for long: it remains a place in which a young ambitious person can succeed.
Biff hasn`t found himself because he is a lazy bum in the greatest country in the world. From hard work will come success. But there is no universal law which guarantees success. What Willy fails to take into account is the induvidual and his own hopes, fears and ambitions. Biff is simply not like Ben, and, although Willy listens to Ben, he doesn`t understand his advice.
America however is also the land of the great outdoors. Several times in the play Willy mentions the possibility of the good life in the country , but outdoor life is not lucrative.
Willy Loman is introduced immediately to the reader as someone who is exhausted. Yet it is also told that he is a man of dreams and someone who finds hope for the future in those dreams. But he also sees himself as vital to the trade of New England which is the territory for selling any move would be an affront to his pride. Part of his pride is the pride of beeing a Loman, a pride that he hopes all of the family will share.
Willy thinks that his son Biff could be big in no time he bases this opinion on his past knowledge of Biff, from Biff`s school days. But Biff is now 34 and without regular work. Willy seems unable to face the fact that Biff will never become a great man. Everything that brings joy to Willy is associated to the Past and connected to the past are memories of Biff. Willy Loman has the same attitude towards Biff in the present as he used to have in the past, when he could play the role of the father figure succesfully and that is why he advised Biff in the past just as he tries to advice him in the present. This return to the past in Willy`s mind occures because the family is all important to him and partly because he is becoming deranged: as the play progresses we see him come to the conclusion that life is not worth living, that he and the family would be better if he were dead. In the past willy was able to convince them - and himself - of the great worth of selling and of his own personal esteem. One of Willy`s basic beliefs is that it is necessary to be liked. He says that to succeed in business is a matter of personality. Willy has also always been a figure of several faces, in all of which he believes: to the boys, he must be the successul father, to Linda the Provider, and to homself the great salesman. He realises, though, that he isn`t the great salesman that he pretends to be.
Money once more definies success. By losing his job Willy has let everybody down, most of all himself. What Willy has to be is `a man`. Homebuilding and providing for the family is a part of a man`s duty - without a job Willy can do neither so his pride, which is very important for him, is really hurt. The chief source of Willy`s pride is Biff, Willy lives for the day when he will have the world at his feet. This scene is only a dream because Biff will never be a successful businessman. But Willy doesn`t want to know anything about the truth and so he doesn`t listen to Biff who is trying to impress reality upon him.
After Willy learns the truth his life becomes meaningless. Although he still feels that he has to provide for his family, he can no longer do so from his work, so the idea of suicide occurs to him, because if he dies the money from his insurance policy wii provide financial support for his family. Even at this stage, Biff is at the center of his thoughts: he will be able to use the money to secure a good future for himself.
The exhausted, idealistic man who had visions of a great future for his sons doesn`t in the end comes to terms with reality, but retains his hopes - to Willy death is the only answer.
Throughout the play Willy is a man who is portrayed as someone who cannot face up to reality, but despite this, Willy is liked by the characters of the play.
Biff hasn`t found himself, despite his mature years. He is less self - assured than his brother Happy and his lack of self - assurence stems from two things: the uncertainty about his father`s attitude towards him, and his doubts about his own life and future.
Biff has spend most of his time drifting from job to job. He is satisfied neither with the life in the city nor with the life in the country. Biff is a man who hasn`t found his place in society, but he also realises that he doesn`t fit in any of the openings that society has made. Now this represents a great change in Biff.
Biff was a good sportsman at school, popular, and the star of the side, he is also seen as genuinely admiring Willy and he beliefs in Willy`s dreams.
But his attitude goes through a dramatic change. When you see Biff in the present, we see a man unsure of himself, unsue of Willy and unsure of the relationship with him. As a schoolboy he loved and admired Willy, the discovery that Willy was having an affair with the woman brings home the truth to Biff. Biff never recovers from this descovery of Willy`s falsity. Willy is falsable and Biff has been brought shockingly to this fact. Biff`s reaction is extreme - he abandons his school career, his games and indeed any ambition he had formerly. Biff could be blamed for allowing Willy to die, but he refuses to live a lie, for him the dream is dead and the reality of everyday life must be faced.
Happy has very much more confidence than Biff. He has tried to conform to the demands of the city and is a moderate success. He likes to think of himself as more than he actually is but he preserves with his job, hoping for promotion. In his youth, Happy had always been much less successful than Biff but the power he has over women, combined with the knowledge that he has triumphed in some way over a superior increases his self-esteem. He has his own dreams, to become rich like his uncle Ben, to be able to retire Willy for life, but reality catches up with him too. It is Willy who points out that he is too fond of women, of cars and of his appartment to do anything but carry on his life as it is. Happy´s main weakness is his inability to resist women. A conquest gives him a feeling of power, and takes over from anything else. The scene in the restaurant is a good sample for this.
Typically Happy hasn´t learned the lesson of Willy`s death, retaining the same beliefs and ideals that he had before. He hasn`t learned his true position - he remains the Loman that he always was, incapable of interpreting the message of Willy`s failure.
Linda tries to share in Willy`s ideals, knowing that she is powerless to help. She offers Willy support when he feels he has failed in his selling. To her Willy is the best: a man who works and tries and has pride. Her sons treatment of Willy angers her and her loyality is a trait that cannot be over emphasised; she encourages and supports Willy, at the same time keeping a careful check on the finances of the house, and at all times weighing the expenditure against the income. This practical side of her is connected with her loyality, as she never pushes Willy into trying for more, knowing that he forces himself to the limit anyway. She dreams of a comfortable future without uncertainty. She tried to understand Willy but failed , her last words are about the home: her mind fucuses on her surroundings, and the need to make them as comfortable as possible.
Uncle Ben should be an example for Willy`s sons to follow. He has been a ruthless businessman rich and adventurous. Willy is impressed by him, emphasising to Biff and Happy that Ben is a Loman, That they can achieve what Ben has achieved. Willy sees Ben as a symbol of success and Ben gave Willy the advice to `never fight fair` because that is the only way to succeed.
Bernard is the opposite to Biff. While Biff was out being successful on the football field, Bernard was passing exams. He is dismissed by Willy as an anaemic, a boy never likely to grow in a successful man. Willy`s outburst against Bernard, that he is a worm turns out to be ironic. Bernard becomes respected, rich and popular.
Charley, like Bernard, remains sympathetic towards the Lomans despite Willy``s insults. He is a man of few words, and they respect him. Charley hurts Willy`s pride as he offers him a job, but this is out of genuine concern for Willy, as is this attempt to bring him down to earth, to face reality.
In the end Charley remains as powerless as the others to help Willy; he may be Willy`s best friend but he can offer only a financial solution to Willy`s problems: he can never solve Willy`s inner problems.