An insecure, self-deluded traveling salesman. Willy believes wholeheartedly in the American Dream of easy success and wealth, but he never achieves it. Nor do his sons fulfill his hope that they will succeed where he has failed. When Willy’s illusions begin to fail under the pressing realities of his life, his mental health begins to unravel. The overwhelming tensions caused by this disparity, as well as those caused by the societal imperatives that drive Willy, form the essential conflict of Death of a Salesman.
Willy’s thirty-four-year-old elder son. Biff led a charmed life in high school as a football star with scholarship prospects, good male friends, and fawning female admirers. He failed math, however, and did not have enough credits to graduate. Since then, his kleptomania has gotten him fired from every job that he has held. Biff represents Willy’s vulnerable, poetic, tragic side. He cannot ignore his instincts, which tell him to abandon Willy’s paralyzing dreams and move out West to work with his hands. He ultimately fails to reconcile his life with Willy’s expectations of him.
Read an in-depth analysis of Biff Loman.
Willy’s loyal, loving wife. Linda suffers through Willy’s grandiose dreams and self-delusions. Occasionally, she seems to be taken in by Willy’s self-deluded hopes for future glory and success, but at other times, she seems far more realistic and less fragile than her husband. She has nurtured the family through all of Willy’s misguided attempts at success, and her emotional strength and perseverance support Willy until his collapse.
Willy’s thirty-two-year-old younger son. Happy has lived in Biff’s shadow all of his life, but he compensates by nurturing his relentless sex drive and professional ambition. Happy represents Willy’s sense of self-importance, ambition, and blind servitude to societal expectations. Although he works as an assistant to an assistant buyer in a department store, Happy presents himself as supremely important. Additionally, he practices bad business ethics and sleeps with the girlfriends of his superiors.
Willy’s next-door neighbor. Charley owns a successful business and his son, Bernard, is a wealthy, important lawyer. Willy is jealous of Charley’s success. Charley gives Willy money to pay his bills, and Willy reveals at one point, choking back tears, that Charley is his only friend.
Bernard is Charley’s son and an important, successful lawyer. Although Willy used to mock Bernard for studying hard, Bernard always loved Willy’s sons dearly and regarded Biff as a hero. Bernard’s success is difficult for Willy to accept because his own sons’ lives do not measure up.
Willy’s wealthy older brother. Ben has recently died and appears only in Willy’s “daydreams.” Willy regards Ben as a symbol of the success that he so desperately craves for himself and his sons.
Willy’s mistress when Happy and Biff were in high school. The Woman’s attention and admiration boost Willy’s fragile ego. When Biff catches Willy in his hotel room with The Woman, he loses faith in his father, and his dream of passing math and going to college dies.
Willy’s boss. Howard inherited the company from his father, whom Willy regarded as “a masterful man” and “a prince.” Though much younger than Willy, Howard treats Willy with condescension and eventually fires him, despite Willy’s wounded assertions that he named Howard at his birth.
A waiter at Frank’s Chop House. Stanley and Happy seem to be friends, or at least acquaintances, and they banter about and ogle Miss Forsythe together before Biff and Willy arrive at the restaurant.
Miss Forsythe and Letta
Two young women whom Happy and Biff meet at Frank’s Chop House. It seems likely that Miss Forsythe and Letta are prostitutes, judging from Happy’s repeated comments about their moral character and the fact that they are “on call.”