Death of a Salesman Characters

Willy Loman: Willy is the main character of the play and often considered its tragic hero.  The sixty-something failing salesman grows increasingly insane throughout Death of A Salesman, eventually ending his life in suicide.  Willy tries to persuade himself and others that he and his sons are successful, but in the end, Willy is unable to live up to his own expectations (and those of his rich brother Ben, who expects Willy to do much more with his life than he has).  All in all, Willy is little more than a failure and a crazed lunatic living in the past.  Many critics, however, believe that Miller has portrayed Willy as a tragic hero.

Linda Loman: Linda is Willy’s wife and the boys’ mother.  Throughout the play, she serves as the enabler for Willy to live in his fantasy world.  She tries to protect Willy from the harsh reality of their lives because she finds it too hard to get to the root of his problems.

Biff Loman: Biff is the grown-up son of Willy and Linda Loman.  He has gone from job to job, never finding any lasting happiness or success.  This displeases Willy, who, after never finding success himself, places the burden of success on the shoulders of Biff.  Eventually Biff realizes “what a ridiculous lie [his] whole life has been,” seeing that his father has immersed himself in nothing but illusions.

Happy Loman: Happy is the younger brother of Biff who also can’t find success or happiness.  After living in the shadow of Biff throughout his childhood, Happy tries to mask his lack of self-confidence by surrounding himself with women and pretending that all is well.  After his father dies, he tries to carry on his unrealistic notions of success.

Charley: Charley is Willy’s neighbor and only friend.  He offers Willy a job when the old salesman is fired, but Willy can’t bring himself to work for Charley, since this would be admitting failure.  Throughout the play, Charley tries to give Willy constructive criticism, hoping to get him on the right track.  Thus, Charley symbolizes the reality that Willy never acknowledges.

Bernard: Bernard is Charley’s son and a childhood friend of Biff.  Unlike the Lomans, Bernard is rooted in reality and eventually becomes a successful lawyer.  In many ways, Willy sees Bernard as the competition to Biff (as he sees Charley as his own competition).

Ben: Ben is Willy’s rich, older brother who left him at an early age to make his fortune in Alaska and Africa (the wild frontiers).  Many critics believe that Ben is nothing more than a figment of Willy’s imagination, yet to Willy, Ben is very real.  Ben is the driving force behind Willy’s idea of success.  Willy feels that, like his older brother who has struck it rich with diamond mines in Africa, he must establish himself as a rich and powerful businessman in New England.  So in many ways, Ben is the symbol of the standard of success that proves too hard for Willy and his sons to match.

Howard: Howard becomes the owner of Willy’s company after his father dies.  Howard is not sympathetic with Willy when the salesman asks for a New York job, telling him that there’s no place for him in New York.  Miller uses Howard to represent the cruel nature of capitalism.

The Woman: Willy’s misstress. When Biff sees her in his father’s hotel room, he loses respect for his father and his dream of going to college dies.