Metaphors and Symbols in Death of a Salesman

Seeds/Garden: Miller uses these motifs throughout his play to symbolize Willy’s need and desire for success.  They also represent the legacy that Willy never leaves with his family.  Though Willy attempts to plant his garden near the end of the play, this is too little too late.  His life has already been a failure and he has left nothing remarkable by which to be remembered.

The Jungle: The jungle, or woods, represents the chaotic yet rewarding nature of life.  Ben tells Willy, “the jungle is dark but full of diamonds.” So like Ben, Willy hopes to strike it rich in the business world of New England.  Yet Willy never finds the diamonds (success/happiness), and he leaves life without fortune or fame.  In many ways, the jungle also represents the twentieth century free market economy (and the American Dream ideal) that Miller often criticized.

Biff’s stealing: This symbolizes the inherent impossibility of Willy’s strategy for success.  Willy doesn’t believe in working one’s way up the ladder of success; he thinks that since he’s a Loman he should be automatically granted managerial status.  Thus Biff, following the example of his father, hopes to “steal” his way to the top instead of working for it.
Stockings: These represent Willy’s adultery as well as the “phoniness” of Willy’s existence.  Though Willy says he’s doing all he can for his family, he actually gives Linda’s stockings to his prostitute.

Tennis: Bernard’s reference to tennis ironically proves his success and the Lomans’ failure, since Oliver is suppose to give Biff and Happy a big deal in the sporting goods business.  Though Bernard’s future doesn’t revolve around sports, he has access to tennis rackets while the Lomans (who’s lives do revolve around this sporting goods idea) don’t have this access.