“The essential tragedy of Willie was not his failure to business or his discovery of the arrival of
old age, but his surrender to false ideas or success during his entire life.”
Appearance (illusion) versus reality.
Materialism (acquiring things: refrigerator, car etc.)
Faults inherent in American society (faults that would drive a man to his impasse in his life –
Americans are always acquiring things, living for that dream of riches and success, always
concerned with appearance etc.)
The Stealing Motif:
Throughout the play, one sees that Willy Loman allows condones theft by his sons, especially
Biff with the foot- balls, the basketballs, the suit, Oliver’s pen stealing answers on tests from
Bernard. He overlooks this because he feel that all successful men at sometime or another steal
to get what they want and that it proves his sons are daring and fearless. Charley speaks the
truth when he says they are just “thieves.”
The Debts Motif:
Willy Loman is always one step ahead of creditors throughout his life. Whether it be payments
on the car, refrigerators, roof, or insurance. Willy never seems to own anything outright and
once he does own he item or thing in question, it is usually worn-out. Ironically, by the end of the
play, the house is owned outright, but Willy is all “used-up” and commits suicide. Willy, at sixty-
three, is all used up too. American society discards its Willies just as they discard their
Happy’s motif (losing weight – getting married) :
Happy is constantly competing with Biff for his father’s attention. In order to catch his father’s
eye when young, he always asks Willy if he has noticed that he is losing weight. Later on this
motif changes to “I’m setting married,” or “Pop, I’m going to retire you for life.” Hap’s problem is
that Willy ignores him despite his efforts. Happy in the end rejects Willy because Willy had
rejected him all his life.
Vital to New England Motif:
Willy repeats this motif constantly because he probably realizes that he cannot get a job in New
York permanently with the Wagner firm. He covers up by asserting his importance in the New
The Boxed-in or Nothing will grow here Motif:
Willy can get nothing to grow in his back yard because of the huge apartment complexes which
surround his house shutting out the sun. These apartment buildings close in on Willy just as his
life begins to close in on him. The more these things close in oh him, the more desperately Willy
tries to get something to grow in his backyard garden.
The Woods are Burning Motif:
This motif refers to the fact that Willy’s life is passing, that all his vitality has been used up and
that his ability to cope with it is failing.
The Flute Motif:
This occurs when ever Wily thinks of his past with his father – the father who left the family when
he was such a young boy – the father that Willy cannot remember and that he missed very much
while he was growing up.