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Miller: Death of a Salesman

10. Act I – “He’s been trying to kill himself”

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through the final part of Act I, from Linda’s revelation of Willy has been trying to kill himself (p.42) to the end of the Act (p.51). In particular, we focus on: (i) Linda’s revelation that Wily has been trying to kill himself (“He’s dying, Biff… He’s been trying to kill himself”, p. 42); (ii) the play’s reflection on working and having a strong work ethic – is it worth it?; (iii) Biff and Happy’s idea for a business selling sportswear down in Florida (“You and I, Biff – we have a line, the Loman Line”, p. 46); (iv) Willy’s enthusiasm for the idea, even after all he’s been through (“You guys together could absolutely lick the civilized world”, p. 47); (v) the mixture of past, present and future, Willy’s (failed) ambitions of the past, Biff and Happy’s (destined-to-fail) ambitions in the present; (vi) Willy’s reflection on “the Ebbets Field” game, and the contrast between Biff (“A star like that … can never really fade away!”, p. 51) and Willy (“The light on WILLY is fading”, p. 51); and (vii) the final image of Act 1 – Linda singing him to sleep as Biff finds the length of rubber tubing with which Willy has been thinking of killing himself.


In this nineteen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, literary and cultural context, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: Page numbers are based on the Penguin edition of the play (1998, ed. Christopher Bigsby). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both text and page numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act I – “He’s been trying to kill himself” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act I – “He’s been trying to kill himself”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,