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Miller: Death of a Salesman

7. Act I – "I did five hundred gross..."

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through the next part of Act I, in which we remain in the first of Willy’s ‘time-slips’, from the moment Linda enters to the moment Bernard and Linda list some of Biff’s misdemeanours – his theft of a football, the fact he is “too rough” with the girls, driving the car “without a license” (pp. 21-27). In particular, we focus on: (i) the sense in which things were going well at this point of time – if only for a moment; (ii) Willy and Linda’s contrasting attitudes to money – Willy vague, Linda precise; (iii) the contrast between how much Willy has earned (which keeps going down) and the bills that need to be paid (which keep getting added to); (iv) Willy’s moment of self-doubt (“Linda, people don’t seem to take to me”) and Linda’s reassurance – or is it a dismissal? (“Oh, don’t be foolish”); (v) the theme of loneliness, and the sound – then sight – of ‘the woman’ in Boston; (vi) the extent to which the audience’s sympathy shifts at this point in the play; (vii) the importance of silk stockings – which Willy gives to the woman, and which Linda mends at home; (viii) the piling-up of criticisms against Biff – his theft, the fact he is “too rough” with the girls, his driving the car without a license; and (ix) the end of the ‘time-slip’ and the return to the present (Willy in the kitchen in the middle of the night).


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 – "I did five hundred gross..." [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act I – "I did five hundred gross..."." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,