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Miller: Death of a Salesman

5. Act I – “The Loman brothers, eh?”

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In this module, we read through the next part of Act I, in which Biff and Happy chat to each other in their bedroom (pp. 6-9). In particular, we focus on: (i) what we learn about Biff and Happy from the stage directions that introduce them; (ii) the theme of dreams and reality; (iii) the importance (once again) of smells – the “scent” of Happy’s sexuality (cf. Stanley Kowalski’s masculine aura in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire); (iv) the extent to which Biff and Happy are “lost”, and the play’s interest in what people who are “lost” or who have “[turned their] face towards defeat” actually do; (v) Biff and Happy’s relationship with Willy, and their attitude to woman; (vi) Biff’s dismay at the prospect of a ‘normal’ job alongside his admission that “that’s how you build a future”; (vii) Biff’s attraction to working outside, with nature; his nostalgic view of America; (viii) the extent to which Biff is “an idealist” (as Happy says) and the play’s reflection on whether this is a good or bad thing; (ix) the theme of loneliness; and (x) Biff and Happy’s plan to “go out West” and “buy a ranch”, and the pun on Loman/Lehman.


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.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act I – “The Loman brothers, eh?” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act I – “The Loman brothers, eh?”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,

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