Death of a Salesman Study Guide

Motifs

Motifs are elements of a story (dialogue, symbols, situations, etc.) that keep reappearing throughout. In Death of Salesman, Arthur Miller uses several motifs. They are:

The woods/jungle and diamonds: Uncle Ben is the character who deals with the motif of the jungle (sometimes referred to by Willy as 'the woods') and diamonds. These motifs are symbols. The jungle is symbolic of life, and diamonds of success. As Willy's life is crashing down around him, he says, "The woods are burning! I can't drive a car!" At the end of the play (and many other places as well) Uncle Ben refers to the jungle: "You must go into the jungle and fetch a diamond out."

The garden: The idea of planting a garden is a major motif in the play. Willy is always discussing the idea of planting a garden, in Act I on page 17 he says, "The grass don't grow anymore, you can't raise a carrot in the backyard." At the end of the play, one of his last acts in life is his futile attempt at planting seeds in the backyard of his fenced-in house. The garden is symbolic of Willy needing to leave something behind for people to remember him by. Something that people will think about and remember him as a great man. Willy never achieved success in life, and he also never planted his garden. (He does in the end of the play, but it is assumed that will not grow.)

Moon, stars: Willy is often seen looking and commenting on the stars or the moon. This is seen in the first act after a fight with Biff when Willy says, "Gee, look at the moon moving between the buildings." This motif is also seen elsewhere in the play.

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