Is The Primary Theme Of Death Of A Salesman Is The Conflict Between Father And Son And Between First-Born And Second-Born Sons?

Do you agree that the primary theme of Death of a Salesman is the conflict between father and son and between first-born and second-born sons?

I agree that the primary theme of Death of a Salesman is the conflict between father and son and between first born and second-born sons. Miller’s book describes the life of a salesman Willy Loman who strives to make his life better as well as his family’s. Suffering from mid-life crisis, Willy finds himself in a state of sheer frustration after having failed to accomplish his life dreams as a salesman. He works tirelessly to ensure his two sons; Biff and Happy prosper in life despite having a misguided idea of how to achieve that. He puts all his hopes on his first son Biff and hopes he will live to become prosperous and live the American dream.

The relationship between Willy and Biff is coupled with tension because Willy demands a lot from Biff as his first son. In any typically situation, people always have different views in life and this seems not to be the case according to this play. Willy subjects his son to live a life he deems right without giving a second thought on Biff’s own thoughts. Respect compels Biff to live up to his father’s ideals but their relationship is affected after Biff finds out his father is cheating on his mother. His dream of becoming a football star is shuttered and he decides to run away from home. He no longer believes that having an athletic body and good looks will bring him success. He loses focus as he struggles and fails a couple of times while at the same time wondering if indeed he can become what his father wants him to become. Resentment engulfs between Biff and Willy. Biff begins to hate his father for misguiding him and putting undue pressure on him. Willy on the other side begins to resent Biff for not living up to his expectations as his first son.


Willy Loman is responsible for the conflict that arises between Biff and Happy. While he is portrayed as a good father, bringing up his children with love despite giving them misguided directions. His flawed lifestyle and the manifold contradictions that make up his character is what make him a bad parent (Miller, 1975). At some point he even encourages stealing and justifies Biff’s actions that make him go to prison. The resentment between the two sons is ignited by the fact that Biff is considered more special than Happy. He is his father’ favorite son who gets approval of everything he does and all the showers of love while Happy is considered second and worthless of the amount of love shown to Biff. The fact that Willy plans for Biff’s success while ignoring Happy, makes the two sons resent each other.

This tension between the father and his sons and that between his sons forces Biff to run away from home to seek his own fortune somewhere else. The family is torn and Willy is left desperate with only one option left, to take away his life. Willy decides to commit suicide; a decision he makes so that the insurance can reimburse Biff and make him achieve the American dream he wants his son to achieve. In essence, therefore, the play revolves around conflict, that between the father and sons and that between the sons which is what make the aforementioned the primary theme for the play.

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