Death of a Salesman: Characters
Willy Loman - The salesman of the title, and the husband of Linda. We never learn what he sells, but he has thoroughly bought into a version of the American Dream in which charisma and luck count for more than diligence or wisdom. All his life, he represents himself to his family as being constantly on the verge of huge success, while privately wondering why he has not risen to the heights that he believes he is capable of reaching. Eventually, this schism between his dreams and reality results in mental collapse, in which he relives significant moments from his past without learning the lessons of that past. He invests all his hope in his sons and is disappointed in the way they have turned out, not realizing that his shallow dream of success has influenced both Biff's disillusionment and Happy's shallowness. His death represents a final transformation of himself into a commodity—a life insurance policy—for the benefit of his family, whose love he failed to fully recognize while he was still with them.
Biff Loman - Willy and Linda's elder son. He has always been in the shadow of his father's expectations for him, beginning with his starred career as a high school football player and prospective college student. At that impressionable age, he witnesses Willy's affair with the The Woman, which is enough to shake his faith in everything his father has ever told him. When the play begins, he is grasping for answers in his life, having worked as a farm laborer for years and still unable to meet his father's standards of success. In the course of the play, he has the revelation that he, like his father, is not destined for greatness. But he realizes that he can still achieve happiness through his own, simpler version of the American Dream: working with his hands in wide-open spaces, doing the things that fulfill him. He represents Willy's better, more honest nature, which Willy tragically turns away from.
Linda Loman - Willy's wife. She remains devoted to him even as he betrays her at two major points during the play: committing adultery with The Woman as a younger man, and committing suicide with the deluded belief that he will solve the family's problems by doing so. As the person closest to Willy, she realizes that he is trying to kill himself, and exhorts her sons to show him more love. However, she is as responsible for his death as any of the other characters, as her encouragement fuels Willy in his doomed pursuit of glory.
Happy Loman - Willy and Linda's younger son. He is the assistant to an assistant manager at a department store, and is always willing to do whatever is convenient: be duplicitous to his family, take bribes at work, or sleep with the girlfriends of his colleagues. At the end of the play he resolves to carry on Willy's legacy by making as much money as possible, which is a twisted misinterpretation of what Willy's death meant. In the importance that Happy places on getting ahead, and in his readiness to delude himself, he represents the worst aspects of Willy's nature.
Ben Loman - Willy's adventurous brother, who has just died in Africa when the play begins. At moments of great stress or doubt, Willy converses with Ben's ghost. Ben is the embodiment of the most old-fashioned aspect of the American Dream, the idea that a man can set out into the wilderness by himself and come back wealthy. Willy regrets not following Ben's path and testing himself against rugged natural settings. Yet he barely knew Ben, and Ben showed contempt for him on his few visits to Willy's home.
Charley - Willy's neighbor, a steady businessman. He is a constant friend to Willy through the years, though Willy is quick to take offense whenever Charley tries to bring Willy's unrealistic dreams down to earth. Charley foresees Willy's destruction and tries to save him by offering him a job. He gives the final elegy about what it meant for Willy to live and die as a salesman.
Bernard - Charley's son, he is studious and hardworking. As a boy in high school, he warns Biff not to flunk math, a warning both Biff and Willy ignore. He grows up to be a successful lawyer who is about to argue a case before the Supreme Court.
The Woman - Willy's mistress in Boston, during the time that Biff and Happy were in high school. She is a secretary to one of the buyers, and picked Willy as a lover because, it seems, she is able to exploit him for gifts.
Howard Wagner - Willy's boss and the son of Frank Wagner, who founded the company for which Willy works. A cold, selfish man, he inherits his success without building anything himself. He refuses to take the personal association between Willy and his father into account when he tells Willy there is no place for him at the New York office. He represents the new, impersonal face of the sales business.
Stanley - A waiter at Frank's Chop House, who is friendly with Happy but has sympathy for Willy's plight.
Miss Forsythe - A call girl Biff and Happy met at Frank's Chop House.
Letta - A call girl friend of Miss Forsythe.
Jenny - Charley's secretary.
Bill Oliver - Biff's former boss. Though crucial to the plot, he doesn't appear onstage.