The Woman in Death of a Salesman: Analysis & Significance

The Woman in Death of a Salesman: Analysis & Significance
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  • 0:00 Two Brief Appearances
  • 1:05 What (Little) We Know
  • 3:04 Ruined
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Courtney Bailey Parker
In this lesson, you will learn the significance of the Woman in Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'. Although she is an unnamed, minor character, the Woman nonetheless serves as a key player in revealing Willy Loman's false vision of himself.

Two Brief Appearances

The Woman appears only twice in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, but both of her scenes carry huge significance for the plot of the play. In her first scene in Act I, Willy Loman's interactions with the Woman in a hotel room reveal his extramarital affair to the audience. She makes her second appearance in Act II, during which Biff Loman discovers the Woman and Willy in a hotel room together. Her second scene in Death of a Salesman is the turning point for Biff, whose grandiose image of his father as a god-like figure comes crashing down when he finds him in the act of adultery.

Indeed, Willy Loman's adulterous betrayal of his wife, Linda Loman, with the Woman has a double effect of making the audience both despise and pity the play's tragic protagonist. While we hate Willy's actions, we cannot help but feel sorry for him when he confides to the Woman about his perpetual loneliness. In the best plays, no character is wasted. Miller's the Woman is an example of a minor character playing a major role in the progression of a drama.

What (Little) We Know

Because the Woman spends such a small amount of time onstage, the audience has only fleeting chances to gather information about her. Based on her conversations with Willy, we learn that she's likely on the administrative staff for one of Willy's buyers in Boston. We also learn that Willy's gift to her, supposedly in exchange for their hotel room trysts, is new stockings, a clothing item that Linda Loman is constantly repairing at home. The choice of stockings is significant because their literal function is to create a veneer over the flaws of one's legs, an effect similar to the lies Willy accumulates in order to deceive himself and his family.

Additionally, the Woman is nearly always associated with laughter, an auditory cue that is both heartbreaking and uplifting for Willy Loman. Immediately before we meet the Woman, for example, Willy expresses his fear to Linda that his business associates laugh at him because of his bumbling manner of telling jokes and his physical size. In the moments before the lights shift to reveal the Woman dressing in Willy's hotel room, we hear the Woman's laughter. Because of the vulnerable conversation we've just witnessed, we begin our introduction to the Woman with a sense that she, too, is laughing at Willy.

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