The Theme of Denial in Miller’s Death as a Salesmen


Arthur Millar’s play of ‘Death of Salesman presents a series of confrontations, arguments montage of memories and dreams all that make the complete life of Willy Loman’s life. He is trying to live by all means the version of the American dream and to provide success in his family through during success and failures throughout his life. One of the dominant themes in the play is the theme of denial. Denial is experienced by major characters within the play, including Loman and his family members. This study will provide an assessment of how the theme of denial is developed within the play.

Denial is seen when Willy goes to Howard to see if he can get a chance to represent the business in Boston . However, he is denied the opportunity on the basis that he needs to goal and rest and that the Howard does not want him to represent them. This leaves willy amused and shattered. He comes to his reality that success is not part of him. He has now lost a job, which he has seen as the only chance for success in his life.

“HOWARD (rolling up the cord): Willy, look…

WILLY: I’ll go to Boston.

HOWARD: Willy, you can’t go to Boston for us.

WILLY: Why can’t I go?

HOWARD: I don’t want you to represent us. I’ve meant to tell you for a long time now.

WILLY: Howard, are you firing me? HOWARD: I think you need a good long rest, Willy. WILLY: Howard…

HOWARD: And when you feel better, come back, and we’ll see if we can work something out.

WILLY: But I gotta earn money (Miller,1949, 59-60)

The above passage also indicates another instance of denial when Howard informs Willy that he needs to go home and have some rest. He is concerned about Willy’s mental health. However, Willy asserts that he wants to make money, indicating his possession with the desire to be successful and, and living in dreams rather than reality. He does not accept that this has greatly affected his mental health, and it’s the possession that will make him achieve his goal of success.

Denial is also seen when Howard asks him where is his sons and why they can’t give him a hand, he goes back to his fictional world of success and claims that they are working on a big deal. First, he denies his current position, that his family is not financially healthy as he wants to put it. Howard claims ‘This is no time for false pride, Willy. You go to your sons, and you tell them” (Miller,1949, pgs 60). Howard’s words also indicate that Willy has been denied by his sons and, for he should not be in such condition with their help/. He is concerned that he needs more support for mental health.

The theme of denial is evident in the entire family. In act two,  we see how sap[porting willy and his dream has caused his wife a denial. Linda wants the best for His husband and his family as well. Although she knows that the idea of holding to the American dream is a foolish one, she has to encourage her husband to maintain his mental health.At this point, she feels that nature has denied her the desire she longs for. She is not happy that happy about the life her husband is living, so she tries to reinforce actual life and reality in him, though in vain. This is seen in the quote, “ Oh, I’m not worried, darling, because this morning he left in such high spirits, it was like the old days! I’m not afraid anymore” Miller,1949 pg. 53).  Her failing efforts to restore reality in her husband leaves her suffering internally but p[retending to be fine, to keep the family intact and ensure the success of his son too.

The theme of denial is also depicted in Bennard’s comment after Biff shows him the logo of the University of Virginia on his shoes.

BERNARD (wiping his glasses): Just because he printed the University of Virginia on his sneakers doesn’t mean they’ve got to graduate him. Uncle Willy!

WILLY (angrily): What’re you talking about? With scholarships to three universities, they’re gonna flunk him?

BERNARD: But I heard Mr. Birnbaum say…  (Miller, 1949, pg.20)

This indicates that society has its way of making decisions and can deny you an opportunity that you think you so much deserve and qualify for. Although Biff has three scholarships and looks much deserving of being in the Univesity, there are chances that he can be still flunked, and therefore he should not be that proud of being in Univesity. The society has its way of making decisions and can lock you out, so one has no absolute right or guarantee of anything.

Willy’s life itself is full of denials. He denies living in a dream and thinks that he has no mental issues. However, the truth is that Willy is not at all living a real life. Also, he claims to be the best salesman and known by all; however the truth is that he is a mediocre salesman and not as famous as he claims to be. When foretelling about his death, which he becomes to meet it tragically after he is laid off, he claims that his burial will be massive. “Ben, that funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the oldtimers with the strange license plates — that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized — I am known” (Miller, 40)


Millar used the theme of denial to show what success is and how an obsession with success can be fatal. Willy leaves in the world of an obsession of success and holding the American dream, denying the real life. This later makes him take his life after he is denied a job for salesperson by Howard. If he had not lived in denial and was happy with who he currently was, he would not have met his death, or even lose the job. It shows that denial is costly. For one to be successful, It is, therefore, good to be happy and accept one’s current state.



Miller, A. (1949). Death of a salesman. New York: Viking Press.