In his play, Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller employs many symbols to illustrate the themes of success and failure. They include the rubber hose, the tape recorder, and the seeds for the garden. These symbols represent Willy's final, desperate attempts to be successful and the failure he cannot escape.
The rubber hose represents both success and failure. It is attached to the gas main in Willy's house and provides him with the opportunity to commit suicide. Willy sees this as a way to finally do something for his family to make up for years of disappointment. He will no longer be a burden to them when he is gone, and they will remember him in a positive light. Yet Willy cannot even commit suicide successfully. His attempt is a failure, so he lies to his family and denies that he was going to kill himself. His wife Linda, who finds the hose, knows what he was going to do with it, as does Biff. When confronted by Biff, Willy not only denies that he was going to use the hose, but also denies ever seeing it before. Instead of being remembered as a successful businessman who died, Willy is seen by his family as a failure who cannot even commit suicide or tell the truth.
Another important symbol is Howard's tape recorder. It represents the many material objects wealthy businessmen could provide for their families and for themselves. Willy wanted this lifestyle; he wanted "something he could lay his hands on" (Miller pg. ). It would not be enough to just be successful; Willy wanted to be able to show people material representations of his success. The tape recorder shows that Howard has reached this level of success. Yet while the recorder symbolizes ...
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...o could acquire such technical wonders. Even if he could afford them for himself and for his family as other businessmen could, he couldn't figure out how to work them because he did not change with the times. Finally, Willy hoped to show his family that he could do something right and give them a little pleasure by planting seeds in the backyard. He hoped that these seeds would grow into a wonderful garden for all of them to enjoy. Then his family would appreciate him. But the garden fails, as does Willy.
Willy Loman wants to be a successful businessman that his family can be proud of. The hose, tape recorder and seeds represent just a few of his attempts to do this. Yet as with everything in Willy's life, what initially stands for hope ends up symbolizing failure.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: The Viking Press 1988
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