Death of a Salesman Overview - Amstud 2010

January 19, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Performing Arts, Drama
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Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller

The American Dream: At what cost?

About the Playwright: Arthur Miller QuickTime™ and a decompressor are needed to see this picture.

 Born in New York City on October 17, 1915  Began as playwright at University of Michigan  Pulitzer Prize winner for Death of A Salesman  Double winner of New York Drama Critics

Circle Award

Miller’s Legal Troubles  Suspected of being a Communist

sympathizer  Death seen as un-American  Miller has troubles with the HUAC/McCarthy  1953 - Miller denied a passport  1955 - HUAC pressures NYC not to allow Miller to make a film for them on juvenile delinquency

The Saga Continues...  1957 - Miller convicted of contempt of

Congress for refusing to name names And then...  1958 - US Court of Appeals overturns his contempt conviction

Miller’s Assertions  Death is not a “document of


 Death is not un-American; it celebrates

the life of Willy Loman.

 Miller believes that tragedy is

“inherently optimistic.”

From Classical Tragedy  Unity of time -- the

final 24 hours in Willy’s life  Unity of action - the play is complete unto itself  the tragic hero…with a twist

Also from Classical Tragedy  the hero’s traits, esp. being a mixture of

good and bad and being of higher moral worth than others in society  the concept of the hero’s flaw  the hero’s capacity to willingly endure suffering  the catharsis of the audience

Characteristics of the Tragic Hero "A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall." ~Aristotle Six Characteristics of the Tragic Hero:  Nobility or wisdom (by birth)  A flaw or error of judgment (Hamartia)  A reversal of fortune (perepetia)  The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own actions (anagnorisis)  The audience must feel dramatic irony for the character.  The character's fate must be greater than deserved.

A few key traits of the T.H.  Usually evokes empathy…  Has a weakness, usually pride  Something has gone awry in his/her life  Usually faced with a very serious decision he

must make  Noble in nature  Must understand his mistakes…  Likely doomed from the start…  Begins his “journey” as no better or worse than the rest of us…

The Common Man as Hero Miller’s thoughts:  “Everyone knows Willy Loman.” (allusion to the morality play, Everyman.)  “The common man is suitable for a tragic hero.”  Willy is meant to be seen as greater and better (at least in potential) than his society.

Miller’s Modern Tragedy  The  The  The  The

hero is a common man. hero struggles against society. hero meets his downfall. downfall is a result of an incongruity between his own perception of the world and reality.  The hero achieves a kind of redemption in his downfall.

Initial Themes  Addresses family conflict in post World War II

America  Takes a close look at the price paid for the “American Dream”  Charges America with creating a capitalist materialism centered around a postwar economy  This materialism skewed the original view of the “American Dream” as envisioned by the founding fathers

Death of a Salesman and the American Dream

Death of a Salesman is considered by many to be the quintessential modern literary work on the American dream, a term created by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America. This is somewhat ironic, given that it is such a dark and frustrated play. The idea of the American dream is as old as America itself: the country has often been seen as an empty frontier to be explored and conquered. Unlike the Old World, the New World had no social hierarchies, so a man could be whatever he wanted, rather than merely having the option of doing what his father did. The American Dream is closely tied up with the literary works of another author, Horatio Alger. This author grew famous through his allegorical tales which were always based on the rags-to-riches model. He illustrated how through hard work and determination, penniless boys could make a lot of money and gain respect in America.

Themes in Death  Willy Loman as a modern tragic hero  An individual’s search for meaning and

purpose in life (not Willy, but Biff)  failure in pursuit of success  Man’s need to “leave a thumbprint somewhere in the world.”  An examination of the materialistic values of society

More themes in Death  The love of a father for a son, and a

son (Biff) for a father  The conflict between father and son  The question of who shall wield the power?  The problem of communication

Add: Themes  Abandonment: The not-so-positive

transient nature of mankind  Betrayal: Willy’s primary obsession


Symbols  Seeds: opportunity for growth, but will not

always germinate.

 Diamonds: Material & tangible wealth

 The Woman’s Stockings: betrayal and


 The Rubber Hose: Suicide  Alaska, Africa…The American West:

success and failure…escape

Act 1 An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.  How does this serve to foreshadow Willy

Loman’s life?

Major Characters  Willy Loman  Biff Loman  Linda Loman  Happy Loman  Charley  Bernard  Ben

 The Woman  Howard Wagner  Stanley  Jenny  Miss Forsythe and


Willy Loman  Father, traveling salesman  Believes in chasing the American

Dream although he never achieves it  Pins his failed hopes on his sons, Biff and Happy  Becomes mentally ill when pressure of reality crushes his illusions

Biff Loman  Elder son, 34 years old  High school standout-football star, many

male friends, and female admirers  Academic failures lead to a life of kleptomania  Represents Willy’s vulnerable, tragic side  Fails to reconcile his father’s expectations

Linda Loman  Loving, devoted wife  Naïve and realistic of Willy’s hopes  Emotionally supportive of Willy  Willy’s strength until his tragic


Happy Loman  Younger son, 32 years old  In Biff’s shadow all his life  Relentless sex and professional drive  Represents Willy’s sense of self

importance and ambition  Often engages in bad business ethics

Charley  The Lomans’ next door neighbor  Successful businessman

 Often gives Willy financial support  Described sadly as Willy’s only

friend although Willy is jealous of Charley’s success

Bernard  Charley’s son  Successful lawyer  Often mocked by Willy for being

studious  Compared to Loman sons by Willy; they do not measure up to his success

Ben  Willy’s deceased older brother  Independently wealthy

 Appears to Willy in daydreams  Willy’s symbol of success that he

desperately wants for his sons

The Woman  Willy’s mistress  Her admiration for Willy is an ego boost  Biff catches Willy with her in a hotel room  Biff loses faith in his father due to infidelity

So…What do you think The Woman symbolizes?

Biff and Willy’s Relationship (p. 54) When you write you’re coming, he’s all smiles, and talks about the future, and…he’s just wonderful. And then the closer you seem to come, the more shaky he gets, and then, by the time you get here, he’s arguing, and he seems angry at you… Why are you so hateful to each other?

The Dream is Vanishing… (p. 58) He’s been trying to kill himself… That all the accidents in the last year…weren’t…weren’t…accidents. And behind the fuse box…it happened to fall out…was a length of rubber pipe…just short.

Hmmm… (p.72) You wait, kid, before it’s all over, we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…

What is important about this connection?

Envisioning the Dream (p. 105) Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something! What does Happy mean by this? What does this say about Everyman?

Willy’s Dream Begins to Vanish… WILLY: I'm not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There's a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today. BIFF (shocked): How could you be?

WILLY: I was fired, and I'm looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven't got a story left in my head, Biff. So don't give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested. Now what've you got so say to me? (p. 107)

The Dream…but… (p. 122) Willy: “I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground…” What’s going on with Willy at this point?

Quote from Biff “I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” “Why am I becoming what I don’t want to be?” (p. 132)

Requiem (p. 137) Linda: “Why didn’t anybody come? But where are all the people he knew…?” “It’s a rough world, Linda…” What parallel jumps out at you and grabs you by your literary throat?!

Requiem…the dream (p. 138) Biff: He had all the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong… (p. 139) Happy: He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have…to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him

Freedom (p. 139) Linda: Willy, I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. We’re free and clear. We’re free. We’re free.

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