Sunday, December 9, 2012

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

1. Briefly summarize the plot of the novel you read, and explain how the narrative fulfills the author's purpose (based on your well-informed interpretation of same).

The play begins with Willy Loman returning to his house in Brooklyn after a failed sales trip. Linda, his wife, asks him to talk to his boss, Howard Wanger, about working in New York so he wouldn’t have to travel. Willy and Linda argue over their son Biff who, according to Willy, has yet to make something of himself. Willy departs to the kitchen as Biff and his younger brother, Happy, reminisce about their younger years. As Biff and Happy, dissatisfied with their lives, dream about buying a ranch out West, Willy begins to daydream. In Willy’s daydream he praises his sons, children in the dream, for washing his car. Still in the dream Willy confides in Biff and Happy that he is going to open his own business one day, even bigger than his neighbor’s, Charley. Charley’s son, Bernard enters looking for Biff, and Willy comments that although Bernard is smart, he is not “well liked”. A younger Linda enters and Willy boast about his hugely successful business trip. Linda, however, is able to coax out of him that the trip was only meagerly successful and soon he won’t be able to make payments on their appliances and car. From nowhere Willy hears the laughter of his mistress, which leads him off on another daydream, this time off her.
Willy soon fades from the daydream of his mistress back to his prior dream. Willy begins to fade from daydream to daydream and eventually shouts at his daydreams. Happy attempts to calm Willy down but Willy continues to shout. Willy begins to shout his regret about not going with his brother, Ben, to Alaska. Charley enters and they begin to play cards. Charley offers Willy a job but Willy refuses feeling the offer was more of an insult. Willy then imagines Ben entering and telling him he must catch the train soon to go to Alaska. Confused, Charley questions Willy who intern yells back at him. Charley leaves and Willy begins to slip off into daydreams once again.
Linda finds Willy outside and Biff and Happy begin to discuss Willy’s condition with their mother. Biff and Happy offer to take Willy to a nice restaurant that night.
The scene changes to Willy and Howard in Howard’s office. Willy tries to talk to Howard about working in New York and Howard, who appears rather uninterested, rejects the idea. Willy launches into a lengthy rant about Dave Singleman, a legendary salesman. Howard leaves with the remark that Willy should take sometime off and as Howard leaves the younger Linda, Ben, and Biff enter each talking of past events. Ben leaves and Bernard rushes in, eagerly awaiting Biff’s big football game. Charley enters to tease Willy about the game and Willy chases him off. The lights dim on this portion of the play.
Charley’s secretary asks Bernard to quiet down the still yelling Willy. Charley enters and sees Bernard off. Willy asks money that Charley usually loans him and Charley, again, offers Willy a job. Willy again takes this as an insult and again refuses.
Biff and Happy are chatting up girls at Frank’s Chop House and Biff tells Happy that he waited six hours for Bill Oliver and Oliver didn’t even recognize him. Biff wants to clear up the illusion that he was a salesman for Oliver but at that moment Willy enters and blurts out that he had been fired. Happy cuts in with remarks suggesting Biff’s success, and Willy eagerly waits good news. Biff yells at Willy for not being able to listen and again Willy drifts off into a dream. Only once Biff claims that he might be receiving money from Oliver and his partner does Willy return to reality. Biff becomes more irritated and shouts at Willy and in return Willy hits Biff. Biff and Happy argue about their father till both of them leave.
A flash back arises with Willy and his mistress flirting. A knock at the door causes the mistress to hide in the bathroom. Biff enters telling Willy that he failed math. Willy tries to usher him out but when Biff imitates his math teacher’s lisp the mistress laughs and Biff uncovers the affair.
Back again in the Loman kitchen Happy enters looking for Willy. He finds Biff and Linda and Linda begins to scold the boys, slapping away Happy’s flowers. She yells at them for abandoning Willy and Biff leave to find Willy. Biff finds Willy planting seeds by flashlight and supposedly talking to Ben about a $20,000 proposition. Biff brings Willy inside and Willy once again becomes angry over Biff’s failings. Happy attempts to calm Biff but Biff and Willy erupt into a full blown argument. Everyone in the house hold eventually goes to bed except Willy who renews his conversation with Ben. Linda calls out to Ben and all anyone can hear is Willy’s car speeding away.
Linda and Happy stand in shock after Willy’s poorly attended funeral. Biff states that Willy had the wrong dreams and Charley defends Willy as a victim of his profession. Biff invites Happy to go out West with him but Happy decides to stay in New York. Linda asks Willy for forgiveness for being unable to cry. She beings to sob, repeating “we’re free….”
2. Succinctly describe the theme of the novel. Avoid cliches.

The theme of the novel is the failure of the American Dream. Willy believed whole-heartedly in it and it inevitably causes him nothing but dispair.

3. Describe the author's tone. Include a minimum of three excerpts that illustrate your point(s).

The tone of the play can be considered gloomy and rather depressing. Willy’s hallucinations and the tendency of the play to take place either at night or in the rain contribute to this tone.

4. Describe a minimum of ten literary elements/techniques you observed that strengthened your understanding of the author's purpose, the text's theme and/or your sense of the tone. For each, please include textual support to help illustrate the point for your readers. (Please include edition and page numbers for easy reference.)

· Symbolism – “What the hell is that seed?” (pg 127) Seeds are Willy’s attempts to prove his worth. His last ditch attempts to grow vegetables at night symbolizes his shame of not being able to provide for his family.
· Foreshadow – “From the darkness is heard the laughter of a woman.” (pg 37) The laughter of the woman is foreshadowing the laughter of Willy’s mistress with betrays him to Biff.
· Allusion – “Smell the stink from that apartment house!” (pg 17) The apartments are an allusion to the early days of urban development in New York and sets the time period of the play
· Characterization – “He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly.” (pg 12) Throughout the play stage direction and descriptions are offered to the actors but not the audience. A view of how the writer views his own characters.
· Conflict – “Don’t you care whether he lives or dies?” (pg 123) Willy’s conflict is with himself and his hallucinations but this causes secondary conflicts that the rest of the Loman family must deal with.
· Epilogue – “Linda doesn’t react. She stares at the grave.” (pg 136) At the end of the play a requiem is written in. It acts very much like an epilogue providing information about after the end of the play.
· Euphemism – “Ah, it’s a dog’s life.” (pg 99) This is used to express the same level of distaste as more fowl language.
· Foreshadow – “The Woman enters, laughing.” (pg 116) Nearly every hallucination in the play is a flashback to a period in Willy’s life where he was much happier than he is currently.
· Point of View – “The curtain rises.” (pg 1) The fact that this is a play complete with stage direction and instructions to the actors makes it that you, as a reader, is something other than the audience. The actors act, the audience watches, and we read as more of the director of the play who knows exactly what is happening.
· Tragedy – “I can’t cry.” (pg 139) I’m not sure if this play is considered a tragedy but it certainly seems like it is.

1. Describe two examples of direct characterization and two examples of indirect characterization.  Why does the author use both approaches, and to what end (i.e., what is your lasting impression of the character as a result)?


“…she more than loves him, she admires him…” (pg 12)
“He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly.” (pg 12)


“I’m tired to death.” (pg 13)

“I’m the New England man.” (pg 14)

Direct and indirect characterizations have different purposes in this work because it is specifically a play. The direct characterization is meant for the actors so that they could imitate the character and the indirect is meant for the audience during an actually production of the play.

2. Does the author's syntax and/or diction change when s/he focuses on character?  How?  Example(s)?

When the author focuses on a character description in this case it is generally through stage direction not in actually dialogue of the play. So the diction and syntax become much simpler and more directed towards specific people, the actors.

3. Is the protagonist static or dynamic?  Flat or round?  Explain.

I feel like the protagonist is a static flat character. It doesn’t seem like their character values really change over the course of the play nor does it seem like Willy, the main character, have the full gambit of characteristic that a person should have.

4. After reading the book did you come away feeling like you'd met a person or read a character?  Analyze one textual example that illustrates your reaction.

I feel like I have read a character but that is not it is poor characterization. It is because it is a play, meant to be acted in front of an audience by actors, not so much read like a novel. The actors bring the character to the characters, not the piece of literature itself.

“The curtain rises.” (pg 1)

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