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Death of a Salesman
Transcript of Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller Arthur Asher Miller was born on October 17, 1915 in Harlem, New York City. His father owned a women’s clothing company but lost his business in the Depression, which forced them to move to a much smaller house in Brooklyn. Witnessing the decay of the society and the desperation of his father during the Depression had a huge impact on him, which is why most of his plays have similar themes that show man’s weakness and need for social awareness. "Death of a Salesman," one of his best known plays, premiered in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. He died of congestive heart failure at the age of 89 in Connecticut on February 10, 2005, which was also the 56th anniversary of the Broadway opening of “Death of a Salesman.” Historical and Literary Context It was the literary period of social realism and during the postwar boom of 1948 most Americans were very optimistic about a renewed version of the American Dream.
When World War II ended in 1945, the United States embarked upon an unprecedented period of economic prosperity, driven by the increase in industrial production markets brought about by the war.
In the year that Death of a Salesman was published, America was enjoying an economic boom, which kept poorer citizens from saving any money and small farmers faced hard times because of government policies that benefitted larger, corporate farmers. The lowest-paid workers in the country were the migrant farm workers, with sales clerks and unskilled laborers not far above them.
Summary The storyline features the protagonist, Willy Loman, who is an average man who tries his hardest to hide his averageness and failures behind delusions of grandeur as he strives to be a success.
He is a traveling salesman, who has always been a subordinate in his company. He has high hopes for his two sons, Biff and Happy, whom he thinks can easily become successful but are wasting their talents. His wife, Linda, continues to support him and stay with him even under the facade of denial that her husband has put up with for so long. Throughout the story, it is learned that Willy has slowly been killing himself by inhaling gas fumes from a hose in the garage, which completely muddles his mind. He talks to himself and confuses the past, present, and future, which shows just how much pressure has been put on him when all he ever wanted was to provide for his family, become a success, and be accepted. Due to changing economic conditions, his services are no longer required in his company and this contributes to his downward spiral. He has been struggling all his life to make money and be well liked but in the end, he couldn’t take the pressure and he couldn’t cope with the changing times that he ultimately died the same way that he has lived. Setting Most of the action takes place in the Loman household in New York City during the late 1940’s. Their house is surrounded by apartment buildings due to population growth, which contributes to their feelings of confinement and a desire for escape. The fact that most of the action takes place in their home is a testament to the fact that everything that Willy Loman does revolves around his family. Other scenes take place outside of their home such as in an office in Manhattan where Willy Loman gets fired, the restaurant where he meets his sons, and the hotel room where Biff learns of his father’s affair. A good portion of the play also takes place in Willy’s mind with events from his past seen through flashbacks and blurred realities seen from his subjective point of view. Mood and Tone The mood is depressing throughout the play and the tone is sympathetic yet mocking of Willy Loman’s firm belief in the American Dream. Characters He is an insecure man, who constantly makes himself feel better by lying to himself and his family.
He projects an image of strength and arrogance to hide his self-doubt and anxiety. He is neither popular nor well liked but he still tries to be. He has worked as a traveling salesman but now that he has grown older, he can no longer drive competently, pay his bills, or sell anything.
He continues to live in denial and clings to the American Dream and the promise that anyone who is well liked and attractive can find success. His misguided hopes, unrealistic dreams, and inability to face reality have all contributed to his downward spiral and ultimately, his demise. WILLY LOMAN LINDA LOMAN She is Willy’s devoted wife, who puts up with her husband’s façade in order to protect his dreams. She is extremely loyal and utterly clueless about what’s going on with her husband from his financial situation to his problems at work to his affair with another woman.
Her blind devotion to her husband makes it hard for her to comprehend why he killed himself and why nobody showed up to his funeral. BIFF LOMAN He is the oldest son of Willy and Linda. His father believes that he can be successful but that he is just wasting his potential. He is the only character who actually values truth and does not believe in the American Dream. He confronts his father about his materialistic dreams and pursuits but is unable to get through to him because of Willy’s refusal to accept the truth.
He is seen as a disappointment because he didn’t graduate and was unable to keep a job but he is the only character who chooses to live his own life and be accepted for who he is, not what everybody expects him to be. HAPPY LOMAN Happy shares his father’s unrealistic plans of getting rich quick. His father does not give him much attention and he has made it his mission to please his father. He is fairly successful in his job and shares his father’s confidence as well, but he is lonely and unsatisfied with the way his life is going.
In the end, he chooses to pursue his father’s materialistic dreams instead of carving his own path in order to live up to his name. CHARLEY He is Willy’s neighbor and friend, who is nice, humble, and willing to help out a friend in need. He does not see the need to brag about his accomplishments or the success of his son, Bernard, unlike Willy who constantly seeks for validation. Willy always compares himself to Charley and is unable to understand how someone as plain and simple like Charley can be so successful. Charley is generous and willingly offers his help, advice, money, and even a job when Willy needed it. BERNARD Bernard is Charley’s son, who ends up as a lawyer with a happy and successful life. He was different from Biff growing up for he was a nerd while Biff was a popular athlete. Like his father, Bernard was always ready and willing to offer his help when Biff needed it, particularly regarding school matters. Humble, like his father, Bernard does not see the need in bragging about his success but still remains concerned about his friend. BEN Ben was Willy’s brother, who got lucky when he found diamonds in a jungle in Africa and got rich quick. Willy has always regretted not going with his brother and is always having imagined conversations with him to ask for his advice and for information on how he became successful. During a scene in the play where Ben fights with Biff, he wins by cheating and tells Biff that it is the only way to win. This, along with his repeated statement in Willy’s imagination that “the jungle is dark but full of diamonds,” shows us what kind of values he upholds and how willing he is to cheat in order to get what he wants. Plot Structure Rising Action Climax Falling
Action Denouement Exposition Willy Loman comes home tired from a long business trip. He talks to his wife and tells her how he is no longer able to drive for long hours and is unable to do his job. His son, Biff, is home after spending years working at a farm in the West. Willy gets into an argument with his wife over his son’s life and wasted potential. Willy is reduced to working on commission alone and eventually gets fired from his job when he tries to ask for work that does not require traveling. Biff tries his luck at landing a job of his own but fails and ends up with a stolen pen. Biff confronts his father and exposes the lie that they have all been living in. He addresses his father’s suicide attempts and his unrealistic dreams and misguided hopes. He forces the truth about himself and how much he doesn’t want to live his father’s life for him. Willy Loman refuses to accept the truth but is finally able to realize that his son loves him. Upon realizing that Biff does love him, he gets into a conversation with his dead brother and goes about planning his own death in order to give his life insurance money to Biff to help him become successful. Willy Loman kills himself and nobody, aside from his family, comes to his funeral. Biff realizes that Willy did not know himself and that he chose to pursue the wrong career path. He decides that he will not follow in his father’s footsteps but Happy defends his father’s dreams and vows to continue on his father’s path and come out successful. Themes The American Dream Willy Loman believes that anyone can be successful by being well liked and attractive and he passes on this belief to his sons. This idea is in contrast with the actual concept of the American Dream, which is to work hard without complaining in order to achieve success. Willy clings to his idea of the American Dream and constantly assures himself and his family that the success he deserves is just around the corner. Unrealistic Dreams Willy has always thought that he was above average and that he deserved more than what he’s getting. He also has high expectations from his sons, especially from Biff, who started out as a popular football star with a lot of potential for success. Change and Modernity It is difficult for Willy to accept how times have changed. Changing economic conditions have led to his getting fired for traveling salesmen were no longer needed and are therefore becoming obsolete. It is interesting to note that while Willy is often nostalgic about the past, he still turns to modern objects such as the gas heater and his car to aid him in his attempts to commit suicide. Success Willy Loman has always been in pursuit of success. In his case, it is material success that he is after. He thinks that the measure of a man is his ability to achieve material wealth and looks up to his brother, who has struck it big when he found diamonds in a jungle in Africa. He passes on this faulty notion of success to his sons, who struggle with their own needs and the pressure to succeed and please their father. Lies Biff points out that they have all been living a lie. Willy has put up a façade and refuses to let anybody think that he is not successful. Linda’s blind loyalty to her husband makes her unable to really see what’s going on in his life while Happy shares his father’s unrealistic dreams of success. It is Biff who realizes that his family is engulfed in lies and he refuses to get sucked into it and fights to break the cycle. Pride Willy’s pride can be seen when he refuses to accept the job that Charley offers to him yet he continues to accept loans from him when he is unable to pay for his bills. He constantly brags about his success in his business and the accomplishments of his sons when in reality, they were struggling financially. Pride, then, becomes a way for the Lomans to deceive themselves and to cope with their financial instability. Desire for Recognition Willy never missed an opportunity to brag about his success and the accomplishments of his sons. He has a need for respect and recognition and obsesses over it that he ultimately loses his sanity. This can be attributed to his desire to keep up with the success of his brother, Ben. Abandonment Willy and Ben have been abandoned by their father when they were very young. Ben eventually abandons Willy when he goes to Alaska. Biff, who has discovered his father’s affair with another woman, leaves and abandons him. Biff’s unsuccessful attempts at holding down a job further distance him from his father. Willy permanently abandons his family when he decides to kill himself towards the end of the play in order to give something to the son he loves. Freedom and Confinement America is considered as the “land of the free” but in the case of the Lomans, they feel trapped in their home, their lack of income, and the lies they choose to believe. They dream of faraway places and of finally escaping. Betrayal Willy has been living vicariously through Biff and he thinks that Biff has betrayed him by not living up to his potential and refusing to pursue the dreams that Willy has for him. As a salesman, it is a major blow to him that he is unable to sell the American Dream to his own son. He thinks that Biff is doing it merely out of spite especially because it was Biff who discovered his affair with another woman, which is a betrayal of his wife’s love and their marriage vows. Biff, on the other hand, feels betrayed by his father’s incessant lies and thinks that he is a “phony little fake,” which is why it is difficult for him to believe anything that he says. Significance of the Title Death of a Salesman: Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem The title not only refers to the death of Willy Loman but also to the death of his career, the death of his dream, and the death of his hopes for a better life for his family.
Willy is flat broke and has gotten fired from his job, which ultimately ended his dream of being successful. Willy kills himself in order to give his life insurance to Biff but since it is a suicide, no life insurance money will be given to his family.
Biff has expressed his disinterest in following in his father’s footsteps so Willy’s dream is essentially dead.
The word requiem on the title means “rest” and refers to a song for the dead. Significance of Names LOMAN Their surname is a play on the words low and man and represents the low social status of the family. BIFF The word biff means “to strike (someone) roughly or sharply” and in the play, it is Biff who strikes back at his father. BEN The Scottish and Irish origin of the name Ben actually means “mountain peak“ and in the play, Willy looks up to his brother because he has achieved success. HAPPY It is an ironic commentary on his future for he’s the one who’s been following Willy’s footsteps and is therefore destined for loneliness. He claims to be happy with the way things are going for him but in reality, he is unhappy. Symbols LOMANS' HOME Due to the increase in population, the Lomans are living in a house surrounded by apartment buildings. Their home symbolizes confinement, restriction, and a desire for escape. FARAWAY PLACES
(ALASKA, AFRICA, AMERICAN WEST): In contrast with the confined setting of their home, faraway places such as Alaska, Africa, and the American West symbolize freedom and the promise of something better. DIAMONDS The diamonds symbolize wealth and material success. They also represent the
“get-rich-quick” scheme that Willy sees as the solution to his problems. The jungle, which is “dark but full of diamonds,” symbolizes the competitive, often heartless world of business. JUNGLE STOCKINGS Willy has given a pair of stockings to the woman he has an affair with and Linda’s own stockings remind him of his affair. The stockings become the symbol for his betrayal and sexual infidelity. Linda’s mending of her stockings remind Willy of his failure to provide for his family since if they were financially stable, he would have been able to buy a new pair for his wife. SEEDS These symbolize Willy’s desire to lead a productive life. It also represents for him the tangible proof of his hard work. He talks of buying a house in the country and growing vegetables but resorts to planting seeds in his backyard instead. When he says that, “Nothing is planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground,” he is referring to his growing concern for the future of his sons and his failure to provide for his family. Planting seeds allows him to create something that will thrive and remain even after he’s gone. RUBBER HOSE Aside from being a stage prop that aids Willy in his suicide attempts, the rubber hose and his inhalation of gas symbolize Willy’s inability to afford basic necessities for his family. TENNIS RACKET This symbolizes the success of Charley’s son, Bernard, and the failure of Willy’s son, Biff. Biff was a popular athlete in high school while Bernard stood on the sidelines and although Biff and Happy hoped to start a business selling athletic equipment, it is Bernard who now owns the tennis racket. FLUTE Music played from a flute drifts through the entire play. It sets the mood and gives a sign of melancholy. It represents the link of Willy Loman to his father and with nature. His father was a flute maker, who made a good living out of traveling around and selling the flutes he made. This antedates Willy’s career as a traveling salesman and his neglected talent for creating and building things with his hands, which could have been a better job for him that could give him a sense of fulfillment. Basically, the flute is a symbol for Willy’s unsuccessful pursuit of the American Dream. The music played from the flute foreshadows the revelation of the job and abandonment of Willy’s father. Willy’s fixation on Linda’s stockings foreshadows the affair that Willy had with another woman. The minor car accident that Willy had in the beginning of the play foreshadows his death towards the end. Foreshadowing Willy Loman:
Tragic Hero or Anti-Hero? Aristotle has presented his concept of a tragic hero in his book entitled "Poetics." He said that a tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness, he is not perfect even though he is pre-eminently great, his downfall is partially his own fault, and there is still some awareness or discovery on the part of the tragic hero due to his downfall. Willy is not of noble stature but is merely an average man with a lot of problems. This is in contrast with Aristotle’s idea of a tragic hero but according to Arthur Miller, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” He pointed out that tragic stories resonate with its readers not because of their noble stature but because the issues remain relevant up to this day and they share similar hopes, flaws, and fears. Willy Loman has something in common with the tragic heroes of Greek drama, which is hamartia or tragic flaw. Much like Oedipus, Willy goes through his whole life without realizing the truth and refusing to accept in anything else but the truth that he has created for himself. This has resulted in his evident loss of sanity and mental instability. His hamartia ultimately contributed to his downfall. Whether he had a moment of recognition or anagnorisis is still debatable because while he did realize at some point that he was a failure, he still refused to admit it and ended up killing himself without knowing who he really was and what his family really needed, which was him and not money. We can say that Willy Loman follows the model of Aristotle’s tragic hero. He is essentially a good man with good intentions whose actions and inner struggles ultimately contributed to his downfall and made a profound impact on the people in his life. Willy Loman's Death Some people would blame his sons or his boss or the society for his tragic demise. Others would argue that there is nobody to blame but himself. There are a lot of interpretations regarding Willy’s death that stem from different readings of the play. Other people can say that it was an accident for he was mentally unstable. Others can say that it was intentional for he really believed that his death could bring a new life for his family through his life insurance money. If we’re going to look at it in the context of Arthur Miller’s sentiments regarding capitalism and the American society, we can say that society played a vital role in Willy’s death. Arthur Miller could have been commenting on the kind of system that would compel an average man to think that the only way for him to save his family is to kill himself because the money he will gain from his death would be worth more than his life as a continued failure in his eyes and in the eyes of society. Of course, there are other factors to take into consideration with regards to the cause of his death and there are a lot of differing opinions with regards to the matter. This is a testament to the fact that a brilliant piece of literature can evoke a multitude of emotions and countless literary interpretations. Varied readings of the text and criticisms prove the subjectivity of these interpretations and the fact that this play can still cause a stir even to this day only shows its complexity and serious value. Criticisms of the Play “Many critics of the play have commented on the fact that Death of a Salesman cannot be considered tragic because the central protagonist is not of a high social status and therefore his downfall is not as striking as it could have been had he fallen from grace from a higher position. However, I disagree with this view. The strength in this play lies in Miller’s ability to take an ordinary man, with whom we can identify with as everyday human beings, and show how the high hopes he may have built up his whole life can come crumbling down at the drop of a hat." TOMI MAKANJUUOLA Death of a Salesman presents “a rich matrix of enabling fables that define the myth of the American Dream.” M.C. ROUDANE “Miller uses this American Dream model in order to subvert it. His play is an anti-myth, the rags-to-riches formula in reverse so that it becomes the story of a failure in terms of success, or better, the story of the failure of the success myth.” THOMAS E. PORTER “Willy Loman is a salesman. We live in a world where buying and selling, competition and work-rate are fundamental to our identity. Death of a Salesman shows the consequences this system has for our humanity. Again, the most intimate unit, the family, is torn apart by the protagonist’s inability to find feeling, sustenance, love, and meaning in that system.” GREGORY HERSOV Group Criticism Arthur Miller succeeds in evoking emotions and different interpretations of his play, Death of a Salesman. Its utterly relatable characters and familiar themes and issues that are deeply rooted in reality make it a clever literary piece that will remain relevant and will transcend time. It tackles issues such as the pursuit of success, the search for meaning and purpose, the role of society in our self-concept, and the issues of family. It allows the readers to think and re-evaluate their values. Although it is a depressing and tragic tale of a man who tried his best to provide for his family, it gives its readers hope that while Willy Loman made the wrong choice, we still have a chance to reflect on our lives and choose a different alternative. It is a heart-wrenching story of a family that merely tries to cope with the tragedies of life and ultimately opens the minds of its readers regarding relevant social issues and important realizations about life, love, purpose, loss, success, fulfillment, and family. Overall, it was a really spectacular play that infused a lot of important issues and themes and incorporated the poetry of theater. References Americans who tell the truth. Retrieved from http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/pgs/portraits/Arthur_Miller.php
Bloom, H. (2004). Bloom's guides: Death of a salesman. NY: Infobase Publishing.
Death of a salesman. Retrieved from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/salesman
Death of a salesman. Retrieved from http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Deathof.html
Death of a salesman. Retrieved from http://www.shmoop.com/death-of-a-salesman/
Death of a salesman: Background info. http://www.litcharts.com/lit/deathofasalesman/backgroundinfo
Death of a salesman study guide & literature essays. Retrieved from http://www.gradesaver.com/death-of-a-salesman/
Makanjuuola, T. (2010, July 24). Book review: Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller [Review of the play Death of a salesman]. The New Current. Retrieved from http://www.thenewcurrent.com/2010/07/24/book-review-death-of-a-salesman-by-arthur-miller/
Rachel Galvin. (n.d.). retrieved from http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/miller/biography.html A Report by: Alvarez, Jeff Emil
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Tomboc, Esther Joy The End WILLY It sounds like the question, "Will he?" Quotes "Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground." Willy Loman "A diamond is hard and rough to the touch." Ben "The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress!" Willy Loman "Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something!" Happy Loman "And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! That’s whose fault it is!" Biff Loman "Business is bad, it’s murderous. But not for me, of course." Willy Loman "Willy, when are you going to grow up?" Charley "His blue suit. He’s so handsome in that suit. He could be a—anything in that suit!" Linda Loman "This is no time for false pride, Willy. You go to your sons and tell them that you’re tired. You’ve got two great boys, haven’t you?" Howard "Will you let me go for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?" Biff Loman "I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. 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." Happy Loman "Biff, I swear to God! Biff, his life is in your hands!" Linda Loman "He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine... A salesman is got to dream, boy." Charley "We’re free and clear. We’re free." Linda Loman "He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong." Biff Loman "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!" Biff Loman "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds." Ben