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Arthur Miller 1915-
Transcript of Arthur Miller 1915-
Arthur Miller, 1915-1905
Born in New York in 1915
"His Austrian father came to America, the land of opportunity, where he made a prosperous living as a clothing manufacturer."
The Stock Market Crash in 1929, followed by the Great Depression in the 1930s, ruined the family business.
"There was no money to send Miller to university."
"He paid for his own studies by taking a variety of jobs..."
Studied Economics, History, journalism and play-writing at the University in Michigan.
Miller wrote several successful plays:
The Man Who Had All the Luck
, 1944 - failed at Broadway
All My Sons
, 1947 - won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award
Death of a Salesman
, 1949 - won a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize
, 1953 - analogies to the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings in the US in the 1950s
A View from the Bridge, 1955
A memory of Two Sundays, 1955
After the Fall,
1964 - an account of his marriage to Monroe
The Price, 1967
The Archbishop's Ceiling, 1977
The American Clock, 1980
The Ride down to Morgan, 1991
The Last Yankee, 1993
Broken Glass, 1993 - won the Oliver Award for Best Play
Death of a Salesman - a classic American tragedy
Draws on traditions of Yiddish theatre: dramas confining the plot to the nuclear family.
Father-Son relationship: focuses a father "whose two sons are estranged from him".
Miller's writing is shaped by his experiences of poverty.
A mix of social realism with an experimental structure: "The play moves between fifteen years back and the present, and from Brooklyn to Boston without any interruptions in the plot".
A success: "...a mixture of "...compassion, imagination, and hard technical competence not often found in our theatre"" (The New Yorker).
The play has been performed several times on Broadway and it has been reinterpreted in stage and tv versions.
Relationship with The Great Gatsby -"the playing out of efforts to realise the American Dream".
Tone, setting, point of view, themes, structure, symbols...
Arthur Miller, Death of a Saleman ( ISBN: 978-0-435233-07-5)
The American Dream
The idea of the American Dream (AD) dates back to the 1600s when people came to the continent full with hopes and aspirations. In their AD many focused on owning land and establishing businesses. Also, many focused on the idea of religious freedom.
Essentially the American Dream means that...
"...all people can succeed through hard work."
"...all people have the potential to live happy, successful lives."
The expansion of or redefinition of this definition has been criticised due to inequality in the American society - inequalities based on race, class and ethnic origin, "which suggest that the American Dream is not attainable for all."
The Tragic Hero
"Our dramatic tradition comes from the Greeks and is more directly descended from Shakespeare."
The Shakespearean tragic heroes:
are of noble birth
have a fatal character flaw, e.g., "...the ability to fall in love too quickly and too deeply..."
they or those around them must learn from their mistakes
they die as a consequence of their character flaw
Death of a Salesman
Willy Loman as a tragic hero?
Willy doesn´t fit the first criteria at all...
He is not of noble birth:
Miller wanted an ordinary man: "Whether the hero falls from a great height or a small one..." does not matter. "What matter is "the intensity of the human passion to surpass his given bounds" and "the questions whose answers define humanity and the right way to live".
While Shakespearian heroes are motivated by passions like lust, greed and ambition, Willy is determined to be "well-liked", and that is not less admirable according to Miller.
BUT: just as is the case with Shakespeare's heroes:
Willy's life and death poses the question: "What do men live for?"
Willy also embodies hopes, dreams and fears.
What does Willy and those around him learn?
Tone, setting, point of view
Death of Salesman is a tragedy: (see The Tragic Hero)
Willy's identity is disintegrating
The tone is sad and morbid though the characters try to hide their failure and shame behind a facade of pride and greatness.
Disappointment is expressed in lines of anger.
New York in the post-war 1940s
Action takes place in the Loman house and yard, New York, Boston and some other places Willy visits.
There are scenes in the past as well as in the present.
Action also takes place in Willy's mind
Point of view
Much of the play is presented through Willy's pov (memories)
However, in present day scenes the audience is outside Willy's mind and the pov is third person.
The Dangers of Modern Capitalism
DOS premiered 1949 after the Depression and WW2
The 1950s was an era of consumerism and technical advances
Innovations for the home: TV and washing machine - common
Car and gas heater - modern objects to assist suicide
Salesmen became out-of-date - certain skills and professions no longer valued
Nostalgia for the good old days
Miller sympathises with Communism
A deviation from the norm - "normal" society (Capitalist/Communist society)
A psychological condition
A dangerous theme for artists who "rely" on madness to deliver
Willy talking to people from his past suggests that he is: senile; aging; sad; coping with anxiety and loss?
Cult of Personality
Willy's business strategy - charms and good looks make you well liked and successful
The strategy fails Willy as well as his sons (they are successful with women only)
(See Stalin, Hitler and Lenin)
Nostalgia and regret
A key element of Willy's sadness - earlier mistakes and wrong choices
Emphasised by the transitions back and forth in time
Youth is more suited to the American Dream - Young Willy's aspirations do not seem unrealistic
Biff recalls being a successful athlete and not knowing his father had an affair
Millershows that the realistic endpoint for those pursuing the American Dream through hard work is failure - Capitalism is to blame
Opportunites are limited by age - the last opportunity is suicide
Biff wastes the opportunity to go to summer school
Bernard grabbed the opportunity by studying hard
Marrying means limiting romantic opportunities, but Willy has an affair
Growth - to get insight - to not live a life based on lies
Willy plats seeds when he realises his family has not grown (bad relationships) and he cannot provide for his retirement
Biff realises who he is and what he wants do with his life
Willy takes Linda for granted
He insults her and he won´t let her speak
Linda is a house wife - has no other desires in life
We seldom get Linda's pov. Her major task is reconciliation
Madonna - whore
The Oidipal complex
Happy ruins women (ruins their virginity or marriage)
Happy "knocks them over"
Other themes to consider:
The American Dream, Lies, Hopes, Plans, Reputation, Respect
Betrayal, Abandonment, Family conflict, Success, Aging
Africa, Alaska and the West symbolise opportunity and wealth, but also wasted opportunity. They are tinged with deep regret.
Willy's home symbolises his life - both have been limited
Willy's garden symbolises loss of growth and maybe sexual impotence (due to age)
The rubber hose symbolises Willy's desperation and his walk toward death
The silk stockings represent infidelity (and lack of money)
Biff taking off his helmet is a symbol of his love for his father - tenderness and vulnerability. Not taking it off symbolises contempt.
Transitions back and forth in time
Transitions from one location to another
Flashbacks are integral parts of the play
A two scene structure+requiem
When Willy drives away to commit suicide:
"As the car speeds off, the music crashes down in a frenzy of sound."
Also see the pyramid...
Willy Loman as a tragic hero?
Willy does fit several criteria...
Willy does have a character flaw - he has unrealistic dreams
Willy does learn from his mistakes:
He realises Biff loves him and he forgives him for his earlier behaviour.
Biff learns from Willy's mistakes and realises who he is and what he wants to do in life.
Linda does not learn. She cannot understand why Willy committed suicide.
Happy does not learn. He wants to finish what Willy started.
Finally, Willy does die due to his character flaw...
How to analyse literature