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Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller (1915–2005)

 

·       Miller:  Son of a clothing manufacturer

·       Father’s business collapsed during depression

·       First successful play All My Sons (1947)

·       At the preview of All My Sons, Miller ran into his uncle, Manny Newman, a traveling salesman.  Newman’s life (lonely hotels, long trips, “hopeless hope of the day’s business”; pathetic competitive spirit; obsession w/ fame) suggested Salesman to him. 

·       Death of a Salesman was written in six weeks.

·       Considered an American tragedy (pity; fear)


 

Pre-Discussion Questions:

 

Write for 10 full minutes.  Continue responding to questions (any) until the time has elaspsed. 

 

1.  Why do you think we’re never told what Willy sells?

 

2.  What happens when a person retires?  Think about all of the different things that happen, and give your thoughts about each of them.

 

3.  What is Miller suggesting to people who choose to pursue money rather than a personal talent or skill?

 

4.  Is it true that being well-liked will get you farther than being qualified?

 

5.  If Willy had gone with Ben, a la Miniver Cheevy, what do you think would have happened?  Would he be rich by now?


Death of a Salesman (1949): 1471–1502 (Act II)

 

*Please prepare responses for the following.  Where applicable, put page numbers and quotes.  Divvy up responsibilities fairly.  Put names on your sheet.

 

1.  Character Profile:  Tell us everything you can about the character.

1. Willy 

2. Biff 

3. Happy

 

2.  Analyze/discuss:

1.  Setting in terms of theme (1471; 1474)

2.  Foreshadowing (1471; 1472; 1473)

3.  Symbolism:  Fridge (1484); Car (1483; 1484)

 

All:  Theorize re: why both sons "steal," take what is not theirs (1479; 1481; 1492)

 

All:  Theorize about Willy and Biff’s conflict:

1477; 1485-1486; 1494; 1495; 1496; 1497; 1499


Willy:

·       Exhausted, cracking up:  1472-3; 1475

·       Real. v. Fantasy:  1473; 1482; 1483; 1484; 1498

·       Pride:  1473; 1482; 1483; 1488; 1498

·       Contradicts himself:  1474; 1483–1484; 1485

·       Unable to change:  1474

·       Well–liked:  1474; 1481; 1482; 1483; 1491; 1500

·       Accept Self: 1480; 1489; 1492; 1498; 1499; 1501

·       Against the system:  1473

 

Biff: 

·       Doesn't buy into the American Dream:  1477

·       Still a dreamer, like Willy:  1478; 1479

·       Doesn’t fit in business:  1497; 1497-8

·       Steals:  1479; 1481; 1492

 

Happy: 

·       Doesn't want to work in business:  1477

·       Knows that no one is ever satisfied:  1478

·       Can't let success/power go:  1475; 1478

·       Competitive/Vengeful:  1479

·       Pride, like Willy:  1478

·       Needs approval:  1481; 1483; 1492; 1502


 

Death of a Salesman (1949): 1471–1494

 

*Please prepare responses for the following.  Where applicable, put page numbers and quotes.  Divvy up responsibilities fairly.  Put names on your sheet.

 

1.  Character Profile:  Tell us everything you can about the character.

1. Willy 

2. Biff 

3. Happy

 

2.  Analyze/discuss:

1.  Setting in terms of theme (1471; 1474)

2.  Foreshadowing (1471; 1472; 1473)

3.  Symbolism:  Fridge (1484); Car (1483; 1484)

 

All:  Theorize re: why both sons "steal," take what is not theirs (1479; 1481; 1492)

 


 

Willy:

·       Exhausted, cracking up:  1472-3; 1475

·       Real. v. Fantasy:  1473; 1482; 1483; 1484

·       Pride:  1473; 1482; 1483; 1488

·       Contradicts himself:  1474; 1483–1484; 1485

·       Unable to change:  1474

·       Well–liked:  1474; 1481; 1482; 1483; 1491

·       Accept Self: 1480; 1489; 1492

·       Against the system:  1473

 

Biff: 

·       Doesn't buy into the American Dream:  1477

·       Still a dreamer, like Willy:  1478; 1479

·       Steals:  1479; 1481; 1492

 

Happy: 

·       Doesn't want to work in business:  1477

·       Knows that no one is ever satisfied:  1478

·       Can't let success/power go:  1475; 1478

·       Competitive/Vengeful:  1479

·       Pride, like Willy:  1478

·       Needs approval:  1481; 1483; 1492

 

 




Death of a Salesman: 1471–1494 (Split into three)

 

*Please put names and responsibilities on your sheet.  Each group member must be prepared to present one portion.

 

1.  Character analysis (Willy; Biff; Happy)

·       What is the character’s conflict?  (may be more than one)

·       Is the character round or flat?

·       Discuss the name of the character

·       What are some insights you can share about this character?

 

2.  Analyze/discuss:

·       Setting and its contribution to theme (1471; 1474)

·       Foreshadowing (1471; 1472; 1477; 1485)

·       Symbolism:  The fridge (1484); the car (1483; 1484); Ben:  1487; 1489–1492

 

3.  Both sons "steal," take what is not theirs.  Why?

1479; 1481; 1487; 1492

 

4.  All:  Theorize about Willy and Biff’s conflict:

1477; 1494; 1495; 1496; 1497; 1499


Death of a Salesman:  1494–1517

 

How is Miller using symbolism?: 

·       1; 5.  Seeds (1503; 1385)

·       2; 6.  Stockings (1485–1486; 1504–1505; 1384)

·       3; 7.  Dave Singleman:  1508

 

4; 8.  Foreshadowing (1375; 1377)?

 

Find the hints about what is going on between Willy and Biff:

1; 5:  1477

2; 6:  1515

3; 7:  1494; 1495; 1496

4; 8:  1497; 1499

 

Other observations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

As a group, come up with an exhaustive list of the various themes/messages of Death of a Salesman:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Themes: 

·       Fantasy vs. Reality

·       Pride (False)

·       Fear of change

·       Competition

·       Acceptance of who you are

·       The American vs. The Individual Dream

·       Obsolescence:  Planned; Individual

·       Hard Work vs. Being "Well–Liked

Death of a Salesman:  Act II

 

Freewrite regarding the symbolism in Act II:

 

1.  Stockings:  Think of ALL of the things the stockings might represent

 

2.  Seeds:  Think of ALL of the things the seeds might represent

 

 


 

Quiz:

 

1.  Is the character static or dynamic (internal change in terms of view of life/philosophy, etc.)?  Prove it!

a.   Willy

b.   Happy

c.    Biff

 

2.  Overall play:  Analyze/discuss:

·       Setting and its contribution to theme (end of play)

·       Foreshadowing (1405)  *1375; 1377—Night

·       Symbolism:  Seeds (1383; 1385, 1410); Refrigerator (1383); Stockings (1409)  *1366; 1384—Night

 

3.  Climax of the play.  How does Willy misinterpret this?

 

4.  “There were a lot of nice days. [. . .] or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting on the new porch; when he built the extra bathroom; and put up the garage” (1419).  What has Biff figured out here about Willy?  How will this impact his character?

 

 

 

 

 

Death of a Salesman:  Social Commentary

 

What are some overall statements that Miller is making about the system? 

 

WILLY:  ‘Figure it out.  Work a lifetime to pay off a house.  You finally own it, and there’s no one to live in it.’

 

WILLY:  ‘There’s more people!  That’s what’s ruining this country!  Population is getting out of control.  The competition is maddening!  Smell the stink from that apartment house!’

 

HAPPY:  ‘All I can do now is wait for the merchandise manager to die.  And suppose I get to be merchandise manager?  He’s a good friend of mine, and he just built a terrific estate on Long Island.  And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he’s building another one.  He can’t enjoy it once it’s finished.  And I know that’s just what I would do.  I don’t know what the hell I’m workin’ for.’

 

WILLY:  ‘Once in my life I would like to own something outright before it’s broken!  I’m always in a race with the junkyard!  I just finished paying for the car and it’s on its last legs.  The refrigerator consumes belts like it’s a goddam maniac.  They time those things.  They time them so when you finally paid for them they’re used up.’