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Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman

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Death of a Salesman

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  1. Death of a Salesman Introductory Notes

  2. Background • Arthur Miller was born in 1915, son of a Jewish immigrant. He grew up in the 1930’s (the Depression). • Death of a Salesman was written in 1949. • It won the New York Drama Critics’ Award and the Pulitzer Prize in drama.

  3. Study of the Play • DoaS is a modern drama concerned with the development of the individual under the stress of living, rather than a play of plot and action. • It’s often referred to as “the tragedy of modern man”. • Willy is the tragic hero because he totally commits himself to an impossible dream, heroically maintains this vision and dies rather than live as an acknowledged failure.

  4. Study of the Play • “Willy is at least partly defeated by a society which drains the common man of his energy and then drops him.” • The play illustrates a family-oriented morality that causes people to lose sight of their responsibility to the larger social groups of which they are also members. • The play focuses on the importance many people place upon material success as a primary value in life – modern man’s concern with the superficial.

  5. Study of the Play • Watch for foreshadowing, irony, and symbols. • “Riding on a smile and a shoeshine”, Willy embraces the myth that material success is synonymous with happiness. He believes that to be well-liked is to travel the golden road to riches. His tragedy is that of a middle-class American who never learns to distinguish between false and real values. He is a day-dreamer unable to accept the small and mediocre role life has given him to play.

  6. Study of the Play • The play is about Willy’s search, rather than the socio-economic environment in which his search takes place; the play’s setting is scrupulously devoid of detailed reminders of place and time. • Much of the play takes place within Willy’s mind. • In Willy’s case, life’s experiences seem to intermingle and disturb the logical flow of “reality”. • Willy views his life as a totality. Conventions of time and place are not relevant for him.

  7. Genres of Drama • Death of a Salesman is a mixture of expressionism and realism.

  8. Expressionism • An expressionistic play is one where mental concepts are portrayed on stage • EX: soliloquies, asides, memories acted out, symbols used to express ideas. • At the beginning of the play, the stage directions are very specific and are intended to convey certain ideas. (IE: the set, lighting, music, etc.)

  9. Expressionism cont. • In general, the dramatization of Willy’s memories show evidence of expressionism. These memories reveal several important facts: • The once close father-son relationship • Willy’s devotion to Linda • The questionable values Willy condones in his sons.

  10. Realism • Realism seeks to reproduce the effect of actuality, real-life people and situations. • Dialogue – ordinary American speech, including much slang and many cliches • Subject Matter of Conversations – down to earth characters talk about aspirins, mortgages, refrigerators, life insurance, etc.

  11. Realism cont. • Characters – real people carrying on ordinary activities of everyday life. Audiences can readily recognize themselves and others in these characters as they are members of the real world.

  12. Structure of the Play • The action of the play goes back and forth between the present and the past which is recreated in Willy’s memories. • There is a definite pattern: • An event takes place in the present • The present and past merge as Willy makes some mental association • The past takes over the stage

  13. Themes • Reality vs. Illusion • There is often a blur between what is real and what is imagined/believed. Theme statements: People’s imagination or dreams can cloud reality, and therefore, one’s life becomes an illusion. Life can be a confusion between illusion and reality.

  14. Themes • Dreams Theme statement: A person’s dreams (whether realistic or not) can be crushed or lost, leaving one feeling unfulfilled. • The “American Dream” - the United States of America is a country that symbolizes the opportunity for wealth and success. Theme statement: There is an excessive importance placed on material success as a primary value in life.

  15. Themes • HYBRID THEME STATEMENT: The societal value of material success is more of an illusion, rather than a reality, leaving those that follow this dream unfulfilled and unhappy.