Death Of A Salesman - Critical Essay Notes - Higher English - English Essay

1664 words - 7 pages

Death of a Salesman – Essay Themes
The American Dream
· Failure of A.D in success orientated society
· Willy, the protagonist– Pursues A.D his whole life which leads him to failure in life & ultimately his suicide
· Responsible for not only his own failures but also his sons
· Failure leads him to financial instability and constant denial of reality – he is deluded as to what caused his failures
Willy’s “small fragile-seeming home” surrounded by “towering, angular shapes” of capitalist America in which his dreams have trapped him
Pursuit of A.D has caused conflict between W and B – conflict is first seen when W says “Biff is a lazy bum” but 2 lines later he contradicts himself by saying B is “such a hard worker” – through these lines, Miller introduces deep conflict between father and son.
· This highlights W’s mental instability caused by pursuit of A.D
Instability caused by A.D leads him to being unable to separate himself between illusions & reality
· He often retreats into past + decides to re-live memories in which he is perceived successful, does this to escape reality
· “I was thinking of the Chevvy… I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today” relives the memory in which he is doing well at his job & drives a nice car
W also has hallucinations of his dead brother Ben who he admires & considers “success incarnate”. W sees Ben everything he strives for but can’t escape the fact he is suffering
· “When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich” – thinks about chance he had to join his brother & be successful & regrets it.
· “Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben…” – W uses the fact he didn’t join his brother as an excuse for his failures
· Instead of helping W stop chasing his dangerous dreams, flashbacks of B restore W’s faith in the dream which only makes matter worse
· “the greatest things can happen” W. is trapped by his dreams & there is no escape
His relentless pursuit of A.D also leads to W failing as a father
· W’s bad habits of denying and manipulating reality are also adopted by his sons (B + H) which they practice their entire lives and leads them to failure as well.
· Finally, at end of play B admits he has been a “phony” too just like his father.
· During one of W’s flashbacks, we see B showing W his football and admits he stole it from his coach, W tells him to return ball but soon defends his actions and says “Coach’ll probably congratulate you for using your initiative” he encourages this which causes B to steal in the future
Act Two:
Starts off with optimism
· Willy is seeing his boss Howard about getting a better job where he doesn’t have to travel
· Howard shows W little respect & doesn’t care what he has to say, W is forced to reduce his self-worth (he keeps lowering amount of money he needs to survive)
· Causes W to become angry and he shouts “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit!” and Howard fires him
· Here, Miller creates sympathy for how W has been used and discarded by capitalist system.
· But, W has brought this on himself through his delusional pursuit of A.D
At this point in play, W’s life is now broken beyond repair
· He only has one hope, that B has gotten the loan from his previous boss to start new business and be successful, however this isn’t the case
· B realises where him and W have gone wrong – “I realised what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been, we’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years!”
After confrontation in the restaurant, B goes to W’s hotel room in Boston
· He catches his father having an affair
· Major turning point in B’s life
· B screams “You fake, you phony little fake!”
W now sets for his suicide, believes B + H can use money from insurance comp. to create success but insurance company does not pay for “self-inflicted death” as advised by Charley
· W plants seed (which he knows won’t grow) shows his desire to leave something behind for his family made clear when W says he doesn’t have “anything in the ground”
· Biff comes home, conflict turns into open confrontation with B and W
· B tells W him and W are both “worth one dollar an hour”
· B throws truth after truth at W which causes tension to build up
· Tension proves too much for B and he “breaks down, sobbing, holding onto willy”
· Willy finds his son really does love him after all – and causes him to take his own life
Finally, willy takes his own life due to his delusions caused by him being unable to distinguish between illusions and reality
Requiem: Earlier in the play he claimed people from all over will visit his funeral
· Only his family and Uncle Charley show
· Miller offers various prospects into W’s life and death
· Friends and family give their opinions on W
· B: “he had the wrong dreams all along”
Key Scene
Many key scenes occur throughout play – one of them include hotel room scene
Miller uses many poetic techniques and stage directions to create intense emotion
Key scene occurs after willy leaves chophouse to go to hotel room
· B goes to hotel room where he catches his father having an affair
Willy is finally forced to confront the point of disorder in his life
·  W has always exaggerated events and details to become "well-liked"
· However, up until the affair W had not sacrificed his principles or betrayed his family
· W and Woman in process of getting dressed when B knocks
· B rings door bell, Woman tells W to answer but W doesn’t “They’re knocking on the wrong door” he says to the woman
· B repeatedly rings doorbell – also tries phoning W, W orders woman to remain in the bathroom before he opens door
· After a while W answers B:”Why didn’t you answer?” W lies without hesitation “I just heard you. I was in the bathroom” – lies without any hesitation
· B finally confronts W about his failures – tells him he failed math and did not graduate
· Tells W to ask his teacher to give him the 4 points he needed to graduate “Would you talk to him?”
· W suggests they should leave immediately so they can talk to his teacher “You’re on. We’ll drive right back.”
· B tells W teacher didn’t like him, he made fun of his lisp – does the impression for W
· W bursts out laughing & woman joins him offstage [Willy laughs and the woman joins in offstage]
· The laughter sets up false atmosphere which jars in context of what follows
· Again, W tries to get B out of the room as soon as possible “Hurry downstairs”
· B asks W “Somebody in there?” W: “No, that was next door”
· W appears to lie with ease, he has lied so many times in his life he has become good at it
· Woman then exits room, laughing
· W tries to explain situation and creates multiple lies
· “They’re painting her room so I let her use my shower” “She’s a buyer”
· W then tries kicking her out of room “Get outta here!”
· Woman asks for stockings that W promised he’d give her
· Woman tells W the size of stockings
· At this point, B realises W was going to give her his mother’s stockings
· W tries taking control of situation by giving B commands “All right, get my suits”
· W says to B: “Now look, Biff, when you grow up you’ll understand these things”
· Patronising tone, he treats B like a child, also makes W a coward for not telling B what has happened
· B now changes his mind about seeing teacher “He wouldn’t listen to you.” B feels lost
· B starts shedding tears as he realises who his father truly is [his weeping breaking from him] – vocabulary of stage directions highlights powerful nature of B’s feelings.
· B: “Dad..” – serious of dots indicate broken nature of dialogue, B cannot believe what is happening and is lost for words
· W finally tries to confront truth and blames his wrong doings on his loneliness but we know its due to his need for attention “She’s nothing to me Biff. I was lonely”
· B feels betrayed at this point, “you gave her Mama’s stockings”
· Tension builds up and is too much for B, he screams “You fake! You phony little fake”
· B then leaves hotel room with his suitcase
· [W is left on the floor on his knees] – symbolic significance of stage directions, W realises what he has done is terribly wrong
· Scene – major turning point in B’s life. He discovers his father is not the man he has made himself out to be and he is a traitor to his mother. – B loses all respect for W
· Affair negates all of W’s tales of greatness that have motivated B
· Need for his father’s approval no longer guides his actions and W is responsible for B’s failure – now he has no faith in his father or himself
· Willy’s failures and delusions eventually lead to him committing suicide so his sons can use the insurance money to be successful.
Theme: Conflict between W. and B.

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