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Arthur Miller
 

Arthur Miller (1915 - 2005)

 

Unlike the dramas by Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Lorca, Arthur Miller's Death of a
Salesman is a tragedy set in our times, played out on our own scene, by characters who,
however we regard the quality of their, thought, speak in our own language and with our own
peculiar accents. In one sense, therefore, we cannot claim that the play is foreign to us. For
05 what we lose of Oedipus because we are not Athenians, and of Othello because we are not
Elizabethans, and of Blood Wedding by not being Spaniards, that much, at least, is ours
because we are Miller's American contemporaries. Even were we to reject his assumptions
and deny his conclusions, we would still know the world Miller creates, because the
apartment houses that cut off Willy's horizon cut off our own as well, and the three thousand
10 miles from Brooklyn to San Francisco involve more a change of name and site than of
setting.
Centering on the quality of the protagonist, most of the comment about this play has argued
the question of whether Willy Loman has sufficient stature to be a tragic hero. There is an
irony in this debate over the admission of Willy to the company of Oedipus and Othello : few
15 commentators have recognized the significance of the play's structure, of its use of scenes
that embody and, at the same time, illustrate the insubstantiality of the salesman's world of
the smile and backslap; for the chosen structure indicates that Willy, though no less heroic –
no less committed, that is, to his own dreams - is cast in a different mold than that used for
the traditional hero. We begin, therefore, with what is most notable about the structure of the
20 play itself.
As in all tragedies, we first meet the hero a few moments before his end. But Miller's drama
does not rely on the usual compressed expository report to acquaint us with the antecedent
action necessary to an understanding of the hero's motives. Partly because the advance of
modern psychology has made it easy for us to shift from the present to its root-experience in
25 the past and back again, and partly because an illusion of such movement lies within the
technical capacity of the modern stage, Miller has chosen actually to show us the scenes
which made up the life that now dissolves before us. These he shows us as they exist in
Willy's mind, that is, without any clear distinction as to the particular times at which they
happened.
30 Thus we come to witness, and not simply to know by report, the younger life of Willy
Loman, who, some thirty-five years before, started his pilgrimage to the grave we now stand
beside with his wife Linda, and his boys, Biff and Happy. This treatment of time, by putting
emphasis on the earlier scenes, reduces the impact of the final suicide. On the other hand, it
serves to raise that suicide to the level of sacrifice by linking it with Willy's early dreams.

(about 520 words)

from: JUDAH BIERNAN, JAMES HART and STANLEY JOHNSON, THE DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE, 1958, pp- 490-493




Assignments


1. Language

Paraphrase the following sentences. Use your own words.
1.1. "Even were we to reject ...... site than of setting." (ll. 7-11)
1.2. "..... most of the comment ..... to be a tragic hero." (ll. 12 + 13)
1.3. "As in all tragedies ..... before his end." (l. 21)

2. Comprehension

2.1. What is the difference between a Shakespearian drama and Miller's "Death of a Salesman"?
2.2. Why is there an irony in the debate over whether Loman can be regarded as a tragic hero or not?
2.3. Sum up in your own words what the authors note about the structure of the play itself.

3. Structure and analysis

3.1. Find an adequate heading for the given extract.
3.2. Divide the text into its constituent parts and give a heading to each part.
3.3. State in about 200 words what you like and dislike about Willy Loman.
3.4. Is Willy Loman a tragic hero compared to Macbeth?
3.5. Much of "Death of a Salesman" deals with the relationship between Willy and Biff. Give an account of this relationship. Could Happy have been
eliminated?
3.6. If Willy's character is clearly a foolish one, are we to assume that Charley, Ben and Bernard represent the playwright's ideal?

 
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