Death of a Salesman , Act I. Exploring the elements of drama in Act I of Death of a Salesman (p. 872).
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Plot: An important event has just happened before the play begins. What is it? Why do you think Miller starts the play with Willy’s return to the house? (The Loman’s house, where most of the action takes place, is an incredibly important setting in terms of theme and symbolism.)
Character: What kind of a man is Willy Loman? Pick a few lines in the first act that reveal essential information about his character.
Character: Do the same for Biff, Happy, and Linda. How do these members of the Loman family interact with each other? With Willy?
Nomenclature: (Names that have thematic or symbolic significance) What is the significance of the Loman family name? Can you think of any other significant names in this play?
Stage directions: In this play, Miller gives extensive stage directions at the beginning of Act I, and at several points throughout. What do these stage directions (the parts in italics that describe the set, lighting, music, and characters’ actions/demeanors) do to enhance your understanding of the characters, plot, or theme? Give examples.
This play consistently jumps back and forth in time, and at one point, Willy exists in both past and present at the same time. How does these memories of Willy’s illuminate the events going on in the "present"?
Places where we jump back and forward in time:
p. 882 in the middle beginning with Willy’s “I been wondering why you polish the car so careful,” line, we’re in the past.
p. 887 at the bottom, Willy’s memory jumps to a conversation he had with The Woman.
p. 888 Willy is back to the past conversation he had with Linda when Bernard enters with news about younger Biff.
p. 889 we’re briefly back in the present when Happy comes downstairs (notice how Millers uses the lighting change to indicate the time shift).
p. 891 Willy is talking to Charley (in the present) and recalling a conversation with his brother Ben from the past.
P. 895 at the bottom when Linda comes in while Willy is still speaking to Ben, we’re back in the present for the rest of the act.
What social and economic issues are at work on the Loman family?
What assumptions do these characters make about social class and money? What, for them, is essential for financial success and happiness? (Different characters will have different answers… consider Willy's emphasis on business and being liked vs. Biff's desire to be outside. Also, consider Willy’s love of making things and doing things with his hands.)
In what ways does this play challenge or support the system that it describes? What comment do you feel the play is making about American business and capitalism? How did you feel about that system after reading this first act? Is this a critique of the idea of the "American Dream"?