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Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Telemarketers Taking Pitch Door-to-Door.

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Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Telemarketers Taking Pitch Door-to-Door

The Wall Street Journal     Frustrated by consumers who slam down the phone, the nation's telemarketers have revived a tried-and-true technique to ruin your dinner hour: They are ringing the doorbell.     Dozens of companies, including AT&T Corp. and regional utilities, are unleashing armies of door-to-door sales representatives to pitch services such as phones, cable television and natural gas. Comcast Corp. registered 40,000 customers last year with its door-to-door "win back" campaign that involved wooing customers away from competition such as DirectTV.     The telemarketers' move is the latest effort to sidestep the growing barriers that include caller-ID and gadgets such as the TeleZapper, a call-blocking device.     Last month, President Bush signed legislation to create a National Do Not Call registry that will allow consumers to register with the Federal Trade Commission; it will be illegal for most companies to call people on that list.     In Midwestern states including Michigan and Wisconsin, phone company SBC Communications Inc. has tried goodwill "meet-and-greets" where employees canvass neighborhoods to announce rate cuts. AT&T's new "feet-on-the-street" reps knock on doors selling local phone service. Cable provider RCN Corp. of Princeton, N.J., sends to homes a team of 400 sales agents wearing blue surgical booties (to avoid smudging the carpet).     The rush of uninvited guests is spurring some complaints to regulators. In Texas, where electricity companies such as Centrica have launched door-knocking campaigns during the past year, the state public utility commission has seen complaints over deceptive energy sales triple. In Illinois, the complaints to the Consumers Utility Board about deceptive natural-gas contract sales jumped from a handful in 2001 to nearly 700 last year after companies began selling door-to-door.

  • Background

  • Born in New York City (1915) into an upper-middle class family

  • adolescence coincided with the Great Depression

  • depression seriously affected family’s manufacturing business

  • graduated high school in 1933

  • worked in an auto parts warehouse

  • initially rejected by colleges for failing grades

  • writes “In Memoriam” – a short story about an aging salesman

  • entered University of Michigan in 1934 (explains to the Dean that he is now a “much more serious fellow”)

  • studied journalism and began writing plays

  • graduated 1938, having won awards for his plays in 1936 and 1937

  • after graduation, Miller moves back to NYC and works writing scripts for the Federal Theater Project and radio plays for CBS and NBC

  • in the 1940s Miller becomes involved in anti-Fascist and pro-Communist activities

  • Death of a Salesman opens in 1949 (won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize)

  • publishes “Tragedy and the Common Man” in the New York Times (refuting Aristotle’s argument that tragedy must involve heroes from high/noble positions)

    • the possibility for the “tragic” and the “common”

In this age few tragedies are written. It has often been held that the lack is due to a paucity of heroes among us, or else that modern man has had the blood drawn out of his organs of belief by the skepticism of science, and the heroic attack on life cannot feed on an attitude of reserve and circumspection. For one reason or another, we are often held to be below tragedy--or tragedy above us. The inevitable conclusion is, of course, that the tragic mode is archaic, fit only for thevery highly placed, the kings or the kingly, and where this admission is not made in so many words it is most often implied. 

    I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were. On the face of it this ought to be obvious in the light of modern psychiatry, which bases its analysis upon classic formulations, such as the Oedipus and Orestes complexes, for instance, which were enacted by royal beings, but which apply to everyone in similar emotional situations.

  • Miller appears before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizers

  • he was indicted for contempt of court and blacklisted

  • in 1958, the indictment is overturned

  • Married three times; first, to Grace Slattery in 1940 (divorced, 1956); second to Marilyn Monroe in 1956 (divorced 1961); and third to Ingeborg Morath in 1962. Has two children each from his first and third marriages.

HUAC Member Scherer (R) Ohio HUAC Member Doyle (R) California

one of Warhol’s Monroes -1967

Arthur Miller’s Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizersDeath of a Salesman

  • Key themes –

  • the American Dream and success

  • the family

  • urbanization – the city and the country

  • late age of industrialization – the death of salesmen

  • reality/illusion/dream

The American Dream Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizers

return to Key themes

The famn damily Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizers

“...Happy devises a plan to launch Biff and Happy on a family-run business venture...and Willy announces that he is going to inform his boss that he no longer wants to be a road salesman...However, their plans are based upon a lifetime of lies and illusions in which every member of the Loman family has participated” (Sarah Shute, my italics).

return to Key themes

the city and the country Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizers

return to Key themes

late age of industrialization – the death of salesmen Committee (HUAC) in 1956 – he refuses to name those who attend meetings organized by Communist sympathizers

Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built (1556).

Linda: They got the biggest ads of any of them! (1556).

That goddam Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car! (1557).

return to Key themes

Biff: know something Charley, there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made. (1611)


...the first image that occurred to me which was to result in Death of a Salesman was of an enormous face the height of the proscenium arch which would appear and then open up, and we would see the inside of a man’s head. In fact, The Inside of His Head was the first title. It was conceived half in laughter for the inside of his head was a mass of contradictions.

- Arthur Miller

Ben: When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out...And by God I was rich. (1563)

Biff: He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong! (1611)

Charley: ...Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory. (1612)

Happy: ...he had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have—to come out number-one-man. (1612)

Willy: ...some people accomplish something (1545)

return to Key themes

A man can’t go out the way he came in, Ben, a man has got to add up to something....It’s a guaranteed twenty-thousand-dollar proposition (1605)

Be liked and you will never want

I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. (1555)

return to Key themes