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The American Dream: At what cost?. Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller. About the Playwright: Arthur Miller. Born in New York City on October 17, 1915 Began as playwright at University of Michigan Pulitzer Prize winner for Death of A Salesman

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Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller

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about the playwright arthur miller
About the Playwright:Arthur Miller
  • Born in New York City on October 17, 1915
  • Began as playwright at University of Michigan
  • Pulitzer Prize winner for Death of A Salesman
  • Double winner of New York Drama Critics Circle Award
miller s legal troubles
Miller’s Legal Troubles
  • Suspected of being a Communist sympathizer
  • Death seen as un-American
  • Miller has troubles with the HUAC/McCarthy
  • 1953 - Miller denied a passport
  • 1955 - HUAC pressures NYC not to allow Miller to make a film for them on juvenile delinquency
the saga continues
The Saga Continues...
  • 1957 - Miller convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to name names And then...
  • 1958 - US Court of Appeals overturns his contempt conviction
miller s assertions
Miller’s Assertions
  • Death is not a “document of pessimism.”
  • Death is not un-American; it celebrates the life of Willy Loman.
  • Miller believes that tragedy is “inherently optimistic.”
from classical tragedy
From Classical Tragedy
  • Unity of time -- the final 24 hours in Willy’s life
  • Unity of action - the play is complete unto itself
  • the tragic hero…with a twist
also from classical tragedy
Also from Classical Tragedy
  • the hero’s traits, esp. being a mixture of good and bad and being of higher moralworth than others in society
  • the concept of the hero’s flaw
  • the hero’s capacity to willingly endure suffering
  • the catharsis of the audience
initial themes
Initial Themes
  • Addresses family conflict in post World War II America
  • Takes a close look at the price paid for the “American Dream”
  • Charges America with creating a capitalist materialism centered around a postwar economy
  • This materialism skewed the original view of the “American Dream” as envisioned by the founding fathers
death of a salesman and the american dream
Death of a Salesman and the American Dream

Death of a Salesman is considered by many to be the quintessential modern literary work on the American dream, a term created by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America. This is somewhat ironic, given that it is such a dark and frustrated play. The idea of the American dream is as old as America itself: the country has often been seen as an empty frontier to be explored and conquered. Unlike the Old World, the New World had no social hierarchies, so a man could be whatever he wanted, rather than merely having the option of doing what his father did.

The American Dream is closely tied up with the literary works of another author, Horatio Alger. This author grew famous through his allegorical tales which were always based on the rags-to-riches model. He illustrated how through hard work and determination, penniless boys could make a lot of money and gain respect in America.

themes in death
Themes in Death
  • Willy Loman as a modern tragic hero
  • An individual’s search for meaning and purpose in life (not Willy, but Biff)
  • failure in pursuit of success
  • Man’s need to “leave a thumbprint somewhere in the world.”
  • An examination of the materialistic values of society
more themes in death
More themes in Death
  • The love of a father for a son and a son (Biff) for a father
  • The conflict between father and son
  • The question of who shall wield the power?
  • the problem of communication
add themes
Add: Themes
  • Abandonment: The not-so-positive transient nature of mankind
  • Betrayal: Willy’s primary obsession (Biff)
  • Seeds: opportunity for growth, but will not always germinate.
  • Diamonds: Material & tangible wealth
  • The Woman’s Stockings: betrayal and infidelity.
  • The Rubber Hose: Suicide
  • Alaska, Africa…The American West: success and failure
characteristics of the tragic hero

Characteristics of the Tragic Hero

"A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall."


Six Characteristics of the Tragic Hero:

Nobility or wisdom (by birth)

A flaw or error of judgment (Hamartia)

A reversal of fortune (perepetia)

The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own actions (anagnorisis)

The audience must feel dramatic irony for the character.

The character's fate must be greater than deserved.

a few key traits of the t h
A few key traits of the T.H.
  • Usually evokes empathy…
  • Has a weakness, usually pride
  • Something has gone awry in his/her life
  • Usually faced with a very serious decision he must make
  • Noble in nature
  • Must understand his mistakes…
  • Likely doomed from the start…
  • Begins his “journey” as no better or worse than the rest of us…
the common man as hero
The Common Man as Hero

Miller’s thoughts:

  • “Everyone knows Willy Loman.” (allusion to the morality play, Everyman.)
  • “The common man is suitable for a tragic hero.”
  • Willy is meant to be seen as greater and better (at least in potential) than his society.
miller s modern tragedy
Miller’s Modern Tragedy
  • The hero is a common man.
  • The hero struggles against society.
  • The hero meets his downfall.
  • The downfall is a result of an incongruity between his own perception of the world and reality.
  • The hero achieves a kind of redemption in his downfall.
act 1
Act 1

An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.

  • How does this serve to foreshadow Willy Loman’s life?
major characters
Willy Loman

Biff Loman

Linda Loman

Happy Loman




The Woman

Howard Wagner



Miss Forsythe and Letta

Major Characters
willy loman
Willy Loman
  • Father, traveling salesman
  • Believes in chasing the American Dream although he never achieves it
  • Pins his failed hopes on his sons, Biff and Happy
  • Becomes mentally ill when pressure of reality crushes his illusions
biff loman
Biff Loman
  • Elder son, 34 years old
  • High school standout-football star, many male friends, and female admirers
  • Academic failures lead to a life of kleptomania
  • Represents Willy’s vulnerable, tragic side
  • Fails to reconcile his father’s expectations
linda loman
Linda Loman
  • Loving, devoted wife
  • Naïve and realistic of Willy’s hopes
  • Emotionally supportive of Willy
  • Willy’s strength until his tragic perishing
happy loman
Happy Loman
  • Younger son, 32 years old
  • In Biff’s shadow all his life
  • Relentless sex and professional drive
  • Represents Willy’s sense of self importance and ambition
  • Often engages in bad business ethics
  • The Lomans’ next door neighbor
  • Successful businessman
  • Often gives Willy financial support
  • Described sadly as Willy’s only friend although Willy is jealous of Charley’s success
  • Charley’s son
  • Successful lawyer
  • Often mocked by Willy for being studious
  • Compared to Loman sons by Willy; they do not measure up to his success
  • Willy’s deceased older brother
  • Independently wealthy
  • Appears to Willy in daydreams
  • Willy’s symbol of success that he desperately wants for his sons
the woman
The Woman
  • Willy’s mistress
  • Her admiration for Willy is an ego boost
  • Biff catches Willy with her in a hotel room
  • Biff loses faith in his father due to infidelity
WILLY: I'm not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There's a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today. BIFF (shocked): How could you be? WILLY: I was fired, and I'm looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven't got a story left in my head, Biff. So don't give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested. Now what've you got so say to me? (from Death of a Salesman)