Autorin: Melanie Kern
"Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller
Structural elements of a drama:
A drama is written to be performed on stage, so there are the limiting factors time and space.
You can find four characteristic elements: the plot, the theme, the dialogues and the characters.
In a drama we can find a certain development through the play: the introduction, which sets the tone and introduces the setting and the characters, the rising action, which shows the development of the characters, the climax, where the situation for the main character changes either to best or the worst, then the falling action and finally the resolution, which shows the end and can solve the problems.
We divide dramas into two categories: When there′s a happy ending for the hero, we call it a comedy, but if it′s the opposite (the main character dies) it′s a tragedy.
The types of characters are also divided into two categories: there are static or flat characters who don′t develop during the play and whose behaviour is predictable and there are dynamic or round characters who develop and whose behaviour isn′t predictable.
The classic drama is divided into five acts, but in the modern drama the structure is more free, so there can be two or three acts, for example.
Function of the detailed stage descriptions at the beginning of the play:
The dramatist wants to set the tone and to introduce the setting; he wants to show the outer environment of his play, but he also tries to create a certain feeling in the audience.
In "Death of a salesman" Arthur Miller describes not only the salesman′ s house. With the music (a melody played upon a flute), the light (sunlight) and the whole surrounding (towering apartments) he also shows the general mood in his drama. That′s why we don′t only see the salesman′s house. The created picture shows a lot of more details: the progress, which can′t be stopped and a highly competitive society where it′s hard to survive, "kill or you′ll be killed".
How do the characters Willy, Linda, Biff and Happy see themselves and how do the others evaluate them?
Willy evaluated himself very highly in former times. He always said to his family and his friends that he was the best salesman, that he was doing better than all the other salesmen and that he knocked them everywhere. He thought that he would make a high career and that he would soon have his own
business. So Willy always had very big dreams and wishes for the future. But nothing happened because, he was only average in fact.
Now, in the present, he knows that he has failed and that his dreams didn′t come true. But he doesn′t want to realise it really - he also goes on working although he′s in the age of retirement. Willy is too proud to talk with his family about his problems. All the failures in his life break him, he starts talking to himself, he slips back into the past where life was much easier for him, but he also sees opportunities he didn′t take.
Willy has the problem that he thinks that success will come automatically when you look good. So he evaluated himself always too highly and waited for his success instead of working for it. He thought that he was so handsome that success would come and so he didn′t take any of the opportunities which would have helped him to make a career.
The other salesman evaluate him very lowly. He′s too talkative, cracks too much jokes and is too fat.
But Linda always supports her husband, she evaluates him highly. For her he′s the best, the most handsome man on earth and so she always supports him in his thoughts and in his picture about himself. She tries to give him self-confidence.
As children Biff and Happy evaluated Willy also very highly because they didn′t know the truth. Now, as a grown-up, Happy adapted his father′s values. He is working and has his own apartment, but he isn′t very successful. Biff knows that these values aren′t the right way for his life. So he drifted trough the country, working here and there, searching for his own identity.
Charley, lifetime-friend and neighbour, evaluates Willy rightly. He knows that you′ve to work hard for success and so he wants to help Willy and offers him a job because he knows about Willy′s problems.
But Willy is too proud to accept.
I think, Linda evaluates herself rightly; she, the housewife, who always has to save the domestic peace. So she can′t fulfil her own dreams and wishes, but she accepts her situation.
All the other characters evaluate her in the same way as she herself does it.
Biff doesn′t evaluate himself very high. He knows that he is "a lazy bum" who has no regular work, only jobs, and he knows that his father isn′t very happy about it.
Happy evaluates Biff higher. He′s fascinated by his free life.
Willy also evaluates Biff highly. On the one hand he′s angry about his way of living, but on the other hand he likes him more then Happy who has an settled and steady life.
Happy evaluates himself, like Linda, really normally. He knows that he has a normal middle-class life with regular work and his own apartment.
Linda and Willy evaluate him in this way, too.
But Biff evaluates him higher because he looking forward to a settled life with regular work.
Comment on a quotation from the text:
"Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want."
This statement is Willy′s opinion. He thinks that a man only needs a good appearance to be successful.
As a young salesman he evaluated himself too highly, he always thought that he was the best looking one, that he wouldn′t have any problems to have a great career soon and that his success would come automatically. So he′s very happy and thanks God that his sons Biff and Happy are also looking very good, that they are "built like Adonises".
Willy always lived on this opinion and didn′t notice that it didn′t work.
In one scene he talks to Bernard who wants to learn maths with Biff. Here Willy said that a good appearance will bring success - and because Biff has a great appearance he doesn′t need maths to be successful. Willy thinks that Biff will automatically have success in life like himself: "You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That′s all they have to know, and I go right through." Willy thinks that he′s such a successful salesman, but he belies himself - in fact he′s only an average man. But he never thought about his attitude about success, if it could be wrong.
Finally we can see that Willy fails with his opinion. He makes no career and at the end, at the age of 63, he has again to work on straight commission like a beginner.
And also Biff fails. As a pupil he was a great football-player, but then he failed in maths and couldn′t go to college. For 14 years he has now been wandering trough the country, having a lot of different jobs. Biff fails, he has, like his father, no success although he′s looking like "Adonis".
But Charley, who thinks that success comes from hard work and not from a great appearance, is successful. His son Bernard who learned this attitude is now a successful lawyer, although Willy and Biff laughed about his appearance in former times.
We can finally see how wrong Willy′s attitude is, that you only need to have a good looking to become a successful worker. Of course it′s helpful, but the most important thing is hard work.
Find arguments to support the following statement about Willy Loman.
1) Linda: "The man is exhausted."
2) Biff: "I know he′s a fake."
3) Charley: "Willy, when are you going to grow up?"
1) I think this statement is really clear. Willy is at the age of retirement, but he has still the heavy burden to earn money for his family. This wouldn′t be a problem if had been a successful manager, but Willy is only a poor, little salesman who has to work on straight-commission. He doesn′t earn much money, but he has to pay for all cost, for the mortgage, the life-insurance and other debts. Willy is completely down and can′t go on anymore.
2) This shows that Willy always believed in wrong, false and unrealistic dreams. As a child it′s really
normal to have great plans about the future. But as an adult you have to be more realistic, you
should know which dreams have a realistic base and which dreams are completely unrealistic.
Willy always believed in his unrealistic dreams of success like a child, and so - in this point- he
never became an adult.
3) Biff also believed in his father′s false dreams. He developed like his father; in Biff′s life there were
- after high-school - only failures, too. But finally he realized that all the dreams were unrealistic
and that his father wasn′t the perfect man he always seemed to be. Biff realized that this was only the outer cover. In fact everything was wrong, Willy′s dreams, Willy′s promises, Willy′s stories about his success - he was only a fake.
What do you think: Can we call Willy Loman′s downfall really tragic?
A tragedy is a play in which the main character fails and even dies. His death is often really clear and lies over the whole play like a dark shadow.
So we can say that Willy′s downfall is really tragic. It already started when we heard about those car-accidents, that they weren′t real accidents. They show that Willy probably wanted to commit suicide. In the course of the play this preview gets clearer and clearer in our mind when we learn more about Willy′s life.
We can say that Willy′s death already started at the beginning of the play so that we can really call it a truly tragic downfall. But nevertheless, Willy carries a great responsibility for his own situation. He always believed in his dreams and never thought that they were so unrealistic, he also believed in his philosophy of success by a great outward appearance. He never realized that this attitude was wrong. Instead of leading him to success it lead him to his death.
But it′s also a responsibility of our society. Today everybody is only interested in money and power, so nobody cares about the individual′s problems.