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Arthur Miller, playwright of `Death of a Salesman,' dies at 89
February 11, 2005 *

Death of a Salesman (1951) * Arthur Miller disliked this film version of his play because he felt that the flashback sequences made it look as if Willy Loman were literally acting out his past in front of others, and that this made him seem insane. Perhaps because of this, other versions of the play have been shown on TV and video, but the 1951 version has not been televised in more than twenty years, and it has never been issued on VHS or DVD.

Study Questions

SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY

Lesson Plan + unit online ***

Death of a Salesman Introduction

quiz online *


* "Death of a Salesman," which took Miller only six weeks to write, earned rave reviews when it opened on Broadway in February 1949, directed by Elia Kazan.

Linda: "He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."

"Nobody dast blame this man. You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back--that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."

... "He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could've torn the walls down! How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I'd been a salesman for him! And then he gave one look and--I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been! We've been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk." 6. "Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way."

Death of a Salesman (1966/II) (TV)

Death of a Salesman (1985) (TV)

Questia :

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman by Harold Bloom; Chelsea House, 1988

Understanding Death of a Salesman: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Susan C. W. Abbotson, Brenda Murphy; Greenwood Press, 1999

Willy Loman by Harold Bloom; Chelsea House, 1991

* DEATH OF A SALESMAN -- The Play: A Critical Anthology by Eric Bentley; Prentice Hall, 1951


"I'm Not a Dime a Dozen! I am Willy Loman!": The Significance of Names and Numbers in Death of a Salesman, in Journal of Evolutionary Psychology by Frank Ardolino. 11 pgs.

Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition (Chap. 12 "Arthur Miller: Revisioning Realism")

The Tragic Protest (Chap. VII "Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman") by Zygmunt Adamczewski. 282 pgs.


In writing Death of a Salesman ( 1949), then, Miller was not simply plotting the pathetic drama--or tragedy, if you will--of a man cruelly abused by his world, a victim of society. He was working within the larger vision of Ibsen that sees such a man as mistreated, yes, but as much by himself as by society. Willy Loman is a victim of his own flashy rhetoric. But the deception and the sacrifice do not stop with him. They are endemic in his family. The tragic irony of the play is explicit in the final speech of the play. When his wife asks for forgiveness because she cannot cry--"It seems to me that you're just on another trip."--she sounds the note of unreality which the flute has played as background music throughout the play. It makes little difference whether Willy is dead or alive; his world is an illusory one. Linda Loman's last sobs are because the house is free and clear--"I made the last payment . . . today. . . . And there'll be nobody home. We're free and clear. We're free. We're free. . . . We're free. . . ." The family is free, or at least is capable of making itself free, free of Willy's kind of self-deception, free of illusion.The advance in dramatic skill and subtlety of purpose from the 1947 melodrama of wartime profiteering, All My Sons, to Death of a Salesman two years later was enormous. A View from the Bridge ( 1955) marks another advance, though perhaps one not quite so obvious. It is true that there is nothing in it quite so exhilarating theatrically as the expressionist setting and the flute motifs of Death of a Salesman, but the shorter play has a remarkable economy of form. Miller has avoided, as he himself tells us, every impulse to discover more and more neurotic patterns buried in the character of Eddie Carbone. "What struck me first about this tale when I heard it one night in my neighborhood was how directly, with what breathtaking simplicity, it did evolve. It seemed to me, finally, that its very bareness, its absolutely unswerving path, its exposed skeleton, so to speak, was its wisdom and even its charm and must not be tampered with."The final effect on the spectator of A View from the Bridge will probably depend upon his own theatrical attitudes. He may want, may even have, to tease the psychopathology from the play, dwelling at meditative length on the elements of homosexuality and incest in it. But if he does so, however unwillingly, he will have unnecessarily complicated the spare simplicity of the drama and perhaps lost the awe which the story arouses in Miller himself: "It is not designed primarily to draw tears or laughter from an audience but to strike a particular note of astonishment at the way in which, and the reasons for which, a man will endanger and risk and lose his very life." To miss the wonderment is to miss a great deal, for the "particular note of astonishment" of which Miller speaks and which this play is designed to produce is the authentic response to tragedy.

[ Makers of the Modern Theater by Barry Ulanov; McGraw-Hill, 1961 ]

- A View from the Bridge

* Glossary: stream conscience (Joyce, Kafka, here -- Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury), mindscape (Muller, Hamletdreams).

Transition from "The Glass Menagerie" (Plastic Theatre) and Brecht

* samples: crude stream of consciousness...


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Drama

Tragedy and the Common Man

An Essay by Arthur Miller [ 1949 ]

script.vtheatre.net/amdrama (O'Neill)

script.vtheatre.net/williams

filmplus.org/thr/amdrama2

...

...

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 the very 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 classific 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.

...

[ Source: Guth, Hans P. and Gabriele L. Rico, Discovering Literature. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993), pp. 1461-1464. ]

CHAPTER FOUR Arthur Miller: the moral imperative

... Miller derived from Ibsen and Shaw the significance of social causation; where he felt they fell short was in the degree to which they believed this to offer a total explanation. The essence of his concern seems clear enough and it lies in the necessity to resist such determinism in the conviction that the self is not a product alone of the forces that bear upon it. In that context theatre itself becomes an act of resistanceóresistance to anarchy, time, process: in short, to mortality.

Miller

[ fragments ]

Characters

WILLY LOMAN   UNCLE BEN  
LINDA   HOWARD WAGNER  
BIFF   JENNY  
HAPPY   STANLEY  
BERNARD   MISS FORSYTHE  
THE WOMAN   LETTA  
CHARLEY  
THE PLACE: Willy Loman's house and yard and various places he visits in the New York and Boston of today.

Throughout the play, in the stage directions, left and right mean stage left and stage right.

Act I

A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises.

Before us is the Salesman's house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens onto the apartment house at the side.

Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys' bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living-room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen.

The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all WILLY'S imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping "through" a wall onto the forestage.

From the right, WILLY LOMAN, the Salesman, enters, carrying two large sample cases. The flute plays on. He hears but is not aware of it. He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly. Even as he crosses the stage to the doorway of the house, his exhaustion is apparent. He unlocks the door, comes into the kitchen, and thankfully lets his burden down, feeling the soreness of his palms. A word-sigh escapes his lips --it might be "Oh, boy, oh, boy." He closes the door, then carries his cases out into the living-room, through the draped kitchen doorway.

LINDA, his wife, has stirred in her bed at the right. She gets out and puts on a robe, listening. Most often jovial, she has developed an iron repression of her exceptions to WILLY's behavior--she more than loves him, she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end.

LINDA, hearing WILLY outside the bedroom, calls with some trepidation. Willy!

....

miller-kazan


Modern American Drama, 1945-2000
Book by C. W. E. Bigsby; Cambridge University Press, 2000

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_a_Salesman : The play's structure resembles a stream of consciousness account: Willy drifts between his living room, downstage, to the apron and flashbacks of an idyllicized past, and also to fantasized conversations with Ben. The use of these different 'states' allows Miller to contrast Willy's dreams and the reality of his life in extraordinary detail, and also allows him to contrast the characters themselves, showing them in both sympathetic and villainous light, gradually unfolding the story, and refusing to allow the audience a permanent judgment about anyone. When we are in the present the characters abide by the rules of the set, entering only through the stage door to the left, however when we visit Willy's 'past' these rules are removed, with characters openly moving through walls. Whereas the term 'flashback' as a form of cinematography for these scenes is often heard, Miller himself rather speaks of 'mobile concurrencies'. In fact, flashbacks would show an objective image of the past. Miller's mobile concurrencies, however, rather show highly subjective memories. Furthermore, Willy destroys the boundaries between past and present, and the two start to exist in parallel...

Themes and points of interest:

* O'Neill > Miller

* Brecht > Miller

* Beckett & Miller

I hope that a new dimension and fresh resolve will inspire the powers that be to welcome fiercely ambitious playwrights. And that the time will come again when they will find a welcome for their big, world-challenging plays, somewhere west of London and somewhere east of the Hudson River. - Arthur Miller

A half-century anniversary dialogue **
 


  


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