Death of a Salesman
(The Inside of His Head)
The dramatist is an artist whose medium presents him with some severe limitations, especially compared to the novelist or poet. While the latter two have the advantage of voluminous description, narrative progression, direct comment, and penetration into the characters’ minds, the dramatist must use his setting, his characters and their language, and the force of direct conflict to properly guide the audience’s response to the play.
Presumably, Miller intended to portray to the audience the process by which Willy Loman achieves self-realization and consequently, commits suicide. This over-riding concern lead Miller to choose an expressionistic setting to complement his use of real memories as opposed to flashbacks to control the audience’s awareness of the inner workings of Willy’s head. The play was originally titled The Inside of His Head.
As Miller said, “I wanted to create a form which would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s mind. Not flashbacks.”
Again, Miller said, “The structure of the play was determined by what was needed to draw up Willy’s memories like a mass of tangled roots without end or beginning…If I could make him remember enough, he would kill himself.”
In order for us to understand the techniques Miller used to help us get inside Willy’s head and thus accompany him on his strip down memory lane to death, we need to look at several aspects of this play. We could spend many days on such a complex play, but to save time, we will use groups to explore different areas. Each group will be responsible for several different aspects of the play. After using the play to explore these aspects, we will come together to discuss how Miller took us along with Willy as he came to a full realization of who he was and wasn’t.
Each group will:
- find quotes to elucidate a statement about the play or a technique used in the play.
- write sentence themes and supporting quotes.
- analyze a given character, providing supporting quotes.
- turn in one typed copy and present information to class.
- Write an explanation of the following statement, using 4 or 5 examples that back up the statement: Willy’s past actions have created the inescapable position he is in now. (What is that inescapable position?)
- Themes or subjects: Alienation in modern business; corruption (heartlessness) in modern business. Write a sentence theme and find 5 quotes that deal with each.
- Find 4-5 quotes that portray Biff. Discuss the symbolism of his name. Find as many different aspects of his character as you can.
- How do the set’s appearance, sound, lighting, and the actors’ placement and movement facilitate the suggestive switches in time in Willy’s mind? Find 4-5 examples.
- Themes or subjects: Father/son conflict; questionable morality. Write a sentence theme and find 5 quotes that deal with each.
- Find 4-5 quotes that portray Willy. Discuss the symbolism of his name “Loman.” Find as many different aspects of his character as you can.
- Linda must take part of the blame for the tragedy of Willy. Explain, using 4-5 quotes and examples.
- Themes or subjects: Personal attractiveness and success; nature or country vs. the city. Write a sentence theme and find 5 quotes that deal with each.
- Find 4-5 quotes that portray Linda. Find as many different aspects of her character as you can. What is she a symbol of?
- Biff’s success is Willy’s sole purpose for living, and it becomes his sole purpose in dying. Explain this statement and use 4-5 quotes from the play to do so.
- Themes or subjects: Truth vs. illusion; lament for the past. Write a sentence theme and find 5 quotes that deal with each.
- Find 4-5 quotes that portray Happy. Discuss the symbolism in his name. Find as many different aspects of his character as you can.
To think about: At least two characters have made a journey to self-realization. One meets with a negative end; the other, a positive one. Who are they? Explain their progress.