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Death of a Salesman (1949)

Page history last edited by Matt Peterson 11 years, 3 months ago


Day 1 

Tues 8 Feb

Quotations Quiz

Opening of play--in all its methods

Day 2 

Thurs 10 Feb 

Salesman Introduction.pdf

Day 3 

Weds 16 Feb 

DOS Chapter 4.pdf

Day 4 

Fri 18 Feb 

Tragedy - Defn of.pdf

Miller - Tragedy of the Common Man.pdf

Day 5 

Tues 22 Feb 

DOS - Harold Bloom.pdf

Study Leave 

Thur 24 Feb 

Miller Interview.pdf






Others on Death of a Salesman

What American novelist and professor Joyce Carol Oates says on her page

Bert Cardullo in the Columbia Journal of American Studies

Wikipedia - Tragedy and Aristotle (7.1): You connect to what it has to do with DoS

Close Study



1870-1890 Period of Western Expansion in US when Willy's dad travels west, making and selling flutes
1871 Ben is born.
1885 Willy is born.
1903 Alaska gold strike. Willy follows Dave Singleman's path instead.
1912 Willy joins Wagner company.
1914 Biff is born. Bernard is born.
1916 Happy is born.
1923 Lomans move to Brooklyn. Begin 25-year mortgage.
1928 Willy's best year. Year of driving the red Chevvy.
1931 Biff fails to graduate and heads west.


All questions pertain to the sequence or page, many can and should reach beyond. 


Act One - Sequence 1 (12-19)

Present (night)

Brooklyn (Willy's and Linda's bedroom)

What does sequence 1 do? How does it extend to the rest of the play?

  • Flute establishes atmosphere. P. 13 fades out; p. 18 returns as Willy drifts into memory of 1928 and the Chevvy.
  • Setting established: New York area and evening
  • Other exposition: Introduce Willy's tendency to daydream
  • Reveal pattern of smashing car/driving off the road: remembering the past/daydreaming - liberty, freedom - Willy wants to cling to that memory
  • Willy "tired to death" (13)
  • Show Linda's devotion to Willy
  • Show Linda's love of being surrounded by viral men
  • "Life is a casting off": irony of Willy's suicide (a full-scale "casting off" although he has an inability to during his life)
  • Willy's honesty with Linda
  • Convey Willy's faith in past: Old man Wagner, Biff's glory days, house when it wasn't cramped
  • Significance of "if" in Willy's life - irony of hopeful future, only to continue residing in dreams
  • Establish Willy's self-contradictions: erasing of line between dreams and reality (Biff hardworking)
  • Establish frustration with Biff, ie, becoming a carpenter, knowing who he "really is", etc.
  • Willy: "No, I see everything"
  • Flora/fauna symbols, Elm trees, rural New England imagery, lost
  • Willy's belief in being attracitve/well-liked
  • Paradigm shift in society - Willy's failure to accept a success-based society
  • Establish 1928 as "the big year" for Willy - historical?


How is the set design significant?

How is conflict created within the first 5 lines of the play?

What is foreshadowed in the first 8?

What do you learn from the stage direction on page 13?

What causes Willy to daydream so much on his way up to New England?


Sequence 2 (19-26)

Present (night)--Happy's and Biff's bedroom

At same time, down in kitchen, Willy lost in 1928 

  • Show Happy's concern & admiration for Willy
    • Willy's sight: he sees but doesn't keep "his mind on it"
    • Happy's belief that Willy is a great salesman
  • Happy reveals that Willy's ailing mind has to do with Biff
  • Characterization of Happy: make money, lonely, womanizer
  • Characterization of Biff
    • wants a physical life and outdoors
    • wants a ranch
    • wants to "build" a future: physical, mechanical
    • Bill Oliver and stealing
    • a different kind of Loman, understands & feels socieities pressures
  • More water imagery: parting of seas
  • Stealing: Happy steals executives' wives, Biff physically steals


What is Biff alluding to (bottom p. 21)?

How have Biff and Happy inherited Willy's positive and negative traits?

How are Biff and Happy different?

What does Happy's line "Somebody with character, with resistance! Like Mom, y'know?" reveal about Happy?

How is Happy's language like Willy's?


Sequence 3 (26-37)

Past (day)--1928 Brooklyn (house and garden)

In Present, boys are upstairs

  • Remember that all that Willy is saying is out loud--and alone
  • Flora/faunca: more elms (28)
  • Contradiction with Willy: stealing, laughing, "give it back" (30)
  • Willy: "I have friends" - funeral indicates this later (31)
  • Willy's lies sets his sons up for failure
  • Quality = Biggest ads (35)
  • Repetition of well-liked
  • Willy says he's "fat" ยค Happy is trying to lose weight
  • As boys stop talking and Willy's recollection dominates, the houses are covered in leaves, and the "music insinuates itself as the leave appear" (27).


How important is it to Willy to be well-liked? 

To Willy, what is its power?

What does the play reveal about its power?

What is the significance of the trees?

What does Bernard reveal about the Lomans?

What is the significance of the Chevvy?

Is Biff well-liked?

What do we learn about Willy?


Sequence 4 (37-39)

Past (night), Boston (hotel room)--a memory within a memory

  • Memory of Linda darning stocking triggers memory of Willy's mistress
  • Dramatically, Willy leaves the kitchen to "enter" this memory stage left
  • Mention of stockings brings Willy back to original digression, and returns to young Linda in the kitchen
  • In present, the boys are still listening upstairs


What does the woman offer?


Sequence 5 (39-41)

Past (day), Brooklyn (kitchen)

  • Bernard enters 1928 memory
  • Woman laughs off-stage (40)
  • Young Bernard and young Linda leave.
  • Leaves are gone.


How are the stockings significant?

How do the various scenarios interact?

What is the purpose and effect of this?

How is Willy afflicted by the past?


Sequence 6 (41-44)

Present (night)

Brooklyn (Kitchen)

  • Now in present, Happy comes downstairs.
  • Introduce Alaska and Brother Ben
  • Introduce Willy's doubt in Happy
  • Charley on stage for first time
  • Hyperbolic language of Willy
  • Happy: "Well, there's no use--" (41) (...dwelling in the past)
  • Flora/fauna: "The woods are burning" (41).
  • Charley offers Willy a job (43).
  • "A man who can't handle tools is not a man" (44).
  • Talk of working with hands instigates Ben's entrance. 


What drives Willy's unwillingness to let Biff go back to Texas?


Sequence 7 (44-47)

Present (night), Brooklyn (kitchen)

Willy imagines a former conversation with Ben before Ben leaves for Alaska.

  • First time seeing Ben.
  • Stage description of Ben (44)
  • Ben's music
  • Charley is confused and worried (45).
  • Old Charley exits (47). 


Why is he Uncle Ben instead of Brother Ben?

Why does Ben have music?

When have we also had music?

What two major stressors led to Willy's recent mishap with the car?

Dramatically, how does Miller display the height of Willy's confusion?

Whose question is this: "How did you do it?"


Sequence 8 (47-52)

Past (day), Brooklyn (garden and house)

  • In present, this is still the same night; Willy has yet to go to bed.
  • Ben INTRODUCES!?! himself to Willy (47)
  • Young Linda enters.
  • Willy: What's the answer? How did you do it?
  • Talk of Willy's dad and Willy's childhood
  • wild flowers (48)
  • Young Biff and Happy enter (48).
  • Now music: "rollicking" (49).
  • Note Linda's dramatic response to Ben (50).
  • trees
  • Working with hands
  • Happy losing weight
  • Young Charley enters--doubling--warning of boys' stealing, just before boys exit
  • Bernard enters (and then likely exits right after) (51)
  • Young Linda and young Charley exit (51)
  • Willy to Ben: "...but I ... still feel--kind of temporary about myself" (51).
  • Willy is somehow in backyard and near garden by beginning of next sequence

  • Ben "goes off into the darkness" (52).


Are these from the past or imaginings?

When does Happy ask Willy's question?

What is the flute's significance?

What significance does Willy's father's absence play?

What is significant about Biff sparring with Ben?


Activity: read only Willy's lines on pages 47-52


Why does Miller bring in young Charley and Bernard?

What is Willy teaching his sons?

What has Willy determined he is right about?


Sequence 9 (52-69) END OF ACT

Willy in present but talking about the past. Linda in present. (garden and house)

  • Star
  • Biff enters, then Happy (53).
  • Develop Linda's character with boys--strength, realism, dependence.
  • Biff and Linda introduce truthful discourse.
  • Miller speaks through Linda (56). Quotable.
  • Concurrent line foreshadows revelation of woman (59)
  • Expose Willy's suicide attempts.
  • Biff says doesn't fit in business...wants to work with hands (60-61)
  • Willy enters house (61)--he's been listening.
  • Develop Bill Oliver and sporting goods scheme
  • Willy incessantly cuts Linda off
  • Loman worldview efficiently revealed (63-68)
  • Linda hums a lullaby.
  • Golden pool of light on Biff as light on Willy fades.
  • Star/moon
  • Act closes with Biff and pipe, Linda humming, and Biff looking toward Willy's room as Willy says act's last line.


When is willy at his best and worst (54)?

Is the conversation Willy has with Ben recollection or wholly imagined?


ACT TWO - Sequence 1 (71-76)

Present (day)

Brooklyn (kitchen)

     Next morning


     Biff off to Bill Oliver's

     Willy off to Howard Wagner's

     Payments on car, refrigerator, and house

     Dinner plans with boys


Sequence 2 (76-84)

Present (day)

New York (Howard Wagner's office)

     Tape recorder

     Dave Singleman

     Willy Fired


Sequence 3 (84-90)

Past (day)

Brooklyn (garden and house)

     Ben returns

     Along with Young Linda, Biff, Bernard, and Charley


What is the significance of the tension between Charley and Willy?

Compare and Contrast Ben and Charley.


Sequence 4 (90-98)

Present (day)

New York (Charley's office)

     Bernard in Charley's Office

     Willy shows up lost in memory, arguing with "memory Charley"


What is the significance of the overlapping memories?

How would you stage Willy from Oliver's to Charley's?

What would you want to convey?

What is Miller doing when he has Willy ask Bernard "What -- what's the secret?"


Willy: ... That questions has been trailing me like a ghost for the last 15 years" (93).


What makes Willy defensive?

Why doesn't Bernard mention the Supreme Court?

Why does Charley's "grow up" line sting so much?

Why won't Willy take a job from Charley?


Sequence 5 (98-109)

Present (evening)

New York (restaurant)

     At restaurant


DOS 98-112.mp3     (Chester's recording) 


Why have Ms Forsythe in the play?

What does Biff realize at Oliver's?

What is Biff's response?

How is Happy's solution emblematic of the Lomans?

How is "the woods are burning" fit with some of the play's motifs?

With Willy and Biff being honest, who is left to protect?

What is Happy's role in this scene?


Sequence 6 (109-111)

Past (night)

Brooklyn (exterior of house)

     Still at restaurant

     Trumpet note

     Young Bernard announces Biff flunked math


Sequence 7 (111-115)

Present (evening)

New York (restaurant)   

     Operator at Standish Arms


When in this sequence does Biff begin to lie and why?

How is Biff's line -- "Pop, how can I go back?" -- significant?

What woman?

What door? 


Sequence 8 (116-121)

Past (night)

Boston (hotel room)

     Willy at restaurant, but...

     Willy's mind at hotel room  


The music ends. When did it begin? What do you make of its timing?

How does Miller show Biff's changed regard for Willy?


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Sequence 9 (121-122)

Present (evening)

New York (restaurant)

     Willy at restaurant

     Asks Stanley where a seed store is


Sequence 10 (122-125)

Present (night)

Brooklyn (house and garden)

     Long pause



     Happy and Biff return Home

     A fierce Linda


Sequence 11 (125-127)

Present (night)

Brooklyn (house and garden)

     Willy hammering and planting his garden

     Ben returns


     Boys' music


Sequence 12 (127-136)

Present (night)

Brooklyn (house and garden)

     Biff comes out to garden

     Rubber tube

     Happy's true job

     Biff tells truth

     Willy moved

     Ben returns

     Ben's music

     Music changes

     Shift to funeral


Why doesn't Willy want to see Linda?

What does Willy mean Biff "cut down [his] life for spite" (129)?

How is the phrase "cut down" significant?

Why does Happy say he's getting married?


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     Biff's clarity

     Charley's defense

     Happy's resolve




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