Choose one of the focuses for “Death of a Salesman” below.

This assignment has two primary parts:

An annotated bibliography

A 2-3 page essay using the sources from the annotated bibliography as support

Assignment Directions:

Choose one of the focuses for “Death of a Salesman” below. The goal is for each student to find at least THREE secondary sources, each discussing the chosen focus. After choosing the focus, begin finding the secondary sources and create an abbreviated annotated bibliography. For the Annotated Bibliography, follow the same basic format as we did for the “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” assignment. Then write a 2-3 page essay in which you enter and contribute to the conversation about the focus on the play you have chosen, using the three secondary sources to develop and guide your discussion.

Begin by formatting a citation of the source in MLA format (Use hanging indent).

Next, briefly summarize the source (what is the takeaway?).

Keep the summary brief (around 5 sentences)

Then, briefly evaluate the source’s idea(s) (is this a reasonable take on the primary text? why or why not

Please keep the evaluation brief (about 2-3 sentences).

Finally, after inserting a page break, write a 2-3 page essay in which you enter and contribute to the conversation about the particular focus of the play.

This may be an inductive, rather than a deductive, essay. That is, it may be closer to a journal entry than literary analysis, so long as you maintain focus on the pertinent issue and actually form an opinion about it.

Focuses for Death of a Salesman Source Assignment:

1) Does Arthur Miller portray the women in Death of a Salesman in an anti-feminist manner (such as Linda as an enabler) and, as Gayle Rubin claims, as non-active “objects to be exchanged”? Or does Miller make a statement about gender by portraying his male characters as anti-feminist? (Both E-Books, links below) have several useful essays).

2) The so-called “American Dream”—industriousness by an individual leading to wealth and happiness—is obviously central to this play. Does Miller depict the American Dream as desirable yet essentially unattainable? Or does Willy Loman simply misunderstand how to achieve his goals? (Clurman download may be a good introduction to this focus; then both books, links below, have several potentially useful essays).

3) Are capitalism, business, and the pursuit of the material portrayed as negative endeavors with serious ramifications in Death of a Salesman? Is business dramatized as a cutthroat enterprise, as in the scene with Howard, or does Miller suggest that Willy’s undependable character and growing incompetence are the problems? (Many of the same texts as “The American Dream” focus can be used here as well).

4) Is Death of a Salesman a Tragedy? Most of the arguments about Death of a Salesman as a tragedy come under four headings, each of which refers to one of the phrases in Aristotle’s definition, and each of which gives rise to a number of questions. A good place to begin might be with Miller’s own thoughts as published in “Tragedy and the Common Man download;” then move on to other sources (Bierman, Hart, and Johnson; downloaded Schweinitz download; Dillingham download; and Hynes download are each good sources). These considerations may be taken together, or any one of the headings might be discussed individually.

The first heading is the seriousness (or “nobility”) and magnitude of Death of a Salesman. Is its action large or impressive enough to be an appropriate subject for tragedy? Has Willy Loman the stature required of a tragic hero, so that we admire as well as pity him in his misfortune? Or, instead of being a hero, is he merely a victim and a deluded fool?

The second heading is discovery or recognition, which Aristotle seems to have regarded as the recognition of one character by another—e.g. that of Ulysses by his old nurse—but which modern critics prefer to interpret as the hero’s recognition of his own nature. Does Willy achieve that tragic self-awareness at the end of the play, or does he die still clinging to an illusion? Miller, himself, has argued in his “Introduction to Collected Plays,” that if Willy had not been aware of his separation from enduring values, “he would have died contentedly while polishing his car.” Is Miller’s argument persuasive? If we refuse to accept it, might we say that Biff is the character who undergoes a tragic self-recognition (“I know who I am, kid”)? Or do we question that recognition on the ground that it may be only another of the Loman illusions?

The third heading is language, which Aristotle took for granted should be poetry, and which he said should be provided “with pleasing accessories.” Is the language of Death of a Salesman effective in presenting the story? Is it too colloquial and prosaic for a tragedy? Does it rise to tragic heights, and if so, in which passages?

The fourth heading is the emotions evoked from the audience. Aristotle says that a tragedy should arouse pity and fear, but in such a way as to accomplish a catharsis of such emotions. In regard to Death of a Salesman, some critics object that there is no catharsis of emotions and that the Requiem is designed to draw tears from the audience instead of raising it to tragic exaltation. Is the objection justified, or is it pedantic? Does the Requiem leave us with “an image of peace,” as it would seem that Miller intended it to do? Miller believes, contrary to Aristotle, that “the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity” (Tragedy and the Common Man). Would this statement apply to all tragedies? What is the actual feeling, tragic or otherwise, aroused in a student by the play?

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Choose one of the focuses for Death of a Salesman below.


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