Death of a Salesman – Author’s Craft

Here is an extract from the Chief Examiner’s report on this coursework unit:

Moderators appreciated the sustained and detailed exploration of themes and ideas but judged that some students would have been more successful in addressing AO2 if they had been more mindful of authorial craft and the genre of the text, particularly when their interest in characters was at the expense of their appreciation of characterisation.

To focus yet further on this Assessment Objective I want you to answer the following essay question as your half-term homework:

How does Miller close Act One of Death of a Salesman in a way that focuses the audiences on the themes established in Act One, and sets the tone for Act Two?


This lesson you will do some preparatory work in pairs to further develop your ability to do the close ‘reading back into the quotation’ that we have been working on in recent lessons, and that I want to be the focus of your response in that essay..


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17 Responses to Death of a Salesman – Author’s Craft

  1. Mr Heald says:

    HAPPY: “You’re gonna live with me, kid, and any babe you want just say the word…!

    Miller has Happy use the colloquial contraction ‘gonna’ and the words ‘kid’ and ‘babe’, showing the confident and happy-go-lucky persona that he has projected throughout the first Act. By referring to his older brother as ‘kid’ he perhaps puts himself on a level with him, as if he is trying to reassure Biff that he has the support of his brother in the daunting endeavour of trying to start a new business. The audience may, however, see the use of ‘kid’ as arrogance on Happy’s part, especially in conjunction with the word ‘babe’ which is a belittling term, suggestive of his patronising and dismissive attitude towards women, almost as if he feels he can dispense women to Biff as he does products to customers in his job as a sales clerk. This attitude reminds us of Willy’s attitude throughout the first act, too. The apparently confident declarative sentence beginning ‘You’re gonna..” is typical of the way Willy wants to control events, as if by merely asserting that something is going to be the case, it will happen. However, like Willy, this apparent overconfidence can also be seen as a sign of insecurity, and in Act Two, that overconfidence and dismissive attitude to women on the part of Happy is an important part of the events in the restaurant that lead to the final crisis in Willy’s life, ending in his suicide.

  2. Zach/Will says:

    ‘Linda: I’ll make a big breakfast-
    Willy: Will you let me finish? (to BIFF) Tell him you were in the business in the West. Not farm work.’

    Even when she’s trying to help, Linda’s ideas are rejected and immediately dismissed by Willy. This is shown by the dash at the end of her line. This possibly shows that Linda wants to engage with the males of the family and help them move their lives forward, however, she’s not wanted and is used as a lesser figure then the men. It seems as if Willy is more against her help than his son’s.

  3. charlie says:

    LINDA: I’ll make a big breakfast—
    WILLY: Will you let me finish? (To Biff) Tell him you were in the business in the West. Not farm

    Miller makes Willy use the term ‘will you’ during the passage showing distinct signs of frustration. This links back to earlier on in the text when Willy is described as having a ‘mercurial nature.’

  4. Aaron nd Max says:

    Willy: “Like a god. Hercules-something like that. And the sun the sun all around him. Remember how he waved at me?”

    Miller uses very effective language to describe his love and affection towards Biff, such as “god”. God as a word gives the impression of being top of the top, the leader in hierachy and a role model. God is also a word of someone who is worshipped which we can link to earlier in the play when Happy quotes “you’re well like Biff”, this is a recuring theme throughout Biff’s character. The word “Hercules” is a Greek mythological hero. This links as the whole play is a Greek tragedy. This works as not only Biff is a hero to his dad, but Willy is a forgotten hero for all that he has done for his family.

  5. Jazza y Sazz (Jazz and Sarah) says:

    LINDA: I’ll make a big breakfast-
    WILLY: Will you let me finish?

    Miller has used the modal auxiliary verb “will you” to show frustration and distress in Willy’s voice. This shows that at that point in time, Willy felt annoyed with Linda whilst he was talking with his sons; this tends to be a general pattern throughout the novel. This same emotion is expressed immediately afterwards when Linda attempts to contribute again but is blatantly cut off and ignored by Willy.
    Willy could be responding to Linda in this way because he doesn’t want her to get involved with the relationship he shares with Biff and Happy, however, is happy to talk to her when they are alone and Willy is confiding in her.
    Linda’s attitude towards Willy is stated at the beginning of the first stage direction, when it explains she has “developed an iron repression of her exceptions to Willy’s behaviour”.

    • Jazza y SazzA (Jazz and Sarah) says:

      This could be due to Willy’s “mercurial nature” which also could be a factor as to why he treats Linda in a two-faced, unpredictable way.

  6. THE HARRY ^_^, Curtis:3, AND Daniel :D says:

    Miller closes act one by bringing in the theme of Willy liking Biff. It says ‘When that team came out – he was the tallest, remember?’. This is just after Willy had a mood swing. He was angry before and then changes. Willy’s ‘mercurial nature’ is also a theme in the play, he has mood swings and remembers his past which gets him confused. This is a major theme which eventually causes his death in the end of the play, its hinted and used by Miller throughout the whole of the play.

  7. Amy and Charley says:

    Miller closes act one in an agressive and almost depressing way. Thevery last two lines shows the agression Biff gives out. ‘BIFF wraps the tubing around his hand and quickly goes up the stairs’. Miller uses the word ‘wrapped’ to explain the way Biff collects tube, but could show the confined and compressed life Willy owns. Miller could of used another word(e.g. Placed) to make it come across more lightly and in a less aggitited way.

  8. charlie says:

    The very*

  9. Codie & Ursula says:

    ‘First thing in the morning. Everything’ll be alright.’

    Throughout the play Miller puts the characters in a false sense of security because as the play goes on, we know that everything actually isn’t alright but is completely opposite. When Willy says ‘Everything’ll be alright’, Miller uses dramatic irony to show the theme of tragedy that runs throughout the play. This shows how the characters may have been set up to fail by Miller.

  10. olivia and tomi says:

    HAPPY: “You’re gonna live with me, kid, and any babe you want just say the word…!

    Happy says ‘you’re gonna’ as if it is obligatory, like Biff has to do what Happy is telling him, he is in a sense belittling him by calling him ‘kid’ as if he is the older one, in the sense behaving like the father figure. We know that Happy is acting like his father; he is in a sense the younger version of his father as he has the same job as Willy, and shares a similar attitude to him, in the sense, he bosses Biff about and tells him, what he should do and what he is going to do with his life. This reminds us of near the beginning of the play, when Willy is dictating Biff on his life and what he should have and could have done.
    The way he says ‘babe’ shows a degrading attitude towards women, as if they are just objects. At the time, sexism was a major problem in America and this was the general attitude of men towards women at the time. Happy also shows similar traits to his father by talking big and talking about things that never happen as we later find out. Happy goes on to say ‘just say the word’ suggesting everything Biff wants he can have, and he makes everything sound so easy, as if he doesn’t need to try. He is also similar to Willy in the sense he has an overly big imagination and has a habit of making other people believe that things are actually going to happen, which eventually never seem to; ‘his massive dreams’ shows how many ambitions and dreams he has. Willy also later on gives Biff advice on girls, “Don’t make any promises to those girls, Biff, no promises of any kind.” Which is Willy giving warning to Biff so he doesn’t make the same mistakes he did when he was younger. We know this because he promises the woman who he was with when he was younger stockings and she obviously got mad at him for not wanting to give them to her, probably because he knew he could not afford them as at the time the prices of stockings were quite high and seen as a luxury. Biff is treated like the youngest and his younger brother especially emphasizes to him that he is seen as immature in Willy’s eyes, but really he is not but it is what Happy interprets it as. Happy tries to get Biff to become more like himself by getting him to even go see girls with him, and even tries to flatter him by saying ‘you taught me all I know about girls’.

  11. Amy & Eilish says:

    Willy, in this part of the play has no respect for Linda; this is because the impression he gave was that she was not important enough to be included in the conversation between father and son. When Linda tried to make a helpful suggestion, Willy interrupted with “Will you let me finish…?” even though he did not let her finish with what she was trying to say, therefore contradicting himself.
    (not finished)

  12. Ho Yin and maybe Maxwell says:

    Miller uses different themes and techniques such as Greek tragedy of which he uses a mercurial nature to close off with. He uses this when Willy talking to Biff about how to be successful when talking to Bill Oliver, Linda keeps interrupting
    “I’ll make a big breakfast –
    Will you let me finish?”
    This shows radical mood swings in Willy from one minute happy and thoughtful to angry and snappy.

  13. Holly, Greta and Jade and Aimee says:

    HAPPY: “Well let’s face it; he’s no hot shot selling man. Except that sometimes, you have to admit, he’s a sweet personality.”

    By Happy saying ‘lets face it’ he is explaining that his dad isnt actually as successful as everybody makes out he is, ‘lets face it’ suggests that Happy doesnt want to accept this about his father, however he knows its true and so does Biff and Linda. Happy may be saying this because as we’e already discovered, when Happy says something Willy and Linda usually ignore him or skip over whatever he has said, which could really damage Happys confidence but it has toight him to see the truth about his father rather than be biassed like Biff and Linda could be. Miller may have used this choice of words because he expresses Happy very much as the good one in the family which makes Happy think about the truth and will always accept the fact that his father wasnt as successful as everyone thought, and that Happy has never been his favourite, or not loved as much as Biff.
    the term ‘no hot shot selling man’ suggests Happy has no respect for this father and doesnt look up to him as a role model. Happy may think that his father isnt a very successful sales man because of his low salary and low self esteem. His behavior and the facts his family about him behind his back may be the reason he doesnt idolise his father.
    When Happy says “except that sometimes” suggests that Happy feels sorry for his father in the fact that people are talking about him behind his back and he is trying to talk about him in a posotive way.

  14. olivia and tomi says:

    *Miller does this to show the similar traits between Willy and Happy and to bring Biff into the audience’s attention as if he knows what he wants in life but he is constantly misled by his brother and his father who contradict each other BUT they both try and dictate Biff’s life as if he is lost and a “bum” who has no career path.

  15. kell and gee says:

    kell and gee says:

    October 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Georgia and Kellie’s English analysis

    “I’m gonna get married, mom. I wanted to tell you”
    Linda “go to sleep, dear”
    The response in which Linda replies is quite blunt and unexpected. This was quite controversial of Happy to say he wanted to get married as previously in the novel he said he liked being with different women and he wasn’t the type to commit to a relationship.
    In addition, Linda’s reaction was an imperative, however the noun she uses “dear” suggests a …
    can someone help us finish this sentence please?

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