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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Journey’s End

Year 12 English Lit students, this is the place for your analysis and discussion of the relationship between the sequence from the BBC production of Journey’s End that we watched yesterday and Sheriff’s script.

I’d recommend composing your ideas in a Google document or word processor then paste what your work I to the comments below. If you compose directly into the comments box there is a chance of losing everything if there’s a problem saving the comment. Start by quickly adding some immediate and obvious impressions. Before you add anything, check to see what comments other people have added so that we don’t end up with lots of people just saying the same thing. Once some ideas have begun to emerge, you can comment on others’ ideas by developing, refining or questioning them. Hopefully this will spark some discussion that will generate further ideas of your own that you can add as new comments, rather than replies to previous ones.

I look forward to reading your ideas, and joining in when I get the chance later.

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Death of a Salesman – More analysis

Now you have seen a few examples of the kind of close analysis of the text that marks out a skilled reader, and had a go yourselves in the comments section of the last blog post, as well as in your books, I want you to practise those skills further, working in pairs.

Below you will find a series of quotations. First you will need to sign-up for one of the quotations by clicking here. The quotations that are available are labelled ‘free slot’. Above the list, and below the ‘Sign Up’ heading, there is a link to a form that allows you to choose the quotation. You will need to select the number of the quotation from a drop-down menu, add your names in the box below, then click submit. Please check that your names have been added to the sign-up sheet before beginning work on your quotation. If someone else has chosen that quotation before you, you will have to pick another one.

Once you know which quotation you are working on, please copy and paste it at the top of a word processor document, then write your analysis of the quotation beneath. Then copy and paste the quotation and your response into a comment box under this post. Please do not work directly in the comment box, as there is a chance that all your work will be lost if the page crashes or the comment does not save properly.

You will find it helpful to find your quotation in the text so you can put it into context, and feel free to refer to other parts of the text that you think are relevant to link to your particular quotation.

Try and do this fairly quickly (no more than 20 minutes at the most). It doesn’t matter  if it feels unfinished: you can always add more ideas later, but I want everyone to publish their comments in time for you then to begin to look at what other people have written, and to make further comments, ask questions, and discuss further the quotations that other people have been working on. To allow this to happen I am disabling comment moderation, so please be responsible and only make relevant and constructive comments and questions. Your homework will be to continue the discussion.

The numbered quotations for you to choose from are below:

  1. WILLY: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff— he’s not lazy.LINDA: Never.WILLY: [with pity and resolve]: I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up. When he walked down the street… [He loses himself in reminiscences.]
  2. BIFF: Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future.
  3. WILLY: You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh?
  4. WILLY: Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more.HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh?WILLY: Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not liked. He’s liked, but he’s not — well liked
  5. WILLY: [stopping the incipient argument, to Happy]: Sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he? [To Biff] Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!BIFF: Oh, he keeps congratulating my initiative all the time, pop.WILLY: That’s because he likes you. If somebody else took that ball there’d be an uproar. So what’s the report, boys, what’s the report? (Act 1)
  6. WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. “Willy Loman is here!” That’s all they have to know and I go right through.
  7. LINDA: We should’ve bought the land next door.WILLY: The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow anymore, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?LINDA: Yeah, like being a million miles from the city.
  8. BIFF [with enthusiasm]: Listen, why don’t you come out West with me?HAPPY: You and I, heh?BIFF: Sure, maybe we could buy a ranch. Raise cattle, use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open.
  9. WILLY: How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!LINDA: He’s finding himself, Willy.WILLY: Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!
  10. WILLY: There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side… How can they whip cheese?
  11. HAPPY [enthralled]: That’s what I dream about Biff. Sometimes I wanna just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddamned merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outlift and outrun anybody in that store, and I have to take orders from those petty, common sons of bitches till I can’t stand it anymore.
  12. HAPPY: I bet he’d back you. ‘Cause he thought highly of you, Biff. I mean, they all do. You’re well liked, Biff. That’s why I say to come back here, and we both have the apartment. And I’m tellin’ you, Biff, any babe you want…
  13. WILLY: Oh, I’ll knock ‘em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.[They move onto the forestage]LINDA: Oh, don’t be foolish.

    WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.

    LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy.

    [Willy moves to the edge of the stage. Linda goes into the kitchen and starts to darn stockings.]

    WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed.

  14. LINDA: I’m just wondering if Oliver will remember him. You think he might?WILLY: [coming out of the bathroom in his pajamas]: Remember him? What’s the matter with you, you crazy? If he’d stayed with Oliver he’d be on top by now! Wait’ll Oliver gets a look at him. You don’t know the average caliber any more. The average young man today —[he’s getting into bed]— is got a caliber of zero. Greatest thing in the world for him was to bum around.
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Analysing Death of a Salesman

We’re still at a relatively early stage of our study of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in Year 10, and I recently asked my class to use the first few questions from the ‘Keeping Track’ section at the back of our edition of the text as as the basis for writing about the play so far. We’ve had a couple of sessions where our reading of the text has been interspersed by some written tasks where I’ve been trying to get them to do close textual analysis, focusing on the significance of details such as the particular vocabulary Miller has chosen.

This weekend I received an email from one of my students, reading, in part:

I do not understand question 3 which asks “How does Willy explain his state of mind?” because he has a unstable state of mind doesn’t he? But he doesn’t actually explain it all he does it talk to people who aren’t there but he isn’t explaining anything. But the only thing I have found in the text that he describes is the scenery when he is driving but that isn’t to do with his mind set it just shows that he likes the outdoor life just as much as Biff does it is just that he has too much pride to work on a ranch and instead works as a really crap salesman.

This seemed to me a classic case of a student who has spotted something important and relevant in the text, but is just struggling to see how to make it ‘fit’ the particular task set. My constant refrain is that success in English (or indeed any academic discipline (or indeed, dare I say it, in life itself)) depends on making connections. I put the emphasis on making. Not just finding connections as if they should already be there, and make themselves obvious, but making connections: a creative process over which you can have control.

So, my reply went as follows:

Good to hear from you.

How about:

WILLY: I’m tired to the death. (The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb.) I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.


WILLY: No, it’s me, it’s me. Suddenly I realize I’m goin’ sixty miles an hour and I don’t remember the last five minutes. I’m

I can’t seem to — keep my mind to it.


WILLY (with wonder): I was driving along, you understand? And I was fine. I was even observing the scenery. You can imagine, me looking at scenery, on the road every week of my life. But it’s so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm. I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. And then all of a sudden I’m goin’ off the road! I’m tellin’ya, I absolutely forgot I was driving. If I’d’ve  gone the other way over the white line I might’ve killed somebody. So I went on again — and five minutes later I’m  dreamin’ again, and I nearly… (He presses two fingers against his eyes.) I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.

And why do you say that when he describes the scenery as he is driving , “that isn’t to do with his mindset”? Where does it come from, if not from his mind? (or rather, from the mind of the character as created by Miller) And if it comes from his mind, then might it not be one way that he uses to ‘explain’ his state of mind to Linda? And by which Miller can ‘explain’ his state of mind to the audience? What might it suggest about his ‘state of mind’ that he feels the desire to “just let the warm air bathe over me”? What about his choice of the verb ‘observing’, (following the adverb ‘even’ – what does that imply?), and the impact of its contrast with the verb ‘looking’ (how is that different from ‘observing’?) when linked to the adverbial phrases “on the road, every week of my life”?
Hopefully you can begin now to find a way of doing the more subtle and detailed analysis that will make an even more skilled reader than you already are.
Perhaps other readers will also find something to provoke thought on how to delve into detail when analysing the play. I hope so. Perhaps you could add any answers you may have to those questions in the comments section?
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EngLangList (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of English Language Teachers group favorite links are here.

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EngLangList (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of English Language Teachers group favorite links are here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

EngLangList (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of English Language Teachers group favorite links are here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment