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The Death of a Salesman Act I: the Lowman Family & their American/Capitalist Dreams
Outline p General Introduction n n p p p Arthur Miller The American Dream The development of capitalism The play and its Style Starting Questions and General Questions Stage Directions Willy Lowman –his Present Linda’s Role Biff vs. Happy – their Dreams and Efforts Willy Loman’s Dream, its Sources and Influence p p p Other Examples of Success in Capitalism Willy/Biff vs. Charley/Bernard End of Act I: High Hope and Inherent Problems
General Introduction --Arthur Miller n n n interested in father-son relationships, critiques the American Dream; his conflicted relationship with his uncle, Manny Newman, also a salesman. “Newman imagined a continuous competition between his son and Miller. ” (source) married Marilyn Monroe in 1956; they divorced in 1961 Politically active; in support of Communist party during the time of red scare. Another famous play, The Crucible 激情年代
General Introduction (2) American Dreams p p Americans’ (or immigrants’) dream of success which “should be” easy and quick “as long as” you work hard (esp. material success and social climbing; e. g. “Two Kinds. ”) Related concepts: self-made man; US as the New World promised by God; freedom to expand (to go West and explore new frontiers). Related signs of success: car, suburban house (with a backyard), furniture and machines Criticism: n n n contradictions between idealism and materialism other factors of success ignored (luck, family background, toughness and even dirty-dealing) hiding the reality of inequality. Today’s examples: Dot-com boom and illegal immigrants (boat people) p
General Introduction (3) Development of Capitalism (Industrial Electronic/Media) p p p 19 th century 20 th century: social mobility or the rise of the middle class and the fall of aristocracy (e. g. Pride and Prejudice Pygmalion); Mechanical Reproduction; alienation of workers and then everyone (Salesman) Improvement in the means of transportation and mass communication (“The Man in a Case, ” “Yellow Sky” “In the Station of a Metro”) Abstraction of money and social values (e. g. “₤ 1, 000 Bank-Note”) Continuous Expansion of the capital the commercial world and increasing desire of the consumers (“A&P”) buying things on credit and mortgage (Salesman)
General Introduction (3) Development of Capitalism (Industrial Electronic/Media) p buying things on credit (installment plan or mortgage) e. g. cars and houses n n p p. 1211 (they owe 120 dollars by the 15 th— fridge, carburetor, washing machine, roof) p. 1230 (fridge broken all the time, insurance premium, car, house mortgage) Willy's only relief is that after twenty-five years he has finally paid off his home mortgage
General Introduction (4) p Death of a Salesman (1949) –consider the first great American tragedy. n n Setting: New York City and Boston in the late 1940 s The places mentioned: New England, the West, Texas, Florida, Africa, Alaska. Major Issues: p American Dream -- What are their dreams? Where do these dreams come from? And how are they broken? p Father-Son Relationships p “Lowman” – as a tragic hero? Styles: Expressionism
Expressionism & Stage Direction p p Miller once said that "Any dramatic form is an artifice, a way of transforming a subjective feeling into something that can be comprehended through public symbols. " (Introduction to Collected Plays from the Viking version p. 156) Pay attention to n the expressions of subjective feelings n Thru’ public symbols
Act I: Plot Summary p p p Willy Loman returns to his New York home; expression of fatique, d worries over Biff; Biff and Happy talk about the past and their present problems, which ends Biff’s decision to visit Bill Oliver, and ask the latter for a job. Flashbacks: n n 1207 1) Willy talks to Biff and Happy when they were in high school; Biff is popular then, but Bernard warns him that he may fail his math. Strong father-son bond. 2) Willy and Linda discuss their financial problems, which is followed by Willy’s expressions of diffidence, Linda’s confirmation, the appearance of a woman, and then Bernard’s searching for Biff.
Act I: Plot Summary (2) 1214 The present flashback: Happy tries to comfort Willy first, and then Charley appears and plays cards with Willy, while Willy imagines talking to Ben. p 1220 Ben gone; Willy goes to the bedroom; Linda reveals their financial difficulties to her sons; Linda suspects that Willy uses a tube to asphyxiate himself with gas. p Biff promises to stay and try again to work; as they talk, Willy comes in and the four of them talk about their plans, argue with each other while showing their love. p
Starting Questions 1. 2. the first stage direction a) the characters Willy and Linda, b) the central theme of the play (e. g. "the fragile-seeming house, " apartment buildings, the "one-dimensional" roof, the colors, the flute, etc. )? The first dialogue between Linda and Willy: What is Willy like in the "present" of the play? What is bothering Willy? And the relationship between Willy and Linda? Willy's views of Biff? 3. The dialogue between Biff and Happy-- the two brothers are set in contrast in terms of their working experience, their desire and dream, and their relationship to their parents. How are they similar to each other in terms of the ways they use to achieve their respective dream?
Overall Questions on Act I: the Characters’ Dreams and Efforts Where does Willy get his dream? How is Willy’s dream different from and similar to Ben’s? And Happy’s and Biff’s? p How do the parents, Willy and Linda, educate their sons? p How do Charley and Bernard serve as foil to Willy and Biff? p What social conditions do the characters exist in? p
Stage Direction –Symbolic of their dream and social conditions p p p the house with "one-dimensional" roof-line vs. the angular shapes behind it – apartment buildings & skyscrapers representing over-population and power Kitchen, refrigerator and 3 chairs – the center of life for this family Elements of dream –silver trophy Willy and the flute “small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon“ see p. 1202 Willy’s complaints about “this country. ” The apron as backyard with or without wall-lines the colors –blue sky (suggests desire for freedom), angry orange (of constraint and competition)
Willy –What’s bothering him? p p Exhausted, he drives a long way to do business. Outdated – n n n p whip cheese? " Not well-known anymore: business now is "all cut and dried, and there's no chance for bringing friendship to bear--or personality. […] They don’t know me anymore” (Act 2 1234) Contradictory views on Biff: n n p Not well-treated by the young boss (Howard; 1201) cannot take American whipped cheese (1202) "How can they Upset by Biff’s being a farmhand, his not “finding [himself] at the sage of 34. ” Thinks that Biff is lost, not lazy – “In the greatest country in the world a young man with such - personal attractiveness, gets lost. ” Nostalgic about the past (1202 and more later) His mind wanders off (1200; 1203), talks to himself –or to Biff. n e. g. 1204 “What a simonizing job”
Linda –Supportive, perceptive and blind p p Linda: “adores” Willy (1199); “iron repression of her exceptions to Willy’s behavior” Serves Willy, normalizes the situations while she is actually worries about him (pp. 1200) Gives suggestions – rest, work in New York; speaks for her children and tries to improve the father-son relationships. (1221 -1225)
Linda –(2) blind and perceptive p 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Her speech(1221 -1225): sees Willy’s emotional changes re. Biff without knowing why (1221); Well respected and loved by the two boys; Defends Willy (21 -22)—love him or don’t come back. Demands attention to and sympathy for Willy Reveals his suicidal tendencies, finds it a shame “a woman” –seems to suspect something without knowing it. (1223)
Biff and Happy-(1203 --) & Their Dreams & Efforts p p p Similarities: lost, confused Nostalgic – old beds, “dreams and plans” Attractive to women when young; Still keeps empty dreams of success –about having a ranch; about getting married to a girl; about running a company “The Lowman Brothers” 12051206 without knowing how to do it. “Bill Oliver” as a possible rescuer think big; The Lowman Line 1226; p p Happy – self-deceiving seemingly more content; controls his bashfulness now. seek revenge against his superiors by taking their women out. Biff – (now) wears a worn air; less successful; unhappy about being a clerk or a cowboy * 120405 (past) introduces Happy to women. Interested in handiwork or farm work (1225) “we don't belong in this nuthouse of a city!”
Willy vs. Biff/Happy p. 1207 p Simultaneity (120407) –Willy missing the past and Biff/Happy talking about the past. p Happy defends Willy, ask Biff to talk to him, while Biff criticizes him 1203; 1207 "There are no flashbacks in this play but only a mobile concurrency of past and present. . . " Arthur Miller
Willy Loman’s Dream, its Sources and Influences Dream – in His Son & Salesmanship Source: Ben and the Flute Influences: Biff and Happy
Dream (1): His Son & Salesmanship— What is he proud of? p Biff – polishes the carefully; Adores and is close to his father; good at playing football (1209 -10); adored by many boys and girls (1211) p. 1228 –”Like a young god. Hercules -- something like that. […] God Almighty, he'll be great yet. A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!” p p House & car– adding a hammock, work on the ceiling and the front stoop Salesmanship – “well-liked” 1209 – Self-deceptive – actually he is not making enough money (1211), nor is Biff getting anywhere (1214). His sense of diffidence and guilt – 1212 -13 n talks and jokes too much; like a walrus; has an affair.
Willy Loman’s Dream (2): Source --Ben p p p Willy Ben: "There was a man started with the clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines" (? ) Ben --"Why, boys, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty -one. And, by God, I was rich“ (1218) "Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way" (1219) Ben’s – imperialist capitalist (plundering in a foreign land) Loman--"It's Brooklyn, I know, but we hunt too" (1219)
Willy Loman’s Dream (3) The Flute p p "It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon" Willy’s father 1218 n n "great inventor" who would "stop in the towns and sell the flutes he'd made on the way. " "With one gadget, " Ben tells Willy, "he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime" Willy’s Father’s – in the age of mercantile capitalism: an untamed natural man and the westward-bound pioneer; the artisan, a great inventor, and a successful traveling merchant; he sold what he made. Willy does not remember him except as an image. Willy – industrial capitalism, where the role of traveling salesman gets less important.
-Ben, how should I teach them? Willy as a Father
Willy Loman’s Teaching (1) Jungle Spirit p p His gift (1208) : a punching bag with Gene Tunney’s signature Believes in names and reputation: n p p Biff expresses his hatred of the business world because "They've laughed at Dad for years (1225). . . “. Willy responds in a characteristic manner: "Go to Filene's, go to the Hub, go to Slattery's, Boston. Call out the name Willy Loman and see what happens! Big shot!" (1225) "That's just the spirit I want to embue them with! To walk into the jungle!" (1220) Competitiveness n n "Knocked 'em cold in Providence, slaughtered 'em in Boston" (1210) His advice to Biff in asking Bill Oliver for a loan, Willy's advice is "Knock him dead, boy" (1228)
Willy Loman’s Teaching (2) p Permissive and not teaching them practical skills or the spirit of hard work: n n congratulates Biff on his initiative for borrowing a regulation football to practice with (1209) encourages the boys to steal sand from the apartment house so that he can rebuild the front stoop (1219) advises his sons to be well liked and make a good appearance in order to get ahead in the world (1210) Expects Bernard to give answers to Biff in exams; refuses to face Biff’s failures and problems. (1214 more later)
Willy’s Ways to Success – p p Human Connections --What he tells his son: “Be liked and you will never want. ” (1210) proper language and dress -- What is revealed in his talk to Linda about his weaknesses: n n p Proper manners -- Act I, talking about how Biff should behaves in front of B. Oliver: n n n p A man oughta come in with a few words. (But not too many words—Willy himself talks too much. ) (1212) I gotta overcome it. I know I gotta overcome it. I'm not dressing to advantage, maybe. (1212) Be quiet, fine, and serious. Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money. (1226) But remember, start big and you'll end up big. Ask for 15. (1226) Start off with a couple of your good stories to lighten things up. It's not what you say, it's how you say it--because personality always wins the day. (1227) success results from "who you know and the smile on your face! It's contacts. . . being liked“ (1237 Act 2)
Other examples of American Dream and its acquisitiveness p p Happy: “[His] own apartment, a car and plenty of women” (1205) Happy about his friend: n p He's a good friend of mine, and he just built a terrific estate on Long Island. And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he's building another one. He can't enjoy it once it's finished. And I know that's just what I would do. I don't know what the hell I'm workin' for. (1205) I tell you. . . I'm gonna take my camera, and my bandsaw, and all my hobbies, and out they go. This is the most fascinating relaxation I've ever found (Howard Act 2: 1233)
Willy/Biff vs. Charles/Bernard p Charles and Bernard -- Less athletic. (1219) n n p p Bernard – Willy “What an anemic” “Between him and his son Bernard they can’t hammer a nail!” (1219) Charley—cannot handle tools (1216) “disgusting” to Willy. Charley—more practical (matter-of-fact), slow and clumsy in words n n n says “Don’t get insulted” three times (1215) (more later) “There’s no bone in heartburns. ” (1215 Willy’s suggestions of vitamin is useless. ) “When a deposit bottle is broken, you don’t get the nickels back. ” (referring to Biff)
Willy/Biff vs. Charley/Bernard p p Bernard and Charley – Both law-abiding: n n n p Charley: Listen, if that watchman. . . Willy: I gave them[the watchmen] hell, understand. But I got a couple of fearless characters there. Charley: Willy, the jails are full of fearless characters. Barnard: The watchman’s chasing Biff! Shut up! He’s not stealing anything! (1219) both loyal to their friends n n n “Pity” in whatever he says; Charley –plays cards with Willy to help him relax; (Act 2) lends money to Willy Bernard – keeps asking Biff to study math with him; helps Biff pass the exams by cheating.
End of Act I: High Hope and Inherent Problems p p 1. 2. 3. Hope – Willy is going to Howard, and Biff, to Ben Oliver, in order to change their lives. Inherent Problems: In Biff – he steals In Willy– his malfunctioned mind, his high hope for Biff and reality (the rubber tube and a job without salary) between Biff and Willy n n n Biff defends his mother 1221 (Your hair got so gray); 1227 (Don’t yell at her, will ya) Against Willy “I know he’s a fake and he doesn’t like anybody around who knows” (1223) Something Linda is not aware of (“Willy dear, what has he got against you? ” 1228)