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Student Study Guide for Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

mandy_lloyd | Friday May 02, 2014

Categories: KS4, Drama, Death of a Salesman, Hot Entries, Writing, Drama Analysis, AQA A Level English Literature A, LTA1, LITA2, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB2, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level

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Form - ‘Tragedy’

In classical tragedies, so famous in ancient Greece, the playwright presents a protagonist (a ‘hero figure’) who initially succeeds but then suffers a ‘reversal of fortune’: we watch his fall from grace because he ‘over-reaches’ and dares the gods in some way, angering them and causing them to bring about his downfall. The gods bring the hero to fail because of a human weakness – a ‘fatal flaw’. The audience are brought to pity him as we see that without the flaw, his nobility and greatness would shine through.

Miller’s protagonist Willy Loman can be said to have tragic qualities. He aims too high and his ‘fatal flaw’ is his continuing self-delusion – he is fuelled by desire; and is a dreamer. We don’t blame Willy though: through his protagonist Miller shows us weaknesses in a key American ideology called the ‘American Dream’. This is a belief that if a person works hard in life, he or she will be successful. Willy believes that the measure of his success is how much wealth he has; but to gain wealth, for Willy, means to be well liked. He is convinced that popularity is the route to success. Miller knew that via the media, many Americans, like Willy, misinterpreted the ‘Dream’: they are driven by desire, and look to superficial qualities as being the keystone to their success. Willy works hard, but at the wrong things; and he fails. Unlike in classical tragedy, Willy is not a great leader of men: he is a representative of the ordinary man: a kind of ‘Everyman’.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a play as ‘a dramatic work for the stage or to be broadcast’ (Oxford Online Dictionary).

Form - Stage Play

The main difference between a novel and a play is that a play is written to be performed to, rather than read by, its audience. This offers the opportunity to include elements that can only be appreciated visually: an opportunity that Miller takes full...

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