Worksheet for Ben’s Dramatic Importance in Act 1
Consider and work through the question of Ben’s dramatic importance in Act 1 by working through the activities below:
- Linda criticises Ben: ‘away all these years’. She and the audience see his true nature – identify the significance of the dramatic irony that Willy does not do so (see below).
- Her reactions reveal Ben’s character – focus on them.
- Physical representation of ‘success’: he is a wealthy self-made man. Identify the precise aspect of the American Dream tht is being dealt with.
- Ben has a suave exterior but is a ruthless opportunist: e.g. No books = no taxes = black market cheat. Can you develop on this and find others?
- He has a very limited focus on life: repeats phrases on his success: ‘when I was seventeen…’ This is a satire on the self-made entrepreneur. Consider what Miller is criticising and note what is missing in the characterisation.
- What is the impact of a physical fight on stage? Look at such details as the aggression and the weapon.
- Does he mean his congratulations on the boys, do you think?
- Note the impatient actions e.g. looking at his watch when he arrives.
- Ben embodies Willy’s own wishes. He finds wealth instead of his father and when he does go to Alaska, he does not take up the search for him. What is the significance of Miller’s use of dramatic irony when the audience sees that Ben is unworthy of Willy’s idolatory?
- His thoughts and imaginary conversation with Ben becomes mingled with past experience. Ben’s becomes a physical presence in the present – a dead man appears on stage. This presence creates tension in the domestic setting. What is the effect of the blurring of reality?
Some Other Points:
- What are your thoughts on the contrast between Willy’s ‘failure’ and Ben’s ‘success’? What do you think, for instance, is the effect of the satire and irony relating to both characterisations on this initial obvious dichotomy?
- Can you find a parallel between Happy/Biff and Willy/Ben?
- Find examples where Ben’s bluff self-assurance is a contrast to the demeanor of the other characters.
- The physical difference beteween the brothers is symbolic. What are the differences and what are they symbolic of?
- The audience trusts Linda’s reactions and her responses create tension. How does Miller make us trust her?
You might also like to see my other pages on ‘Death of a Salesman’: