Death of a Salesman: sample essay

Here is a sample essay with an accompanying worksheet: the aim is to encourage identification of its qualities.  
The Question: 

From p 58: ‘Willy: Look it isn’t a question …’to p 60 ‘H: I don’t want you to represent us.’   Explore the ways that Miller makes this a moving and significant moment in the play.

This scene comes immediately after an optimistic, happy scene that leads the audience to think that there is a chance for Willy to resolve his problems.  Instead, Miller quickly proceeds to bring his character to the lowest point that he has been in the play.  This contrast heightens the audience’s response of pity for Willy and we realise the full roller coaster of emotions by the use of this bathos.

The scene reveals Miller’s views on the business world.  Willy desperately declares:

‘You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away.’

This is a direct criticism of the economic society where workers simply become a ‘unit of production’ (Marx) who are discarded once they can no longer fulfil their roles.  There is no compassion, respect, loyalty or comradeship. Howard is essentially ignored by Howard who ‘has not looked at him whilst he is talking’.  Even Willy’s physical ‘banging the desk’ has no effect on Howard.  Through his presentation of Howard’s coldness, Miller satirises the Marketing Manager who is solely driven by financial desires and who delights in purchasing the most up-to-date devices.

When alone, Willy speaks to an empty chair and the light ‘grows very bright and strange.’  This unnaturalness heralds another moment in the play when Willy is not in the physical present: here he is not in the past either because he is talking to Howard’s dead father as if he were alive at that moment.  Willy, standing alone on stage, talking to a non-existent character heightens our feeling of pity for him as we see how alone and helpless he is.

The dramatic impact of this scene is enhanced further by its abrupt change when Willy accidentally turns on the tape machine: he is immediately frightened and reduced to calling for Howard to return. This is all in sharp contrast to the ideal life of Dave Singleman who is shown to be Willy’s inspiration.  In a long monologue, Willy explains how he values friendship –this being particularly moving because he clearly has none himself.

ACTIVITY: highlight and annotate how the essay shows the following:

  • Orientation of this scene with the rest of the act/play – and the relevance of it.
  • Contextual relevance/significance of the play’s issues
  • Literary terminology used to develop response
  • Authorial viewpoint and/or author’s purpose
  • Quote – relevant to the point made?
  • Quote – embedded in sentence for fluency
  • Analysis of quotation e.g. language, stage directions, contrast
  • Understanding that this is a play, e.g. is the importance of stage action explored?
  • Audience response / personal viewpoint

You might also like to see my other pages on ‘Death of a Salesman’:

Death of a Salesman: Ben

Death of a Salesman: Articles

Death of a Salesman: Revision Essay Questions

Death of a Salesman: Dramatic Features

Death of a Salesman: Worksheet 1

Death of a Salesman: Worksheet 2

Death of a Salesman: Worksheet 3

Death of a Salesman: Dramatic Features

Death of a Salesman: Miller’s view


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