discuss how Willy and Shelley are or are not examples of tragic heroes. MLA format.
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discuss how Willy and Shelley are or are not examples of tragic heroes. MLA format.
Asked: May 2nd, 2017
For your paper you are to answer BOTH of the following questions, using the two plays and sources that come from the course. You must cite all you answers using MLA formatting. Submit both answers as one document.
Label each prompt as One and Two. Write at least 750 - 1000 words for
each paper. Create a Works Cited page at the end of each answer. Again,
put both papers into one document that you will upload here.
Prompt One (answer both one and two)
a 750 - 1000 word, well-paragraphed essay, discuss how Willy and
Shelley are or are not examples of tragic heroes. Use quotes from both
Miller and Aristotle when defining what a tragic hero is then use quotes
from Miller and Mamet's plays, when connecting those ideas to the two
Prompt Two (again answer both one and two and include both answers in one document)
In a 750 - 1000 word, well paragraphed essay, discuss how Death of a Salesman represents a modernist critique of capitalism, while Glengarry Glenn Ross represents a postmodernists critique of capitalism.
Listed Below are the ONLY RESOURCES Allowed to use!:
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Title: Glengarry Glen Ross
Source: Masterplots, Fourth Edition; November 2010, p1-3
Article Author: Delaney, Bill
Document Type: Work Analysis
Biographical Information: Mamet, David
Full Name: David Alan Mamet
National Identity: United States
Cultural Identity: Jewish
Publication Information: Salem Press
Locale: Chicago; Illinois; United States; North America
Abstract: A brief synopsis and critical analysis of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen
Literary Genres/Subgenres: Drama; Social realism
Subject Terms: 1980's
Language or languages
Accession Number: 103331MP417789820000108
Database: Literary Reference Center
Glengarry Glen Ross
Born: November 30, 1947; Chicago, Illinois
First produced: 1983; ﬁrst published, 1983
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: 1982
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Shelley Levene, a real estate salesman
John Williamson, an ofﬁce manager
Dave Moss, a real estate salesman
George Aaronow, a real estate salesman
Richard Roma, a real estate salesman
James Lingk, a prospective buyer
Baylen, a police detective
Shelley Levene, Dave Moss, George Aaronow, and Richard Roma are competing in yet another sales
promotion contest to sell plots of overpriced, vacant land in a subdivision in Florida. The ruthless bosses Mitch
and Murray have decreed that the winner will get a new Cadillac, the runner-up a set of steak knives, and the
other two will be ﬁred. All four salesmen are unhappy with the leads (the names, addresses, and phone
numbers of supposedly interested prospects) the company is providing and are voicing their complaints to one
another as well as to the ofﬁce manager, John Williamson, a company man who is only obeying orders. Levene
is desperate because he has no sales on the board and is having a streak of bad luck. He pleads with
Williamson for better leads but gets nowhere with the inﬂexible ofﬁce manager, who regards Levene as an
over-the-hill loser on his way out.
In a conﬁdential conversation at the Chinese restaurant, Moss suggests to Aaronow that they stage a fake
break-in at the ofﬁce and steal the premium leads, which are considered valuable because they come from
good sources and have not yet been worked over. He claims he can sell them to a competitor named Graff and
that they can both go to work for him. Moss says Aaronow will receive twenty-ﬁve hundred dollars as his share
of Graff’s payment for the stolen leads. Aaronow is tempted but afraid of getting caught. In the same Chinese
restaurant, Roma, a younger, more successful salesman who seems destined to win the Cadillac, begins to
display his sales skills by nearly hypnotizing a gullible prospect named James Lingk with a line of double-talk
that insidiously introduces the subject of Glengarry Highlands, the wildly inappropriate name for the Florida
swampland the company is currently promoting.
The next morning when Roma comes in to claim the Cadillac because he has made a big sale to Lingk, he
discovers that the ofﬁce has been burglarized. There is broken glass all over the ﬂoor and a detective named
Baylen is questioning the salesmen one by one. Roma is outraged when he learns that some of the recently
executed sales contracts have been stolen, along with some ofﬁce equipment and the premium leads. To add
to his problems, Lingk appears and announces that his wife has demanded that he back out of the land deal.
While Roma is trying to stall his balky client by telling him that it will take several days for the paperwork to
clear, Williamson blurts out that the contract and Lingk’s check have been sent in to the main ofﬁce. The
frightened Lingk rushes off to get legal help to cancel the deal, while Roma turns on Williamson and curses him
roundly for butting into a situation he knows nothing about.
Levene, who is feeling euphoric and rejuvenated because he had made a big sale the night before, heaps his
own profane abuse on Williamson for killing Roma’s deal. Inadvertently, however, he reveals guilty knowledge
about the break-in. His incriminating statement is to call Williamson a liar. Levene is the only one (besides
Williamson himself) who knows that Williamson is lying about the contract and the check. Williamson thinks by
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lying that he is helping Roma. Lingk’s contract and check have not been sent in but rather are on Williamson’s
desk where Levene must have seen them when he was stealing the premium leads.
Levene confesses, pulling out the twenty-ﬁve hundred dollars in cash and offering to give all of it to Williamson
if he will only keep quiet. Williamson, however, reports Levene to the detective. It is evident that Levene will go
to prison along with Moss, on whom he informed, while the two remaining salesmen will continue to pray for
better leads and worry about their uncertain futures in their dog-eat-dog business.
Fortunately for the public, the salesmen depicted in David Mamet’s play are not typical for the real estate
business as a whole, although they use many of the sales techniques taught by big real-estate brokerage ﬁrms
at motivational seminars. Mamet’s salesmen are “hard sell” con artists selling land for far more than it is worth.
Typically they obtain prospects from coupons mailed in by people responding to glowing advertisements in
newspapers and magazines. The story’s leads are requesting a brochure but do not realize that the brochure
will be attached to the end of a high-pressure salesman’s arm. Prospects rarely see the land itself but are
shown maps and photographs designed to create the illusion that these subdivisions in far-off Florida, Arizona,
Hawaii, or some other sunny place will be turned into a vacation and retirement paradise with golf courses,
tennis courts, swimming pools, clubhouses, and other amenities. The buyers are buying a dream and an
illusion. Most make only a small down payment and continue to pay monthly installments for years, looking
forward to the day when they can leave the noisy, dangerous city and move to their patch of paradise. If any
actually visit their property, they are likely to be so disillusioned that they will stop making payments, forfeiting
everything they have invested, and the land will revert to the developers who will sell it to somebody else. The
victims are likely to ﬁnd that their land is located in the middle of an alligator-infested swamp or on the side of a
smoking volcano or in the middle of a desert inhabited only by coyotes and rattlesnakes. They are likely to ﬁnd
that streets and roads shown on the maps are nothing but tracks scraped out by bulldozers and that the
amenities depicted in the brochures are nothing but cardboard signs and scraps of faded cloth ﬂuttering on
While Mamet was struggling to become a successful writer, he worked at a variety of part-time and temporary
jobs. In one he did clerical work for a company of “land sharks” such as those he depicts in Glengarry Glen
Ross. He liked and admired the salesmen, although he could see they were little better than crooks. What he
liked about them was their histrionics and poetry. They had to have vivid imaginations as well as a raw
eloquence in order to create the illusions that would make their prospects sign on the line. Salesmen make
good stage characters because they are articulate. Mamet’s reputation as a playwright is based on his ability to
reproduce the poetry of the American vernacular. He is a successor to writers such as Mark Twain, Sherwood
Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and others who have reproduced the beauty in the cadences, humor, and
imagery of ordinary American speech.
Glengarry Glen Ross is an example of minimalism, a highly popular school of American literature since the
1960’s. The minimalist writer provides a minimum of information and forces the reader or audience member to
make guesses, inferences, and assumptions. This effective technique is challenging and involving. None of the
characters in Glengarry Glen Ross is described as to physical appearance. The name of their company is not
even mentioned. Their employers are not given last names. The audience must infer that there are other
salesmen who do not appear on stage, since it seems unlikely that Mitch and Murray would ﬁre two salesmen if
they only had a total of four. Audience members who might be unfamiliar with real estate jargon get no
explanation of terms such as “leads,” “sits,” “shot,” and that most holy of holy words, “closing.”
Levene refers to his daughter with emotion, and the audience, without any information, must assume that this
girl or woman is sick or handicapped and totally dependent upon her father. Mamet’s salesmen are all such
liars it is conceivable that Levene invented a sick daughter for the purpose of eliciting sympathy. No information
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is given about the salesmen’s personal lives; they may not have any lives outside their work. They seem to
spend most of their free time in a Chinese restaurant. With all the information that is not given, it is amazing
what a multidimensional world the audience can visualize from guesses, inferences, and assumptions based
on rapid-ﬁre dialogue full of slang, insults, and outrageous profanity.
The play is well plotted. After both Roma and Levene, in a rhapsody of profanity, vent their rage at the system
on the stooge Williamson, there is a surprise ending worthy of Guy de Maupassant or O. Henry. Led to believe
that Aaronow committed the burglary, the audience suddenly realizes that Moss must have given up on the
weak-willed Aaronow and persuaded Levene to become his accomplice.
Glengarry Glen Ross, like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), is an indictment of laissez-faire
capitalism. Both plays demonstrate how capitalism promotes greed, competition, and envy, causing people to
wear themselves out, wasting their lives in pursuit of an illusion. The contest in Glengarry Glen Ross resembles
the dance marathon in Horace McCoy’s bitter novel of the Great Depression era, They Shoot Horses, Don’t
They? (1935), which describes dance marathons in which there are no winners but in which exhausted dancers
who fall behind are eliminated. Mamet has been quoted as saying that capitalism is “obviously an idea whose
time has come and gone.” He has also pointed out that Glengarry Glen Ross “is about a society based on
business . . . a society with only one bottom line: How much money you make.” Arthur Miller believed that
socialism would solve most social problems. Mamet, like many modern writers, does not believe there are easy
solutions. Like many other modern writers, he has seen in the histories of the Soviet Union and the People’s
Republic of China that socialism only transfers power from one group of imperfect human beings to another.
Mamet seems content, like many other minimalists, to dramatize the human condition without trying to explain
how that condition might be improved. Writers are not obligated to provide solutions to the problems they
Mamet has at least one thing in common with some of the world’s greatest writers: He likes people in spite of
their faults and perhaps even because of their faults. He appreciates his boastful, unscrupulous, nervy,
frightened salesmen as colorful specimens of humanity. He makes his audience identify with these characters
and suffer along with them, pitying them for their empty lives and forgiving them for their faults. By sharing their
feelings, the audience experiences a sense of unity with the characters on the stage.
Essay by: “Critical Evaluation” by Bill Delaney
Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. New York: Methuen, 1985. A study of Mamet’s life and work, with one chapter
devoted to a detailed discussion of Glengarry Glen Ross. Presents an interesting portrait of Mamet that is
based partly on personal interviews.
_______, ed. The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet. New York: Cambridge, 2004. Collection of newly
commissioned essays about Mamet and his work, including a brief biography, overviews of his work for the
stage and screen in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s, and an analysis of Glengarry Glen Ross by Benedict
Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: Macmillan, 1987. An in-depth study of Mamet’s plays, grouping them
thematically, with chapters on business, sex, learning, and communion. The chapter on “Business” compares
Glengarry Glen Ross with another popular Mamet play, American Buffalo (1975).
Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. London: Associated University Presses, 1990.
Focuses on Mamet’s poetic use of the American vernacular. Contains many quotes from ﬁve of Mamet’s plays
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and devotes a chapter to Glengarry Glen Ross.
Jones, Nesta, and Steven Dykes, comps. File on Mamet. London: Methuen, 1991. This small book is packed
with useful information about Mamet, including excerpts from reviews of various performances of Glengarry
Glen Ross. Contains a detailed chronology and a bibliography.
Kane, Leslie, ed. David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Text and Performance. New York: Garland, 1996.
Collection of essays interpreting the play and ﬁlm of Glengarry Glen Ross, including discussions of the male
characters, the “position of the female,” the value of money, “pernicious nostalgia,” and the vision of a promised
land in the play.
Mamet, David. Writing in Restaurants. New York: Viking Penguin, 1986. A collection of thirty essays in which
Mamet expresses his thoughts about a number of subjects, including the theater and ﬁlm making in Hollywood.
Nadel, Ira Bruce. David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Comprehensive
biography of Mamet. Discusses Mamet’s ideas about writing and the genesis of many of his plays.
Price, Steven. The Plays, Screenplays, and Films of David Mamet. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. A
collection of criticism of Mamet’s work, including a chapter featuring the key criticism of Glengarry Glen Ross.
Copyright of this work is the property of Salem Press and its content may not be copied without the copyright
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for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.
Source: Masterplots, Fourth Edition
Accession Number: 103331MP417789820000108
Tragic hero as defined by Aristotle
A tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his/her
own destruction. In reading Antigone, Medea and Hamlet, look at the role of justice and/or
revenge and its influence on each character’s choices when analyzing any “judgment error.”
Aristotle once said that "A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall."
An Aristotelian tragic hero must possess specific characteristics, five of which are below:
1) Flaw or error of judgment (hamartia) Note the role of justice and/or revenge in the judgments.
2) A reversal of fortune (peripeteia) brought about because of the hero's error in judgment.
3) The discovery or recognition that the reversal was brought about by the hero's own
4) Excessive Pride (hubris)
5) The character's fate must be greater than deserved.
Initially, the tragic hero should be neither better or worse morally than normal people, in order to allow
the audience to identify with them. This also introduces pity, which is crucial in tragedy, as if the hero
was perfect we would be outraged with their fate or not care especially because of their ideological
superiority. If the hero was imperfect or evil, then the audience would feel that he had gotten what he
deserved. It is important to strike a balance in the hero's character.
Eventually the Aristotelian tragic hero dies a tragic death, having fallen from great heights and having
made an irreversible mistake. The hero must courageously accept their death with honour.
Other common traits
Some other common traits characteristic of a tragic hero:
Hero must suffer more than he deserves.
Hero must be doomed from the start, but bears no responsibility for possessing his flaw.
Hero must be noble in nature, but imperfect so that the audience can see themselves in him.
Hero must have discovered his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.
Hero must understand his doom, as well as the fact that his fate was discovered by his own
Hero's story should arouse fear and empathy.
Hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.
The hero must be intelligent so he may learn from his mistakes.
The hero must have a weakness, usually it is pride
He has to be faced with a very serious decision that he has to make
Arthur Miller's Death ofa Salesman:
History of Criticism
One of America's most popular plays, Arthur Miller's Death ofa
Salesman has probably generated more debate than any other modem
drama in America. The scholarship on Arthur Miller is extensive, spanning more than ñfty years, and, out of all of Miller's plays. Death ofa
Salesman is by far the most discussed. Countless academic articles and
books have been written about the play, and it is one of the most likely
American plays to appear on high school and college reading lists.
Death ofa Salesman was not Miller's first play, but it was the one that
began to attract the attention of theatre critics, and though he wrote
many others, this would be the play that ultimately determined Miller's
long-lasting fame and reputation. Selling 11 million copies. Death ofa
Salesman is considered by many to be the quintessential American
When Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman, which he did in
about six weeks in 1948, he was responding to the new postwar American affluence. Despite the country's newly acquired wealth. Miller felt
that the Depression (a major impetus for his work) was still looming
and that Americans were living under the constant fear that at any time,
everything would disappear. Death ofa Salesman revolves around the
last twenty-four hours in the life of Willy Loman, a sixty-three-yearold traveling salesman whose ideas of success conflict with the reality
that he is living. Much of the play takes place inside of his mind, as he
remembers significant events from his past. Deciding that he is worth
more dead than alive, Willy commits suicide, hoping that the insurance
money will support his family and give his son Biff a new start and a
chance to succeed. While addressing the emotional conflicts within
one family, the play critically examines the myth of the American
The original production opened on February 10,1949, at the Morosco
Theatre on Broadway. The highly respected Elia Kazan directed the
production, and Lee J. Cobb starred as Willy. Everyone involved in the
production felt nervous and tense on opening night, not knowing how
the New York audience would react. When the curtain went down,
there was a hushed moment, and then at once the audience exploded
into wild applause. Both Kazan and Miller were caught off guard by
how many men and women in the audience were openly sobbing. Miller's realistic, tragic portrayal of Willy Loman struck an emotional
chord with American audiences, and many people, including Kazan,
felt as if Miller had written about their own fathers.
The next morning, across the city, the newspaper reviews were enthusiastically positive. Glowing reviews appeared in The New York
Times, the Sun, the Daily News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mirror, with reviewers describing the play as a powerful new tour de force.
Critic Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune called it "a great
play of our day" (qtd. in Bigsby, File on Miller IT). The production ran
for 742 performances to packed audiences. It received many accolades
from the critics, winning the Antoinette Perry Award, the New York
Drama Critics' Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Within a year of
its Broadway premiere, it was playing in every major city in the United
States, and despite its American themes, the play also appealed to international audiences: as early as 1951, it was shown in at least eleven
countries abroad. With this single play. Miller secured his fame, and
Death of a Salesman soon made both Arthur Miller and the character
Willy Loman household names.
After the initial praise from newspaper reviewers, the critical intelligentsia began to weigh in, and despite its popularity with audiences.
Death of a Salesman did not receive universal praise from theatre critics and scholars. In the early years, critical reception toward Miller in
History of Criticism
the United States was mixed, and some critics developed an uneasy,
even hostile, relationship with Miller. Throughout his career. Miller
wrote extensive prefaces, introductions, and essays, and gave interviews and lectures, explaining, defending, and analyzing his own
work. He often provoked critics, which probably began with an essay
he wrote, in response to criticism about Death of a Salesman, for The
New York Times in 1949 titled "Tragedy and the Common Man." Many
considered the tone to be pompous, but it was Miller's controversial
definition of classical tragedy that started a critical debate defining
tragedy that continues today.
Death of a Salesman has received a wide variety of critical responses that often focus on the tragic, personal, or social message of
the play. After its premiere, the play was often either wholeheartedly
praised or criticized for its critique of American capitalistic society,
with political ideals often coloring critical responses. One of the most
scathing critiques came from Eleanor Clark, a writer for the Partisan
Review. In an 1949 essay titled "Old Glamour, New Gloom," she described the play as "straight from the party line literature of the
Thirties." She also called it "clumsy," "specious," "flat," and "a very
dull business." Eric Bentley also criticized the play in his 1949 review
in Theatre Arts, attacking everything from the lighting to what he considered the play's conflicting aims of tragedy and social drama. Yet
Miller's play also achieved a good deal of praise within the scholarly
circle. With critics providing interpretations and analyses, the play received much more scholarly attention than any of Miller's previous
works, and Death of a Salesman years later, would continue to be his
most talked about play.
Though audiences had flocked to Death of a Salesman during its
premiere, public reception shifted in the 1950s when Miller's popularity began to wane and both critics and audiences grew more uneasy
with his work. It was the height of McCarthyism in the United States,
during which a rampant fear of Communism and anti-American values
raged across the country. During the late 1940s and the 1950s, thou78
sands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist
sympathizers. The most famous examples of McCarthyism were the
Hollywood Blacklist and the investigations and hearings conducted by
Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Hollj^wood Blacklist was a list of entertainment professionals who were denied employment in the field because of their political beliefs or associations, real or suspected. It damaged the careers of many actors and writers, and promoted ideological
censorship across the industry.
During this time, conservatives viewed Miller's Death of a Salesman as a caustic attack on capitalism and on the American Dream of
achieving wealth and success. As controversy began to surround Miller's leftist sympathies. Miller's audience began to edge away. In 1950
Miller adapted the 1881 social drama of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of
the People, which addresses the greed and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, to refiect McCarthyism in the United States. The play closed after
only thirty-six performances. Meanwhile, the film version of Death of
a Salesman, directed by Stanley Kramer and set to be released in 1951,
also suffered repercussions from the political climate. Fearing the
House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)—a committee
of the United States Congress that investigated Communist infiuence
in the arts—Hollywood attempted to steer clear of anything that may
be considered "un-American." Consequently, Columbia, the film's
production company, proposed to show a trailer along with A Death of
a Salesman, supportive of American businesses: in the short film, business school professors explained how Loman did not represent a typical salesman. When Miller threatened to sue Columbia, the film was
released on its own, but not to success. It was picketed by the American
Legion and other groups in major cities in the United States. Audiences
at the time were wary of watching anything that was critical of American values, and the fear of communism extended well beyond America. Overseas, in Dublin in 1951, Death of a Salesman was picketed by
anti-Communist demonstrators, and though the audience seemed enthusiastic, political ideology set the tone for the Dublin press.
History of Criticism
In 1952, Elia Kazan, who had directed Death of a Salesman on
Broadway, appeared before HUAC, and under the fear of being blacklisted from Hollywood, he named eight people from the Group Theatre
who had been fellow members of the Communist Party. After Kazan's
testimony. Miller ended his friendship with him, and they did not speak
for ten years. After the testimony. Miller traveled to Salem, Massachusetts, to research the witch trials, and in response to the growing antiCommunist hysteria, he wrote The Crucible as an allegorical play that
compared HUAC to the Salem witch hunt. When the play opened on
Broadway in 1953, it was considered widely unsuccessful but later became one of Miller's most frequently produced dramas. Not long after
the play opened, HUAC denied Miller a passport to attend the play's
opening in Brussels. In 1956, Miller was called to testify before
HUAC, but he refused to name names. He was found guilty of contempt, but in 1958 his conviction was reversed by the U.S. Court of
Appeals. Though critical and popular appeal waned for Death of a
Salesman during this volatile period, eventually the play would make a
popular and critical comeback.
The Debate Surrounding Tragedy
Much of the scholarly criticism, both past and current, focuses on
whether or not Death of a Salesman functions as a "true" tragedy.
Miller provided much of the impetus for this debate with his wellknown essay "Tragedy and the Common Man," which upset many of
the central assumptions about the genre that Aristotle had described
some two thousand years before, and started off a heated debate among
critics. Traditional classical tragedy, as in Greek theatre or Shakespeare, depicts a hero who is often upper-class and who challenges, because of some personal flaw in his nature, the moral values of his society; for example, Oedipus is considered a classic Greek tragedy. The
hero suffers, while society and its sacred values remain unbreakable,
and in the end, the hero experiences an epiphany or self-realization.
Willy Loman is not a typical tragic hero. He belongs to a lower economic class and is not particularly smart. Furthermore, the society in
which he lives is an amoral, capitalistic big-business society. In "Tragedy and the Common Man," Miller argues, "the common man is as apt
a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were." He argues that
tragic heroes are defined by their willingness to sacrifice everything in
order to maintain their personal dignity. Loman is flawed in his skewed
idea of what makes a person successful, but he refuses to give up that
popular vision. Miller viewed Willy Loman as a believer in the American Dream, who in the end chooses not to suffer the loss of dignity. The
essay was reprinted many times, and now is a popular reading assignment for high school and college students. When it appeared in The
New York Times, some influential critics, including George Jean Nathan, Eleanor Clark, and Eric Bentley, saw the essay as a challenge, and
it became a starting point for astute critical discussions about dramatic
Miller continued to defend Willy Loman as a subject of tragedy in
interviews and essays throughout his career, although in the later years
he became less insistent on describing the play as classical tragedy.
Still, the play attracts unending debates on the definition of tragedy.
Following the publication of Miller's essay, and then again in the
1960s, critics evaluated Death ofa Salesman with regard to the definition of tragedy. For example, in his essay "Confusion and Tragedy:
The Failure of Miller's Salesman" (1961), Richard J. Foster strongly
argued that Death ofa Salesman is not a tragedy for various reasons,
including that the hero, Willy, is "a childish and stupid human being,
and his societal role ofa salesman is of only very minor consequence"
(82). On the other hand, Esther Merle Jackson in her 1963 article
"Death ofa Salesman: Tragic Myth in the Modem Theater," situates
the play in the tradition of tragedy, arguing that the play is a myth, a
"tragedy of consciousness," and that Willy Loman, as the common
man, is also a hero. The debate also caused critics to ponder a larger
argument—is tragedy even possible in American theatre, as exempliHistory of Criticism
fied in Remy G. Saisselin's essay "Is Tragic Drama Possible in the
Twentieth Century" published in Theater Annual in 1960.
This debate on tragedy and Death of a Salesman continues. Critics
have argued the play cannot be considered a tragedy for a variety of
reasons, including the absence of divine order, a common hero who
never attains self-knowledge or -realization, and language that is more
banal than lofty. In 1991, scholar Harold Bloom wrote, "All that
Loman actually shares with Lear and Oedipus is aging; there is no
other likeness whatsoever. Miller has little understanding of Classical
or Shakespearean tragedy; he stems entirely from Ibsen" (1). Some
critics have agreed that there is a tragic element or nature in the play,
but stop short of declaring it a conventional tragedy. In The Temptation
of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller, Terry Otten writes, "Although not 'high tragedy' in Aristotelian terms. Death of a Salesman is
something more than melodrama or 'low tragedy' in its relation of
tragic vision, choice, awareness and consequence" (59).
Miller credited not only classical tragedy as the dominating influence
on his work, but also the plays of the Norwegian playwright, Henrik
Ibsen, the father of modem drama. Ibsen's social plays, such as Pillars
of Society, Ghosts, and An Enemy ofthe People—in which he articulated the conflict between individual desire and social responsibility—
were strong influences on Miller. Many consider Miller to be one of
America's great social dramatists and Death ofa Salesman to be one of
the great social dramas of the 20th century. Early critics examined the
play as an example of social determinism, focusing on capitalism and
the myth of the American Dream as societal forces that shape Willy
Loman. In the late 60s and the 1970s particularly, critics addressed social concerns in the plays, in such as Louis Gordon's ''Death of a Salesman: An Appreciation," which was published in Warren French's The
Forties: Fiction, Poetry, Drama (1969). In "Family Dreams in Death
of a Salesman" (1974), Irving Jacobson focuses on the characters' need
to transform the impersonal social world into a place of familial warmth.
But is the play a tragedy, a social drama, or a personal story, or all
three? Critics still debate these questions. Harold Bloom praises many
aspects of the play, but considers Miller to be confused as to his intentions or at least their execution: "A tragedy of familiar love is not primarily a social drama, one concerned with the illusions of society, and
Ibsen was careful to keep the two modes unconfused. Miller is richly
confused, and never more so than in his depiction of Loman" (1). The
genre oí Death of a Salesman provokes debate, as it defies simple categorization or easy description.
Expressionism and Realism
Death of a Salesman also introduced theatregoers to what Brian
Parker in his 1966 essay "Point of View in Arthur Miller's Death of a
Salesman" describes as a "successful mingling of realism and nonrealism." The set, designed by Jo Mielziner, accentuates the symbolism
of the play, and aided the depiction of the movement of time, memory,
and Willy's inner thoughts. These expressionistic techniques evoke
the emotion of the play, and yet the play is also grounded in realism.
Critic Brenda Murphy terms Miller's technique "subjective realism"—
a blending of realistic and expressionistic devices to create the impression of what was actually going on inside the protagonist's head. Thus,
the audience witnesses both the present and the past as they occur
simultaneously—the viewer sees what happens to Willy Loman objectively but also how he subjectively views the events.
By using what he termed "time bends" Miller broke the conventional restraints of time and place in theatre. As Willy Loman becomes
more absorbed in the past, the action takes place in his mind, so that the
play shifts in setting and time. This expressionistic style was appreciated by many early critics, who often compared him to another popular
playwright of his time, the well-known Tennessee Williams. In an artiHistory of Criticism
ele in 1963, ''''Death of a Salesman: Tragic Myth in the Modem Theater," scholar Esther Merle Jackson described the lyricism and emotion
of the play, calling the structure "the instrumentation of vision, a complex theater symbol: a union of gesture, word, and music; light, color,
and pattern; rhythm and movement." Over time, this style would become typical of theatre and would no longer seem original or experimental, but at the time, audiences were surprised, and many of the
early critics focused on the play's set design, movement, and style.
The play's protagonist Willy Loman has been the subject of many
articles and books, provoking debate and analysis ever since Miller introduced him to American audiences. Willy is self-deluded, believing
wholeheartedly in the American Dream of success and wealth. When
he fails to achieve this, he commits suicide—^yet until the end he never
stopped believing in this American Dream. Many early articles in the
1950s, an era when psychoanalysis was a dominant force in American
academic psychiatry, viewed Willy through a psychoanalytical lens.
For example, the psychoanalyst Daniel E. Schneider analyzed Willy's
fiashbacks and focused on what he considered a variation of the Oedipus complex in The Psychoanalyst and the Artist (1950). Thirty
years later, Leonard Moss in Arthur Miller (1980) examined the psychological dimensions of Willy Loman and the other characters, and
critic Neil Carson also explored Willy's inner life as a psychological
drama m Arthur Miller (1982). Other critics viewed the play's characters through the lens of social determinism and regarded Willy as the
American Everyman. Critic Thomas Porter, for example, views Willy
as representative of American salesman in the lower class who has
been shaped by forces in society, in Myth and Modern American
Drama (1969). Willy Loman has been examined as a hero, a symbol,
and a sellout. A complex character, open to many interpretations, Willy
Loman is the subject of Harold Bloom's book Willy Loman: Major Lit84
erary Characters (1990). Though Willy Loman has inspired the majority of criticism and analyses, critics, especially recently, have also focused on Linda, Biff, and, to a lesser degree, Happy. Willy and his son
Happy both delude themselves, but Biff, whom Willy sees as an underachiever, refuses to be self-deceived; early on, his father and the dream
of success were shattered for Biff. Much of the play's drama revolves
around the complicated relationship between Biff and Willy, generating much critical attention. Willy's wife, Linda, also believes in the
American Dream, but she is more grounded than her husband. A tough,
realistic, complex character, she tries to hold the family together and
represents the emotional core.
According to critic Brenda Murphy, during 1951-75, to maintain
control over the play. Miller did not allow any professional productions to be mounted within one hundred miles of Broadway, and then
he authorized a production by the Philadelphia Drama Guild in 1974,
directed by George C. Scott. After escalating tension, Scott left the
production and Miller took over. Reviews of the play were mixed,
many attributing problems in the production to the change of directors
and also to the Jo Mielziner-inspired set, which now seemed dated.
Despite Miller's attempt to maintain control, there were many university, community, and professional theatres throughout the country,
and amateur productions in the New York area, that produced Salesman. According to Brenda Murphy, "Since its premiere, there has
never been a time when Death of a Salesman was not being performed
somewhere in the world" (Murphy, Miller 70). Many of these productions have been unique and provocative. For example, in 1951, there
was a Yiddish version, which provoked debate about the play's language and its relationship to Jewish-American culture. Years later, in
1972, the first professional production cast with all African Americans
brought race and ethnicity to the forefront of critical discussions.
History of Criticism
Miller published plays, fiction, and screenplays throughout the
1960s and 1970s, but nothing he wrote ever matched the fame oí Death
ofa Salesman. For the most part, during this period, his popularity diminished. Yet, from the time of its premiere. Death of a Salesman
never stopped being written about and discussed, and revivals always
elicited more books, articles, and reviews. In 1975, with George C.
Scott as Willy, Death ofa Salesman opened at the Circle in the Square
Theatre and ran for seventy-one performances to mixed reviews, but in
the 1980s the play experienced a major revival, both at home and
The 1979 production oí Death ofa Salesman in London started this
major revival. The London show, a spectacular success, helped to secure Miller's reputation. According to Murphy, "Not since Salesman's
extraordinary first-night reviews in 1948 had the play or Miller received such universal and such enthusiastic praise" (Murphy, Miller
93). Then, in 1983, Miller directed Death ofa Salesman in Beijing, the
People's Republic of China. Many critics were skeptical, claiming that
such a quintessentially American play could never be successfully
staged in a Communist country, yet the play, making its Chineselanguage debut, was a tremendous success, moving its audience to
tears. Though the Chinese could not relate to the salesman occupation
or to a capitalistic society, the story of Willy's family, his despair, and
broken dreams drew them in. Thus, Miller's view of humanity proved
to be universal, and the play impressed Chinese audiences the same
way it had American audiences.
A year after the Beijing production, in 1984, a revival on Broadway
starring Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman generated more popularity
and praise for the play. The production ran for seventy-nine performances at the Broadhurst Theatre, and then reopened in September and
ran for another eighty-eight performances. Hoffman created a Willy
Loman who was much different from Lee J. Cobb's but was just as
memorable. The production won the Tony Award for Best Reproduction. Hoffman also played the lead in the 1985 CBS TV production,
which was broadcast to an audience of more than 25 million viewers.
The revival was the source of many more articles and reviews, securing the popularity of Miller and the play.
In the 1980s, feminist critics began to examine the play. The character of Linda, Willy's wife, had already provoked a variety of critical interpretation since the premiere, and now feminist critics began to focus
on her, arguing that Miller denies her a significant role by depicting her
as a reflection of a male perspective. Scholar Kay Stanton suggests that
women in the play are subjected and exploited in her 1989 article,
"Women and the American Dream oí Death of a Salesman," and Gayle
Austin argues in "The Exchange of Women and Male Homosocial Desire in Miller's Death of a Salesman and Hellman's Another Part ofthe
Forest" (1989), that the play eliminates women as active subjects, restricting them or rendering them absent. Other critics, such as Jan
Balakian, who suggests that Miller is accurately depicting postwar
America, a culture that subordinated women, have challenged these attacks. Critic Brenda Murphy argues that many critics seem "trapped in
the critical cliché that Arthur Miller cannot write about women"
("1999 Revival" 39), and explains that Miller never envisioned Linda
as a weak or submissive character.
1999 Broadway Revival
The play's major Broadway revival in 1999 coincided with the celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, inspiring critics to examine it in both
familiar and new ways. The 1999 revival, directed by Robert Falls,
starred Brian Dennehy as Willy Loman and Elizabeth Franz as Linda,
and opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on February 10,1999. It ran
for 274 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a
Play, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Direction. This highly praised
History of Criticism
production sparked a new interest in Salesman, presenting new interpretations of the play for a new generation.
Newspaper reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with reviewers
praising the acting, especially pointing out Franz's depiction of Linda
as a strong, fiery character, instead of the weepy woman often portrayed in productions. Other differences, from previous productions,
included a focus on Biff's story as a major crux of the drama, and a
concentration on family dynamics instead of social forces. In "The
1999 Revival oí Death of a Salesman: A Critical Commentary" Brenda
Murphy discusses the new issues arising from the revival and analyzes
the deemphasizing of Miller's critique of capitalism. She also points out
that many reviewers missed the subtleties and felt more comfortable
evaluating the play in terms of the familial tensions, "downplaying if
not ignoring its sociopolitical meaning" (30). Directors' various interpretations, critics' diverse critical responses, and audience responses
reveal the many layers and complexity oí Death of a Salesman.
Multitude of Viewpoints
Many scholarly books also appeared around or right after the time of
the 1999 revival, and overall, the tone tow^ard Miller and Death of a
Salesman was overwhelmingly positive. Throughout the 1990s and
later, critics have examined the play through various lenses, such as
feminist, social, and Marxist, and continue to explore and defend the
play's relevancy to twenty-first-century America. Matthew Roudané
points out the varied popular and intellectual responses to the play reveal it to be "a play to which all—social deconstructionists, Jungians,
Marxists, poststructuralists, and so on—react" (24).
The critical interpretations of Death of a Salesman are varied and
complex, to be sure. For example, John S. Shockley in "Death of a
Salesman and American Leadership: Life Imitates Art," published in
1994, describes Loman as the "Reagan prototype," arguing that both
men were salesmen selling the American Dream of materialistic wealth.
In his book Communists, Cowboys, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the World of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams (1992),
David Savran explores the construction of Cold War masculinity in the
male characters of the play. Other critics, such as Normarm Helge
Nilsen in a 1994 article "From Honors at Dawn to Death of a Salesman: Marxism and the Early Plays of Arthur Miller," analyze the infiuence of Marxism on the play. Heather Cook Callow looks at the masculine and feminist characteristics of the characters in "Masculine and
Feminine in Death of a Salesman." Other recent critics have focused
on Willy's Jewish ethnicity, his midwestem roots, and the complexity
of the father-son relationships.
Critics have also focused on the international appeal of Miller, as
Enoch Brater reveals in Arthur Miller's Global Theatre (2007). Since
the premiere of Death of a Salesman, the play has been produced all
over the world, including in South Afi-ica, Israel, Taiwan, and Korea.
Though each production faces challenges in terms of translation and
cultural differences, audiences all over the globe have been moved by
the play and seem to understand or identify with the plight of Willy
In the last decade of his life. Miller's reputation solidified as one of
America's most important dramatists. He was presented with many
awards to recognize the contributions he made to the American stage,
including the International Spanish Award, Premio Principe de Asturias
de las Letras in 2002 and the Jerusalem Prize in 2003. When he died in
2005 at age eighty-nine, friends, critics, fans, mourned him. Many
newspaper articles and scholarly articles appeared around this time.
Death of a Salesman was the play that built Miller's reputation, despite his numerous other works, and it has survived fifty years of criticism. Critics have called it sexist, ñawed, and sentimental. They have
argued that the protagonist is unworthy as a subject of tragedy, critiHistory of Criticism
cized the language, and disagreed with Miller's political themes. But
critics have also praised its depth and emotional power. Christopher
Bigsby suggests that "those who saw this play at the time, and in the
over fifty years since that first production, have connected to it less
through its comments on a culture wedded to a myth than through characters whose hopes and illusions seem instantly recognisable and archetypal" (Bigsby, Arthur Miller 101), and Harold Bloom admits, "I
myself resist the drama each time I reread it, because it seems that its
language will not hold me, and then I see it on the stage . . . and I yield
to it. Miller has caught an American kind of suffering that is also a universal mode of pain" (3). Death of a Salesman continues to be well
loved by audiences, and provides critics with endless material. More
than just an American drama. Death of a Salesman is a critique of the
universal human situation and continues to hold up as a powerful play,
drawing audiences and critics from around the world.
Austin, Gayle. "The Exchange of Women and Male Homosocial Desire in Arthur
Miller's Death of a Salesman and Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest." Feminist Rereadings of Modern American Drama. June Sehlueter, ed.
Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.
Balakian, Jan. "Beyond the Male Locker Room: Death of a Salesman from a Feminist Perspective." Approaches to Teaching Miller's Death of a Salesman. Matthew C. Roudané, ed. New York: MLA, 1995.
Bigsby, Christopher. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
, ed. File on Miller. London: Methuen, 1987.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Willy Loman: Major Literary Characters. New York: Chelsea
House Press, 1990.
Brater, Enoch. Arthur Miller's Global Theatre. Arm Arbor: University of Michigan
Callow, Heather Cook. "Masculine and Feminine in Death of a Salesman." From
"The Salesman Has a Birthday. " Stephen A. Marino, ed. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000: 65-77.
Clark, Eleanor. "Old Glamour, New Gloom." Partisan Review 16 (1949): 631-36.
Foster, Richard J. "Confusion and Tragedy: The Failure of Miller's Salesman."
From Two Modern American Tragedies: Reviews and Criticism of Death of a
Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire. John D. Hurrell, ed. New York: Scribner's, 1961:82-88.
Jackson, Esther Merle. "Death ofa Salesman: Tragic Myth in the Modem Theater." College Language Association Journal 1 (September 1963): 63-76.
Murphy, Brenda. Miller: Death ofa Salesman. Cambridge: Cambridge University
. "The 1999 Revival oí Death ofa Salesman." From "The Salesman
Has a Birthday": Essays Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Arthur Miller's Death ofa Salesman. Stephen A. Marino, ed. Lanham, MD: University
Press of America, 2000.
Nilsen, Normann Helge. "From Honors at Dawn to Death ofa Salesman: Marxism
and the Early Plays of Arthur Miller." English Studies: A Journal of English
Language and Literature 75, no. 2 (March 1994): 146-156.
Otten, Terry. The Temptation ofInnocence in the Dramas ofArthur Miller. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.
Parker, Brian. "Point of View in Arthur Miller's Death ofa Salesman." The University of Toronto Quarterly 35, no. 2 (January 1966).
Porter, Thomas E. Myth and Modem American Drama. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969.
Roudané, Matthew C. ''Death ofa Salesman and the Poetics of Arthur Miller."
From The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. C.W.E. Bigsby, ed. New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1997: 60-85.
Savran, David. Communists, Cowboys, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in
the World ofArthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1992.
Shockley, John S. ''Death ofa Salesman and American Leadership: Life Imitates
Axi." Journal of American Culture 17, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 49-56.
Stanton, Kay. "Women and the American Dream oí Death ofa Salesman." From
Feminist Rereadings of Modem American Drama. June Schlueter, ed. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989: 67-102.
History of Criticism
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