Death of A Salesman: Aspects of Tragedy Summary

This following is completely my own intellectual thought and must not be copied or reproduced in anyway. Plagiarism will not aid your own learning, and could even hinder others.

But, following is an example of the ways you can view texts through the aspects of tragedy lens per the AQA A level English Lit B course.

the type of the tragic text itself: classical; public; domestic; ordinary?

Act 1

Clearly not classical “Silver trophy” “Loman” “Willy” “Salesman” versus classical proportion dreams and aspirations: hubris and blindness

settings: place and time

Act 1

Domestic, Context: Prolepsis “Small, fragile-seeming home” “Population is getting out of control” Domestic tragedy placed within boom period context: building houses, more jobs. Helps shape a helpless hero. Possibly suggesting that the social reality is bringing tragic hero down.

Act 2

Time running out. “Too late now” S “Nothings planted”. WL Miller makes clear the inevitable doom of the tragic hero, and the frantic attempts made by the father to finally provide and leave something for his sons. 24 hours ticking down.

journey towards death of protagonist

Act 1

Opportunity. Bill Oliver opportunity first introduced. Miller will later use this as a catalyst in the ever falling tragic hero: a source of hope, before being snatched away: but it is clear here that this opportunity is actually to escape consumer, salesman lifestyle- yet TH is blind and unaware of this

tragic villain; affects fortune of tragic hero; contest of power’; partly responsible for demise

Act 1

Collapsing family “Why are you so hateful to each other”. L Miller here suggests that the family itself may to be blame for the tragedy. Linda asks if “they are any worse than his sons” (compared to corporate world abuse such as Howard etc)

Society the villain? “I was with the firm when your father used to carry you in his arms” WL Miller paints the tragedy of capitalist society: where loyalty is meaningless. Here it is the consumerist society and ideology that brings WL down

Fate and inevitability of fall

Act 1

Linda the prop “[mends the lining of Willy’s jacket]” “the one that bore the cross for them all” Material, but also psychological support: Miller uses this character to prop up the tragic hero…to delay the downfall…but this moment makes it clear that TH is flawed and needs support, likely to fall soon

Behaviour of hero affecting others

Act 1

Already flawed [A lack of pain crosses Biff’s face] Miller sets out a mentally flawed tragic hero from start: already talking to self+ affecting those around him

Condescending “Don’t talk about something you don’t know” WL to Charley “vitamins;bones;heartburn” Irony of the TH- hubris evident here Objectify “That’s why I can’t get married” “[staring directly at her profile]” Tragedy of female objectification by Happy. Reflective of social reality no doubt.

Act 2

Objectify “That’s why I can’t get married” “[staring directly at her profile]” Tragedy of female objectification by Happy. Reflective of social reality no doubt.

Insight “the women has waited and the woman has suffered” WL Realisation that the head of the family cannot provide.

Supplicate “[horrified, gets down on one knee]” Dad, I’ll make good, I’ll make good” Biff supplicates, making classical gesture. Generates pity and fear. Solemn address of father, repetition of make good etc.

Permanent damage “[Biff remains motionless, tears falling]” “you-you gave her mama’s stocking” B. Miller chooses to reveal vital flaw of TH and plot until the very near end of the play. Shows how this event from memory directly leads to real time downfall of hero.

Scum “The scum of the earth” B. “[on the floor…flowers in his hand; with self-loathing].” Miller creates pity, in the absolute dejection of this family member; in the way the TH has built up the ego and self-perception of others.

See above “you blew me so full of hot air”B.


Mourning “[She stares at the grave]” Stagecraft important here, all the characters gather round said grave. First time they all gather around character collectively. Some kind of responsibility being created here.

Violence; revenge, vs chaos; happiness

Act 2

Humour “Talked with a lithp” B to WL  Miller creates moment of respite, before plunging into deeper tragedy

Structure: complication to catastrophe, from order to disorder, through climax to resolution, from the prosperity and happiness of the hero to the tragic end

Act 1

Prolepsis “apartments…fading out” “music insinuates…” even when light “rises”. Dementia continues despite changing stage-showing passage of time. Reflects time when TH was great; Miller uses it to exacerbate current decrepitude. The “punching bag” surprise showing a patriarch, capable of providing for family. Even says “I have friends”, glorifying this salesman position

Phone call “But it’s gone! Imagine!” Miller juxtaposes/overlaps Linda’s false hope phone call with Howard scene

Too soon“You don’t raise a guy” Happy v Biff “Don’t argue” L Even after suicide, Miller shows the two spiteful brothers fighting over their roles in society: commercialism. This builds into a schizophrenic change of pace and ideas. Suddenly TH enters; secretly listening. Wrath, then hope at Bill Oliver Opp. Then chaos after it is seen through by TH, then hope again plan quickly made. TH leaves “[beaten down]”.

Act 2

Seeds “Nothing’ll grow any more” L Miller later uses seeds as a symbol of lack of provision etc

Mad “[In the blue of the night]” Miller creates a King lear on the heath like moment, and uses this to show the peak of TH’s madness and delusion.

Hated “He’ll hate you, William” B. Miller again uses the past, this time to intensify the self hatred and helplessness of TH.

Peak madness “Ben, where do I?” “Ben, how do I?” WL. [Sounds, faces, voices] swarming at WL. [unbearable scream] [crashes down in a frenzy of sound] sound of car at [full speed]. More stage directions than actual lines here- shows the celerity of the final act of downfall.

the use of plots and sub-plots

Act 1

Biff and Willy’s relationship “Everything I say there’s a twist of mockery on his face” B

Miller immediately introduces family dysfunction: explicitly, but also in the stagecraft, in the physical separation. Metaphor/figurative speech.

Act 2

Mother and Son “[Knocks them to the floor] [she stares at Biff, silent]”  Miller shows peak of family tension of the subplot between mother and sons. Almost a classical technique, of Dido and Ajax of this dreadful silence.

the way that language is used to heighten the tragedy

Act 1

Sentence structure [with great difficulty] “-weren’t-weren’t accidents” L on suicide history WL. Miller clearly signposts emotion in the dashes: evoking pity and fear in the human conditions and that of TH.

ultimately how the tragedy affects the audience, acting as a commentary on the real world, moving the audience through pity and fear to an understanding of the human condition.

Act 1

Audience relatability “[exhaustion is apparent]” Beginning of play ordinary and relatable: a man coming home from work. Therefore, hero is pitiable as much of the audience would understand and share such a life

Responsibility“Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person” L Epizeuxis is Miller’s way of stressing the lack of care and collective responsibility in society

Act 2

Consumerist context “I’m always in a race with the junkyard” Is Miller just criticising shoddy nature of capitalist good? Or foreshadowing death of tragic hero? “a man is not a piece of fruit” Reification of labourers here: Miller critiques capitalist system


Cartharsis “I can’t cry” repeated. We’re free” x4 repeated. Miller carefully engineers the carthartic moment, where the actors emotion must be conveyed in a way that triggers the audiences own reaction.

Flawed tragic hero

Act 1

Violence Music: “Mocking frenzy” WL to C “put up your hands” Miller shows the incapable nature of TH and blindness to humour

Contradictions Biff is a lazy bum” WL “He’s not lazy” WL Biff “better study”, then WL lambastes Bernard as “an anaemic” “Return that” vs “congratulate you on your initiative” WL on Biff returning stolen basketball TH already showing signs of downfall: confused mind

Integrating “he’s not-well liked” WL on Charley Miller sets out a crucial flaw of TH in trying to be “well liked”, a vain and futile attempt to integrate and accommodate consumerism

Collapsing like a deck of cards “Well, next week you’ll do better” Linda Stichomythia of WL and L on incomings, outgoings. Miller whittles glorious hero down to this pitiable statement. The stichomythia intensifies until WL is “[exploding at her]”

Walrus “cracked him” “walrus” WL vs “you’re the handsomest man in the world” L Miller’s hero is despondent, angry and disillusioned with fat self. Yet Miller preserves some happiness here with Linda’s compliment

Affair Prolepsis: “stockings” with disjointed laughter as Linda mends. TH is flawed due to adultery…Miller plants this memory before before explaining it later in Act 2

Ben “And by god I was rich” B “What a mistake! He begged me to go” WL Miler already sets up some false anagnorisis; blindness and hubris evident here. Intangible dreaming and aspirations ultimately undermine tragic hero.

Blindness“Like a young god. Hercules” “all kinds of greatness” WL Miller decides to end Act 1 with great hope. Although, the audience can already see through that hope:as per the title of the play

Insecurity “kind of temporary about myself” Miller shows deep rooted insecurity through prolepsis

Act 2

Tape recorder “what do you do with it” WL. Miller sets up an awkward frustration: yet TH succumbs to corporate leader

Anagnorisis? “[Small and alone]”. What- what’s the secret”. WL realises importance of education: To Bernard. Flaw: success for family now unreachable due to TH’s mistake.

Walk away. “Just to walk away” B. “But if you can’t?” W.

Poor Salesman “the only thing you got in the world is what you can sell” “you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that”. C to WL. Charley acts as mouthpiece for Miller; reflecting nature of 1940’s, 50’s society.

Liked isn’t important “who liked J.P. Morgan?” Charley deconstructing WL ideology. Miller sets up moment of insight here.

Flawed royalty “A fine, troubled prince” B on Wl Miller clearly sets out position of tragic hero; but perhaps the antithesis of outward reality?

Royalty Denied “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy” H. Tragic hero already takes a fall in just this section alone. Miller’s use of undermining voices and perceptions of hero.

The pipe “[Caged, wanting to escape]” Miller here paints the TH like an animal at the sight of the suicide pipe.

Blind love “[wildly] [choking with his love] “Biff, he likes me!” “that boy is going to be magnificient”. Miller shows the absolute delusion of tragic hero here: blind to what has REALLY been said. Also reflects end of Act 1 In this nature.


Wrong all along “All, all wrong” B Epizeuxis indicates the lack of proper judgement and enticing yet futile nature of this USA dream.

Charley mouthpiece “Nobody dast blame this man”C Mille rclearly uses Charley as a way of voicing and guiding the audience. Perhaps this hero was not all to blame for their demise.

Villain/victim interplay

Act 1

Disillusion “I don’t know-what I’m supposed to want” Biff Directionless man- 34 yet not self-sufficient. Miller uses this character to criticise American Dream. Also sets up tragedy for later, when the TH is blamed for these shortcomings




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