April 28, 2005

Death of a Salesman Presentation

Title: Memories of the Past

Intro and Thesis: Several themes exist within Arthur Miller’s classic play, Death of a Salesman. Upon first reading the play, one notices Willy Loman’s tumultuous relationship with his son Biff, the allusion of the American Dream, and Linda’s unique role as wife, mother, and overall protector of the household. Yet less obvious conclusions can be found as well. Central to the play are Willy’s flashbacks or “hallucinations” to his past. These periodic glimpses into the history of Willy and the Loman family provide more than just a literary element. Willy’s flashbacks can be interpreted as much more; as a representation of his guilt felt for things he did, and did not, accomplish in his life. The flashbacks take on a psychological aspect, encompassing the notion of repressed memories and the feelings of shame and guilt. The flashbacks in Death of a Salesman serve more than just detailing the history of Willy but also show the painful memories he has tried to repress throughout the years. These memories stand for his feelings of longing for the life he never had and the life he wishes he could forget.

Conclusion: Death of a Salesman provides an interesting glimpse into the American family during the late 1940s. The audience sees the troubles experienced by a man and his career, the plight of his wife, and the effect it has on his children. Yet upon closer examination, one can see the importance of the flashbacks or hallucinations in the play. The flashbacks are representations of Willy Loman’s repressed traumatic memories, recalled in the extreme form of a realistic hallucination. His feelings of guilt and pain are resurfaced throughout the play, showing the deeper layer of Willy.

Primary Source: “Don’t answer! Don’t answer!”- Miller

Secondary Sources:

The Burning Jungle: An Analysis Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
by Karl Harshbarger

“More and more he has been hallucinating openly, talking so that others can hear him, reliving or inventing scenes and people out of the past. The forces of his unconscious are pushing through his weakening defenses and will soon overwhelm him.”

“These hallucinations are not to be understood as dreams, but as expressions of hidden wishes.”

Major Literary Characters: Willy Loman
Edited by Harold Bloom

“It is Loman’s psychic poverty that appeals to us, that nearly overwhelm us. Essentially a dreamer, Willy is fated to dream only dreams of guilt, the guilt of a bad father and a bad husband who wanted only to be the best of fathers and the best of husbands.”

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April 20, 2005

Did You Ever...?

Did you ever get really excited when you hear a good song on the radio even though you have the cd? The cd that can easily be put in your cd player at any time, yet you still get all excited to hear it on the radio? And turn it up real loud and sing as if you'll never hear it ever again? I do.

(This is my first non-academic related article in a while. And I waste it on a "Did You Ever...?". Sad)

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April 17, 2005

The End of the Diamond Age

Well, I did it. I finally finished The Diamond Age. Took me awhile but I'm proud to say I've done it. Sadly, I'm no better off than when I started.

I still don’t think I completely understand the story. So it’s the future and there’s this book that Nell becomes obsessed with. Then there’s Hackworth and Dr. X and some other people. And these classes of people. Lots of sex and then Nell takes over the world. I’ve got it, right?

Is it a bad thing I don’t like Nell at all? I mean, I know she’s the protagonist- I’m supposed to like her. Yet I just don’t. She is just so obsessed with her book; it’s a little odd. I know it is “teaching” her but sometimes she is just too engrossed with it. I mean, she’s eighteen or nineteen years old, practically writing porn, and she’s reading some fairy tale story. Plus Nell seems a little young, even after she is grown. Although she knows how to fight and disembowel people, she still acts so innocent and naïve. And for some reason, this bothers me.

What I found interesting in the book (yes, I actually found something) was the references to the time the book was written. Stephenson makes references to the government at the time (1998), restaurants (McDonald’s and KFC of all things), and movies. Since the book took place so far in the future, it seems unlikely that these things would even still be mentioned. Perhaps Stephenson added them to give readers a little something to relate to or because these cultural elements were so locked in this subconscious, he couldn’t help but write about them (yeah, I doubt that one too).

Sadly, I understood more about The Diamond Age from reading N. Katherine Hayles’ “Is Utopia Obsolete?” Her summary of the book actually cleared up some plot questions for me. The article also discussed the idea of A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer as being seen as a sort of “utopia”. It is, after all, the most perfect book. It interacts, it speaks, it’s self-lighting, and it teaches for the low low price of $18.99! What more could you want? The Primer represents a utopia to Nell as well as she reads it. Inside her book, she is safe, even when fighting monsters. It is a paradise and an escape. Yet as Hayles points out, the Primer isn’t really utopia. It cannot shield Nell from the harsh realities of the real world. It may help her prepare for it, yet the book is not powerful enough to stop the bad.

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April 15, 2005

Symbolism- Sometimes You See It, Sometimes You Don't

I really enjoy Foster's book. He brings a new spin to literary analysis and interpretations. Plus he addresses a range of subjects, from the seasons to sex, sickness to symbolism.

I have never been good at picking out the symbolism in anything. It could be blatently obvious and actually marked with the word "symbolism" and I still wouldn't get it. I always thought that I just wasn't reading into the text or wasn't smart enough to make connections. Or if I did find something I remotely thought would be a symbol, it was wrong (according to the powers that be). Yet Foster has reassured my troubled mind that I am not an English failure. There is no "right" or "wrong" symbolism. It can be anything one wants. I just might get the hang of this after all.

Everything can technically be a symbol for something else in literature. The house can stand for something completely more or be just a place to sleep. Who knows! So should one read everything as if it is a symbol, dissecting every word of the text for the deep inner meaning. No, probably not. You'll want to kill yourself. And the author certainly didn't intend for his or her text to be picked apart (unless it was Freud. Him you can dissect, but then again, he isn't exactly "literary".) The easiest way to find a symbol is to just use common sense. If something in a story seems prominent or important, there's a good chance it could represent something else. A flower can be just a flower and nothing more, unless it is mentioned several times. Then the flower becomes a symbol for live, death, fertility, and God knows what else.

There is no "right" or "wrong" symbolism in a story- it is what the reader interprets it as. I'd love to tell this to a certain number of English teachers...

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April 10, 2005

Diamond Age OR The Worst Book I've Ever Read

I'm not a science fiction reader (I almost called it "Sci-fi" but apparently, according to one of my courses last semester, this is terribly passé. And how I'd hate to be that). I don’t watch Star Trek, never saw any of the Star Wars, had to have The Matrix explained to me twice, and physically recoil when I accidentally wander into the science fiction area of Barnes & Nobles.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is the epitome of why I dislike science fiction. First off, there is the structure. No chapters, just those little sections divided by a nice summary of said section. I’m a traditionalist- I like my chapters. And for some reason, this adds to my dislike of the book.

Next, I cannot get into the story in general. The first page starts off with all these unknown words that the reader is just expected to know. Geodesic seeds? Skull gun? What? I’ve noticed that science fiction stories tend to do this- create an almost entirely new language and expect the reader to understand everything. Some things can be implied but the rest…who knows. The characters aren’t all that appealing to me either. I actually started to get into Bud’s story but then he dies! I’m sorry, but I don’t care about Fang or Dr. X, or even Nell’s book. The only one I actually like is Miranda just because her story is a bit more normal. And the ractor thing is somewhat interesting.

I hate to say it but- there is too much description in this book. I didn’t think it could happen but Stephenson pulls it off. Every single little thing is described in detail, whether it is vaguely important or not (although, he still doesn’t answer the questions of the words the reader does not understand). Whole sections (I’d say chapters but noooo, there aren’t any) are devoted to just describing something. Dialog is needed to keep the story flowing well. Or, at all.

Alright, sorry, I’ll try and stop complaining about my dislike of science fiction and this book. Yet I doubt my contributions to the class will be very insightful.

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April 7, 2005

Pick Up Play

One of the few similarities between Death of a Salesman and Pick Up Ax is that fact that they are both plays. Other than that, there isn’t really much to compare the two by. The differences lie beneath the obvious ones though (the different setting, time, and number of characters). The main distinctions between the two plays are the characters.

Unfortunately, Pick Up Ax only contained three characters. I was expecting a few more just to shake things up a bit, but only three characters ever surfaced. I suppose though, only three characters were needed to tell the story. Any more and it would have gotten cluttered and taken away from the stories of Keith, Brian, and Mick.

Each character in the play is unique. Keith, especially, intrigued me. He is this computer genius, creating wonderful programs, yet he acts as if he is a teenager. He cuts off Brian when he is talking about the business, saying he doesn’t understand it at all and does he want to get high and play Dungeons and Dragons. His mind is constantly all over the place, never focusing on anything other than a computer program too long. His random comments reminded me of an ADD toddler. I wondered how a man of such apparent knowledge acts so dumb. Then, at the end when Keith sabotages Mick and another company, I realized that it might have all been an act. Sure, he might still be a little flighty, but I don’t think Keith is as scatterbrained as Mick and the audience comes to believe. He knows what to do and how to do it, yet chooses to just focus on his programs instead. Keith lets Brian take care of the business aspect because he probably, at one time, enjoyed it. Besides, since he didn’t do the designing, it was the only thing for him to do.

None of the characters of Pick Up Ax resemble Willy, Biff, Happy, or Linda from Death of a Salesman. No one is self-loathing, having flashbacks, or trying to commit suicide. While a similarity can be made between Keith and Brian’s business and Willy’s firing, the way the situation is handled differs. Keith and Brian try to keep going regardless, and are not suicidal over it. The ways the characters act in situations are not similar between the two plays.

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April 4, 2005


Technology obviously plays a huge part in our lives. The tv on in the background, light above my head, and this computer all contribute to our lives, even if we don’t initially realize it. Technology also contributes to a play, as noted by Dr. Jerz in his book (!) selection “Technology in American Drama”. Although the technology at the time of the play is certainly different than what we are now accustomed to, it still offers some insight into the inner themes of Death of a Salesman.

To me, the most interesting device noted by Dr. Jerz was the wire recorder. It is not just a new machine that delights Howard and confuses Willy. No, it encompasses (in a way), the central themes of the characters. Howard is arrogant and wealthy, as is apparent by his demeanor and purchase of the wire recorder. Yet on another level, one learns Howard’s views on gender and his wife. She does not want to speak on the recorder yet he forces her to anyway. He controls her and forces her to do something as silly as speak in a recorder. It wasn’t a large demand yet he made sure she completed it. The simple example of control tells about Howard’s true personality.

The recorder also plays a role in defining Willy as well. He is leery of the machine yet lies that he will buy one as well. By lying to his boss Willy is again attempting to put himself on the same level as Howard, to make them somewhat of equals or friends. Willy feels that by agreeing to purchase an expensive recorder that he cannot afford, he is showing Howard that he enjoys his latest purchase- therefore trying to form a certain bond with his boss. Willy continually mentions that being “liked” or “well-liked” is important for the success of a man. Willy is trying to be well-liked by his boss simply by admiring his latest toy. This lying, while hardly noticed in the play, shows one of Willy’s character traits- agree with the boss, lie if necessary, and he’ll form superficial bonds to get what he wants.

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