« History of the Fanny Pack | Main | Feeling like a "Wicked" read? »

Buffy Summers and Arthur Miller: A Match Made On the Hellmouth

Titlepage.JPG
Leslie Rodriguez
Seton Hill University
Online Article/Entry © 2005

As many of my fellow bloggers and classmates (from EL236 and EL150) may already know I am a huge "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" fan as evident in my EL236 Final Project in which I created a Buffy fan fiction website that featured original stories as well as featured the first “academic essay” I wrote about the show and its moral undertow. I followed the show religiously from its debut in 1997 until its end in 2003 and I currently have all the box sets on DVD and selected episodes on VHS. I write about ‘Buffy’ as not only an intellectual, but as also a fan.

Over the past six years I have read almost every academic article and book written about the monumental show. One of my favorites is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale (Popular Culture and Philosophy Series) by James B. South. I hope to continue to add to the plethora of essays written about the Buffyverse and to maybe even publish them in a book some day. I came up with a theory about Arthur Miller and Joss Whedon while sitting in my American History the week after discussing “Death of a Salesman” in my literary study class.

It seems evident that for some reason or another the creator of Buffy, Joss Whedon must be an Arthur Miller fan because he decided to incorporate two of Miller's plays in two very different episodes of the show (note: from several different seasons). He may have done it subconsciously, but with the evidence that I have found to support my claims it is likely that he planted these allusions to Miller's famous works in these selected episodes. I will begin by discussing the earliest episodes/season where Miller's plays are referenced.

In particular I am drawn to first talking about Willow Rosenberg, a character that is at first portrayed as a weak and outcast teenager that later develops as she begins her studies of the occult and witchcraft. There are several things about her character that leads the viewer/reader back to Arthur Miller and his famed play "The Crucible". History is the first source for my statement that Whedon wanted Rosenberg to represent the persecuted "supposed" communists that are linked to Miller and his politically charged play. As history tells it in the 1950s there was a time period known as the Red Scare.

"The term generally refers to the political atmosphere surrounding domestic political persecutions and violations of civil liberties, as well as the Cold War fears of imminent attack on the United States or its allies by the Soviet Union or China," (Wikipedia).

During the time of the Cold War many atomic secrets were being leaked to Russia and other communist nations. Several investigations took place and implicated in one of these scandals were the Russian born Jews (living in America) Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (Wikipedia). The Rosenberg couple maintained that they were innocent (that they didn't smuggle atomic secrets back to Russia) but were put to death (executed) in 1953. Consequently these facts can be linked to Whedon's character Willow Rosenberg as well as Arthur Miller. Willow Rosenberg is in fact of Jewish descent, as revealed in Episode 10 of Season 2;

“Buffy: What are you doing for Christmas?
Willow: Being Jewish. Not everybody worships Santa,” (Buffy, Season 2).

Willow's last name matches that of the accused communists and ironically her nickname is Red. Red is a disparaging name commonly used when labeling someone a communist in American slang derived from the 1950s. The point here is not to say that Willow is a communist. That is not the direction in which I am going by any means. The main focus here is on the persecution that Willow is victim to not her political agenda. Willow is a practicing witch that is ill-treated through out her time on the show (6 years; its entire run).

In a Season 3 episode entitled "Gingerbread", Willow and another witch named Amy are almost burned at the stake by some concerned parent's in the town of Sunnydale that find out about the girl’s occult practices (Buffy, Season 3). Here Willow and Amy both exemplify persecuted individuals. The fact that Willow is a witch alludes to Miller's play "The Crucible" and her background (name and original religion) reference the social undertow of the play.

Coincidentally "The Crucible" was first published in 1953 and released at the almost exact time of the Rosenberg trials and other HUAC proceedings of the era. It is no secret that the play is a socio/political commentary about these events and particularly the investigations of Hollywood writers and actors. This makes sense considering that Miller was one of the writers of the time under siege by the government and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

"Miller wrote about the event as an allegory for McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which occurred in the United States in the 1950s. Miller was himself questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956," (Wikipedia).

Now we begin to see how things are coming together in the spectrum of the Buffyverse and Arthur Miller's involvement. Joss Whedon uses Willow Rosenberg’s character to represent the persecuted individual in American History (or even history in general as a Jew and a woman; two groups that have faced much adversity). Willow’s linkage to Miller is quite clear as we dissect the reasoning behind her purpose on the show.

Another very interesting detail about the episode “Gingerbread” is the fact that it may have also been a direct allusion to the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews by the Germans. The main evidence is that the monster/demon that was controlling the parents of Sunnydale came from German Folklore. The correlation between Jews, Germans and targeting for malicious practices is seen in the attempted burning these women at the stake.

These links are not the only references to Miller's works found in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". Surprisingly enough there is a very blatantly obvious mention of Miller's "Death of a Salesman" found in the shows Season 4 finale episode entitled "Restless,” and demonstrates the presence of Buffy as having a close mirror image connection with Willy Loman. In “Restless” the members of the Scooby Gang are trapped in a dream state fighting off the Primitive Slayer as a consequence for a spell which they performed in the previous episode to overcome the forces of the man made Frankenstein creature Adam. Each Scooby has a separate dream that links them to Buffy.

One of the first indications that we are dealing with a “Death of a Salesman” connection is when in Willow’s dream, she arrives at the opening night of her drama class’s play which happens to be an incredibly skewed version of the Miller production. Once again we start the BTVS linkage with the character of Willow that brings us to this point in ‘her dream sequence.’ Buffy is standing there dressed as a flapper which is the first indication that her new and re-vamped character has two purposes. One is to make us think of Willy Loman (as represented through Buffy) and the other is to act as a bit of a pun (a play on the word Vamp). Flappers were in fact prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s a time period that we hear Willy Loman constantly talk about returning to.

“Willy: I was thinking of the Chevvy. [Slight pause.] Nineteen twenty-eight…when I had that red Chevvy. Remarkable. T’s. Remember those days?” (8).

Willy believes that everything was great during this time and that if he could only return there all would be well with his life. Here we see that Joss Whedon wants the viewer to see Buffy as a female representation of Willy in this instance and particular situation.

The flapper clue is only the first of three significant hints that Whedon plants in “Restless.” The second is that the idealism of Willy closely matches the one that constantly lingers in the back of Buffy’s mind; the feeling and proposal of wanting to return to a simpler time. Buffy dreams of going back to the time when she was just a teen starting her freshman year of high school with no worries of vampires or other hellacious demons just as Willy wishes to return to his own version of a simpler life. They share this idea of nostalgia and the need to be carefree without responsibility as they once were.

Thirdly we have the strangest, but most established link of all between Buffy Summers and Willy Loman. Surprisingly that is through the use of cheese as a metaphor and a symbol. Through out this episode there is a man dressed in a brown business suit that appears in every Scooby member’s dreams with cheese. Over the years he has come to be affectionately known as by the name ‘The Cheese Man.’ When asked, Whedon was quick to quip that there is not true meaning to his presence in the episode.

“The cheese man ...is the only thing in the show that means nothing. I needed something like that, something that couldn't be explained, because dreams always have that one element that is just RIDICULOUS,” (“The Truth About The Cheese Man”).

Though Whedon claims that this small character of ‘The Cheese Man’ means nothing in the grand scheme of things, he can oddly enough be used as the link in the chain connecting Buffy and Willy. Cheese played a significant role in both “Death of a Salesman” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” In ‘Death’ the cheese is used early in the play to symbolize a type of xenophobia which Willy has fallen victim to. He is afraid of new and foreign things and for this reason rejects a new type of cheese that his wife offers him when making a sandwich.

“Linda: Willy, dear, I got a new kind of American-type cheese today. It’s whipped.
Willy: Why do you get the American when I like Swiss?” (6).

Not only does this make us aware of Willy’s feeling about change in his daily routine it also makes us conscious of Will’s taste for Swiss cheese. Buffy also has a very close bond with cheese which is revealed in the Season 4 episode entitled “The Initiative.” In this episode Whedon stresses Buffy’s love of Cheese by making two very distinct references to the Slayer and her affair with dairy. First, when a potential suitor named Riley asks Willow about what Buffy likes she replies,

“She likes cheese. Well, I'm not saying it's the key to her heart, but, Buffy... She likes her cheese,” (Buffy V.S Angel).

The second reference to Buffy and her love for cheese comes when Riley offers Buffy more cheese at a fraternity party later that day, cheese cubes on a stick to be exact. So now we know that Buffy loves cheese and this is just another clue linking her to Willy Loman (“Analysis of Cheese as a Metaphor in Buffy The Vampire Slayer”). There are several different theories as to why cheese is used as a metaphor in the episode “Restless” but only one comes to mind that can apply to both Buffy and Willy. There is a reference back to the old children’s song “The Farmer and The Dell” that has the ending line,

“The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, Hi-ho, the derry-o, and The cheese stands alone.”

Ultimately Buffy is alone as the slayer and therefore in the song she is represented by the cheese.

Buffy is alone in the same way as Willy. They are both fighting to preserve something, but in the end they must be alone to achieve their goals. Willy saw taking his own life, an action that involved no one else, as his answer, and in a sense he had to be alone to reach a solution to his family’s problems. Buffy knows that when the Apocalypse comes her friends will likely not be able to help her and in the end she is left alone to solve the problems as well.

Several other smaller factors in the episode “Restless” as well as the series in general lead me to believe there is a strong connection between Arthur Miller and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The fact that the “Restless” episode takes place in a dream is rather uncanny considering that Willy Loman lived in a dream like existence in “Death of a Salesman.” Willy also lived by the ‘American Dream’ and in a sense Buffy attempted to emulate the modern day version of that dream. Willy wanted to achieve financial stability as well as have his children stay on a righteous path of life. Buffy was in a sense a single parent (Season 5) trying to balance family, work and slaying.

The balance between family and vocation is very much a problem of today’s society. Also to go back to the playing off of names like Willow Rosenberg we are also exposed to the character of Rupert Giles, a constant mentor and Watcher to Buffy, who coincidently shares name with a Miller character named Giles Corey in his play “The Crucible.” Though the characters do not act in a similar manner it is possible that the men are still linked solely through the name ‘Giles’.

Since we are talking about even the slight mention of Miller I cannot go without bringing up the Season three episode “Band Candy.” In this episode chocolate bars that are being sold by the band turn the adults of Sunnydale into out of control irresponsible teenagers because of a spell that was placed on the candy. Buffy has a line that could not be a more obvious reference to Arthur Miller. She is told by her principal that she must sell candy to raise money for the band and responds with a witty literary retort referring to “Death of a Salesman.”

“Buffy: I'm sure we’d love the idea of going all Willy Loman, but we're not in the band,” (Buffy V.S Angel).

It seems to me as if Joss Whedon and his team of brilliant writers simply couldn’t get Arthur Miller out of their heads when creating various Buffy episodes. And the funny thing is that he must have even been in thought when creating the base characters for the show as well (i.e.; Willow and Giles). To this day I am amazed at the number of links between the vastly different tales of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Crucible,” and “Death of a Salesman.” Hopefully the work I have done here, both formally and informally will prove the theory that there are definite underlying allusions to Miller’s works placed in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Works Cited

(this would have been a great term paper for Jerz...)

Comments (14)

Wow, good job tracking down the connections between a popular show and one of America's most important dramatists. You gave just enough plot summary to help me understand your argument (though I haven't seen the Buffy episodes you mention), but you have so much more to say besides. This was a pleasure to read. Why don't you add some of it to the Buffy section of Wikipedia?

If you like "Buffy", you will love Josh Weddon's "Firefly." Fox cancelled it last year, but you can still buy (or get from the library) the dvds. They have the same great qualities of Buffy - ass-kicking action and witty dialogue (two must-have elements, in my opinion). The one-season series sold so many dvds that they're making a movie out of it.

http://www.apple.com/trailers/universal/serenity/

Great essay, by the way. There is nothing I love more than to see some one use their fandom as academia!

Leslie:

Thanks so much for the feedback Dr.Jerz and Kayla. I really worked hard on this and it has kind of been my pet project since mid-April. Its so funny the way things can be linked in literature and popular culture. But then again I guess thats what I do, link the un-linkable and comment on popular culture.

I think I might add it to the Wikipedia Buffy section. Thanks for the idea. I've got to admit that Wikipedia was one of the best things I was introduced to in EL236.

Leslie, if you like making literary/pop connections, I hope you'll consider taking my online J-term course on videogaming. It's a section of "Media and Culture," which is one of the New Media Journalism requirements. Playstation came out with a Buffy game a couple years ago... your term project could be a "close playing" rather than a "close reading" of a pivotal scene in the game, with a discussion of such things as player agency (just how much can you affect the plot, or are there only two outcomes: you die, or you play again until you win?).

The first part of the course will deal with historical computer games (most available for free online), the second will involve a bunch of games that are fairly easy to find, and that plenty has been written about already. In the third section, you pick a game you already know well, create an online project, and a research paper to go with it. The whole course lasts three weeks, though I'll give you some extra time to turn in a revision of the final paper.

Since it's an online course, most of the work will be done over blogs.

Leslie:

Wow Dr.Jerz, that really sounds like something promising that I would like to be a part of. I mean it seems to be right up my alley since I love videogames, Buffy and blogging. Just to clarify, since its during J-term does that mean during January I stay up at school rather than coming home? Or since its online, can it be done from home? I have no problem staying at SHU.

I'm just not quite sure how these J-term classes work. What was that other class that you're going to teach during J-term? I think you mentioned it once to me in passing, and it involved Disney Land.

You can take the course from home or from SHU, though of course it will be cheaper to take it from home.

I'm hoping to teach a Disneyland course the following year (Jan of 2007). That will be one week online, week at the park (probaby in Florida) and a wrap-up week online, again with some extra time to submit the final paper.

During the week spent at the park, we'll do some things as a class, and some things in small groups. So far the course has been approved in principle.

Leslie:

That videogaming course sounds really great and promising. I am debating staying at SHU during J-term just because it may keep me more focussed on my studies. Not quite sure yet what the parentals will say about that. I am excited to hear more about the "Disney" course as it comes together. The concept is very interesting one. Keep me posted.

Jaynelle Stevens:

Roamer, this was such a pleasure to read. In fact, it is probably one of the best, well thought out articles that I have ever read. Congrats.

Lou Gagliardi:

*claps*

I am impressed. Leslie, and Kayla, we share something in common. I am a big BtVS, well vampires in general, fan. I am also a fan of Firefly.

May I suggest, to you both of course, the show Angel as it was also created by Joss Whedon.

Leslie:

Greetings Lou. I hope all is well and your summer is going great. I am a fan of Angel as well. Here is something interesting for you to look into ; the opening sequence to Angel with character pictures and the actors names. Have you ever noticed that their pictures are surrounded by specific colors (one different for each character).

Look into "color symbolism" and you will find that Whedon matches the colors and there signifigances with each character and his/her traits/mannerisms. He is one really smart cookie. It's amazing what you find when you look at the littlest details in his shows.

Lou Gagliardi:

I have noticed that. Angel and Wesley are usually dark and brooding. Cordelia is sometimes dark and somes light, depending on the episode.

Leslie:

Wow, I love that we can talk about this stuff. It's great to know that I have another Angel/Buffy fan at SHU. You should check out my EL236 (Writing for the Internet) final project on Buffy Fan Fiction. The address is:

http://leslierodriguez.setonhill.info/individual.htm

There's much more that people don't know about me, Leslie. Or about Kayla for that matter.

cordelia stinck . buffy complaine all the time .willow the BEST!!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

About

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 1, 2005 10:05 PM.

The previous post in this blog was History of the Fanny Pack.

The next post in this blog is Feeling like a "Wicked" read?.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.