How does Arthur Miller use tone and diction to convey the theme of the "American dream?"I don't understand how he uses tone in his writing.

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kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tone indicates the author’s feelings about a text, and diction refers to the vocabulary choices, particularly within speech, utilized to communicate the tone.

Miller’ intent was for the reader to see into the consciousness of a man who is at breaking point due to the pressures that modern society has brought to bear upon him. The play was originally titled “The Inside of His Head”, indicating that Miller wished the audience to see that much of the action is portrayed through Willy’s interpretation, which we see is not always the reality.

The tone is certainly tragic, with Miller indicating that Willy’s plight is as important and significant as the fall of any ‘great’ man. We see this when Linda reveals her feelings to her sons about Willy’s decline-

I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid.

We also see that there is inevitability in Willy’s demise, and throughout the text there are hints that Willy’s perception is wrong, has always been wrong, and that as a result he was doomed to failure. When Biff says-

 He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.

We see Miller communicating the despair which accompanies Willy’s death – and also the end of his life.

Through the diction we see what Willy was up against. He is concerned about being “well-liked”. His focus is on how he appears: there is never any reference to the product he sells. His focus is on what people think about him, and he doesn’t measure up-

 I know I gotta overcome it. I’m not dressing to advantage maybe.

He aspires to be great, and wants greatness for his sons. The realization that, despite what the American Dream promised, he cannot attain this with just hard work is what crushes him. We see this when Willy argues with Biff towards the end of Act II-

 WILLY [with hatred, threateningly]: The door of your life is wide open!

 BIFF: Pop, I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!...I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard working drummer who landed in the ash-can like all the rest of them!

Willy has always tried to be positive, whereas Biff can see the truth.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Diction is the term for the words a writer chooses, and diction determines the writer's tone. Because Death of a Salesman is a tragedy, Arthur Miller's tone is necessarily a dark one.

In the opening scene of act 1, Willy Loman tells his wife Linda "I'm tired to the death. . . I just couldn't make it, Linda." This confession sets the tone for the piece; despite his best efforts, Willy Loman never fully realizes his own American Dream of success. Willy nears retirement age having to confront his own shortcomings: he is not wealthy, independent, respected, or even as well-liked as he intended to be by this time in his life. He is a moral failure for cheating on his wife, and he has lost the respect of his son, who knows about it. Willy knows that he does not deserve Linda's loyalty and belief in him, and he recognizes incipient signs of failure in his adult sons. Willy realizes that even as a father he is a bit of a failure. Success, respect, a loving marriage, and a thriving family are traditional elements of the American Dream, and Willy understands how far he has fallen short.

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Death of a Salesman

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