What quotes should a person take into their English 30 diploma exam from both Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman? Of course one never knows the wording of the prompt which makes it difficult to decide on useful quotes. I need quotes from both to be fully prepared in the event only one of the texts is applicable to the prompt.
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When deciding on the appropriate quotes to select from works of literature, within the context of the standard format of the English 30 Diploma Exam, it is incumbent upon the individual student to be completely familiar with the literature in question and to have developed a sense of the themes and characterizations that each novel, poem, or other type of literature suggests. Once the student has selected a format to use in responding to the exam’s prompts (e.g., will the student choose to express his or thoughts regarding the literature in essay form, as a letter, speech, article, etc.), then it is necessary to begin to discuss the author’s themes, ideas, relevant social, political or historical context, and so on, and to express one’s thoughts in a clear, concise manner, inserting the relevant quotes as appropriate. For the two works of literature specified – The Kite Runner, a novel, and Death of a Salesman, a play – there is no shortage of quotes useful in buttressing one’s thesis regarding the authors’ respective ideas. The easier of the two works for this purpose is Arthur Miller’s 1949 play about a traveling salesman named Willy Loman whose ambitions, both for himself and for his two ne’re-do-well sons, Biff and Happy, founder on the rocks of his increasingly bleak existence and the growing realization that he has failed to attain those once-lofty ambitions. There are many fine quotes from which to choose, but a particularly poignant and memorable exchange occurs in Act I, during which Willy’s ever-suffering wife Linda defends her husband before their sons, who have looked down upon their father, with Biff insensitively comparing Willy unfavorably to their successful neighbor Charley:
LINDA: Then make Charley your father, Biff. You can’t do that, can you? 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. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person. You called him crazy—
BIFF: I didn’t mean—
LINDA: No, a lot of people think he’s lost his—balance. But you don’t have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is exhausted.
LINDA: A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.
Death of a Salesman is a tragedy; Willy is a tired, bitter aging salesman whose best years are behind him and whose hopes for his two grown sons will probably never materialize. Linda’s is a melancholy existence, suffering silently the indignities heaped upon her by her faithless husband while retaining a loyalty towards Willy that makes her barely concealed sadness especially heart wrenching. Miller’s suggestion that the American dream is out of reach for this family, exemplified in Willy’s imagined conversations with his deceased, and financially successful brother, Ben (“Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time! Ben! That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate! What a mistake!”), and in the resentment evident in Willy’s condemnations of Linda’s apparent unwillingness to allow her husband to go into business with Ben in earlier times, provides the play its most enduring sentiment. That Willy has, unbeknownst to Linda but discovered by Biff, cheated on his devoted wife only serves to underscore the fragility that is this patriarch’s legacy.
To Willy, nothing is more important than to be well-liked. Throughout the play, Willy sizes up the measure of a man on the basis of whether that individual is “liked.” Charley “is liked, but he’s not well-liked”; “Bernard is not well liked, is he?” If a man is well-liked, he can win: “. . .a man can end with diamonds here [in America] on the basis of being liked.” So obsessed is Willy with the concept of being liked that he concludes that his point will only truly be drilled into Biff’s head when Willy dies and his sons can see for themselves the extent of his popularity. As Willy says to the image of his late brother Ben, “But the funeral – Ben, that funeral will be massive! . . . That boy will be thunder-struck, Ben, because he never realized – I am known!”
In the end, of course, Willy commits suicide, deliberately crashing his car so that Linda can inherit his life insurance money and pay off the mortgage. All of Willy’s dreams have seemingly come to naught; save for that symbolic ambition of owning his house free and clear. He worked hard all of his life, and that’s what he has to show for it.
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, needless to say, is an entirely different type of story, but shares with Death of a Salesman the theme of regret, in Willy Loman’s case, regret over not joining his brother Ben in business. In that sense, Arthur Miller’s play is the quintessential American story. Hosseini’s novel, of course, is a reflection of a place and time with which the average American can scarcely relate. The Kite Runner begins with reference to the story’s narrator and main protagonist, Amir, reflecting upon the fateful decision that sealed his fate – morally, if not financially:
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”
One must read The Kite Runner to attain the full measure of Amir’s life and the memories that haunt him. He has been living in the West, a writer on the verge of commercial and critical success. He has, however, carried with him the knowledge that he allowed his closest friend, and half-brother Hassan, to be brutally raped out of resentment for Hassan’s superior character and to reinforce his own (Amir’s) racial superiority over Hassan (a Hazara, a minority in Afghanistan, especially in Pashtun-majority Kabul). Amir is ethnically superior (in Pashtun eyes), and is the privileged son of a successful businessman who fears that Amir is lacking in the requisite qualities of mental strength. In a conversation with his friend Rahim Khan, Amir’s father, Baba, discusses his concerns about Amir’s weaknesses and how the racially and socially inferior Hassan has to fight Amir’s battles for him:
[Baba:] "Self-defense has nothing to do with meanness. You know what always happens when the neighborhood boys tease him? Hassan steps in and fends them off. I've seen it with my own eyes. And when they come home, I say to him, 'How did Hassan get that scrape on his face?' And he says, 'He fell down.' I'm telling you, Rahim, there is something missing in that boy."
"You just need to let him find his way," Rahim Khan said.
"And where is he headed?" Baba said. "A boy who won't stand up for himself becomes a man who can't stand up to anything."
This quote by Baba is particularly telling, and constitutes a worthy selection for the English 30 Diploma Exam. Amir is the story’s protagonist, but he is scarcely the story’s most compelling figure. The seldom-seen Hassan stands for everything Amir is not, but secretly wishes he was, and Amir is fully cognizant of the fact that their father respects Hassan more than the privileged Amir. The emotionally and physically devastating act to which Amir allows Hassan to be subjected is an incredible act of betrayal, and Amir can’t escape the consequences of his actions. They remain firmly embedded in both his conscious and subconscious mind. Amir regrets his actions, and his search for redemption constitutes the novel’s central theme. Whether he can be redeemed is left open; he certainly tries to achieve a measure of redemption, but the damage has already been done.
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