Last Updated on May 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705
Sample Analytical Paper Topics
The following paper topics are based on the entire play. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline. Use these as a starting point for your paper.
Death of a Salesman encompasses two different moments in time, approximately seventeen years apart. The scenes of the earlier period occur as flashbacks and may even be considered Willy’s memories or hallucinations. Discuss the way those scenes reveal important information that allows us to understand characters’ motivations.
I. Thesis Statement: Arthur Miller uses the flashback scenes of the past to reveal the psychological motivations of the characters’ actions in the present.
II. First Flashback(s): Biff and Happy as teenagers, and Willy, Linda, and The Woman
A. Why Willy’s curtailed trip to New England has caused him to remember this flashback
B. Biff and Hap’s conversation as adults compared with Biff and Hap as teenagers
C. Willy’s enthusiasm and desire to be well liked and his present disappointment in Biff
D. Willy’s affair with “The Woman” and its effect on his feelings for Linda
III. Second Flashback(s): Willy and Ben
A. Willy’s different reactions to Charley’s job offers and Ben’s job offer
B. Willy and Ben’s similar but different philosophies of competition, success, and the “jungle” of life
C. Willy’s attempts to impress Ben and win his approval, including approval to commit suicide
IV. Third Flashback(s): Willy, “The Woman,” and Biff in Boston
A. Explanations for why the restaurant meeting triggers Willy’s memory of Biff’s visit to Boston
B. The source of Biff’s opinion of Willy as a “fake”
C. How the memory of the affair affects Willy’s behavior toward Linda
V. The role of sound, lighting, and set design in indicating the flashbacks and their significance
VI. The effect of interspersing the flashbacks among the events in the present, seventeen years later
VII. Continuities and discontinuities between characters’ behavior during the flashbacks and their behavior in the present
Miller focuses considerable attention on Willy’s occupation as a salesman. Discuss the importance of Miller’s decision to use the figure of the salesman as the central character of his play.
I. Thesis Statement: Being a salesman not only constitutes Willy’s occupation but shapes his entire personality and outlook on life. His identity as a salesman greatly influences his attitudes toward his family and neighbors, as well as his decision to commit suicide.
II. The salesman’s confidence
A. Examples of Willy’s consistent belief in a better tomorrow
B. Willy’s equation of “personality” with success
C. Competition and masculinity: Biff and Hap’s childhood
D. The ideals of Dave Singleman and Ben
A. The arrogance and selfishness of “personality”
B. “Business is business”: the irrelevance of personality
C. “Selling” the truth: cheating and other secrets
D. Self-deception: Willy, Biff, and the consequences of “hot air”
IV. The way in which the positive or harmless aspects of Willy’s confidence as a salesman symbolize and express deeper, negative, and harmful aspects of his character and emotional instability
V. Placing blame: The various sources, including Willy himself, responsible for the failure and suffering that arise from Willy’s conception of the “salesman”
Although Willy Loman is the main character of Death of a Salesman, Linda also plays a crucial role in the play. Look again at the way Linda mediates between or balances Willy and his sons. Describe the various positions, attitudes, and beliefs she adopts as she interacts with the other characters.
I.Thesis Statement: Linda Loman represents a point of view that mediates the conflicting views of Willy and his sons. Not merely a kindhearted housewife, she struggles to keep her family together.
II. Linda’s loyalty as a housewife
A. Greeting Willy when he returns home early
B. Comforting Willy
C. Sending Willy off to work
III. Linda asserts herself
A. Confronting Biff
B. Standing up to Willy and Ben
C. Telling Biff and Hap to leave the house
IV. Linda’s opinion of Willy
A. Recognizing Willy’s faults
B. Recognizing Willy’s exhaustion, vulnerability, and humanity
V. To what degree do Linda’s attempts to defend and protect Willy reveal her to share Willy’s unrealistic sense of optimism?
VI. Linda’s reaction to Willy’s death