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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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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.

Topic #1

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.

Outline

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 WomanA. Why Willy’s curtailed trip to New England has caused him to remember this flashbackB. Biff and Hap’s conversation as adults compared with Biff and Hap as teenagersC. Willy’s enthusiasm and desire to be well liked and his present disappointment in BiffD. Willy’s affair with “The Woman” and its effect on his feelings for Linda

III. Second Flashback(s): Willy and BenA. Willy’s different reactions to Charley’s job offers and Ben’s job offerB. Willy and Ben’s similar but different philosophies of competition, success, and the “jungle” of lifeC. 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 BostonA. Explanations for why the restaurant meeting triggers Willy’s memory of Biff’s visit to BostonB. 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

Topic #2

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.

Outline

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 confidenceA. Examples of Willy’s consistent belief in a better tomorrowB. Willy’s equation of “personality” with successC. Competition and masculinity: Biff and Hap’s childhoodD. The ideals of Dave Singleman and Ben

III. DisillusionA. The arrogance and selfishness of “personality”B. “Business is business”: the irrelevance of personalityC. “Selling” the truth: cheating and other secretsD. 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”

Topic #3

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.

Outline

I.Thesis Statement: Linda Loman represents a point of view that mediates the conflicting views of Willy and his sons. Not...

(This entire section contains 705 words.)

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merely a kindhearted housewife, she struggles to keep her family together.

II. Linda’s loyalty as a housewifeA. Greeting Willy when he returns home earlyB. Comforting WillyC. Sending Willy off to work

III. Linda asserts herselfA. Confronting BiffB. Standing up to Willy and BenC. Telling Biff and Hap to leave the house

IV. Linda’s opinion of WillyA. Recognizing Willy’s faultsB. 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

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