MODULE 8: Foreshadowings: Omens and Bad Dreams of the American Dream in “Death of Sales

One Part: Students will perform the following assignment:

Apropos of my Module 8 lecture, our Module 8 assignment involves a consideration of the difference between two idea-positions, two perspectives on life: between good and bad dreams in Death of a Salesman; between the American Dream understood as a good dream and the American Dream understood as a bad dream.

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And so as to get us off on the right foot, we begin with a quote taken from Miller’s stage direction at the opening of his play (on page 31 of the required text of the play in our MODULE STUDY MATERIALS section) that subtly and conspicuously walks a kind of tightrope between the two idea positions, between the two concepts of the American Dream. Miller writes:

“Before us is the salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.”

Miller implies that the experience of life in his play consists of a double experience: (1) “reality,” on the one hand, and (2) a certain conspicuous “dream rising out of reality,” on the other hand.

The one word to indicate that the dream — the oneiric dimensions of Miller’s play — is ominous and not beneficent is the word “angry” that Miller uses to characterize the total environment of the theater-play.

He points out that “the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange.”

And in literature when a word which is typically associated with “Persons” or “Culture” — in this case, the word “angry” — gets conspicuously associated with “Nature” or the in-animate “Environment” it usually reflects the artist’s desire (Miller’s desire) to personify the total invisible atmosphere — the eco-system, of sorts — that circumscribes all the people living in a given environment.

Miller’s simple word choice (“angry”) to describe a total environment, a total overarching atmosphere, is not so simple as it may seem. Because his simple — but not-so-simple — word choice stands as evidence that the invisible environment that circumscribes the identities of all the people in a given environment are vaguely inextricably circumscribed with the texture and tonality — the vague dream-reality — of “anger” or “the angry.”

Miller’s simple word choice, in other words, stands as evidence that, within the total environment of the theater-play, the “dream” that inextricably coexists side by side with what Miller calls “reality” is something like a bad-dream.

Your task for this assignment is to find no less than 4 passages (2 quotes from Act One; and 2 quotes from Act Two) that support Miller’s subtle intimation that the alleged good-dream that is the American Dream is oscillating, is morphing, is devolving into the condition of a bad-dream.

And, as usual, you are required to explicate the quotes that you have selected in terms of how they support Miller’s subtle intimation.

And, as usual, you are required to respond to at least 2 posts from classmates.

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