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DEATH OF A SALESMAN—and McCarthyism Why do I assign Death of a Salesman? 1. I like very much its picture of masculinity. As a writer A. Miller is superb at showing masculinity and its particular anguish in a culture that demands so much from its men. It is an ur-representation of the way men functioned in our culture in the 1930s and 1940s. It shows hegemonic masculinity and alternative masculinities functioning full force. There is the failed Willy Loman and Biff and Happy, the former star athletes, very attractive to girls. There is the nephew/cousin, Bernard, who was the nerd in high school who has now succeeded. It shows the impact of high school culture, which I consider to be the most considerable place in which we are located in this culture. People are often not nice or kind in our high school culture, jocks and prom queens rule that culture at mid-century, and it is interesting to me that Miller does not include the prom queens, homecoming queens or the song girls. I went back to my high school culture in the fall, and it was completely the same. (THINK OF WHAT WE READ ON THE ZUNI AND THE WAY THEIR FAMILY IS ORGANIZED.) 2. It is epic in scope. It relates to Greek tragedy, with its picture of a dysfunctional family, and its unrelenting movement toward what you know is going to be a tragic situation. A lot of critics compare it to King Lear.
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It is also epic in being connected to the movement West in our culture. Note that the play begins with a melody played in a flute. That is because Loman’s father was a flute salesman, going all over the country. (So we have thoughts of the great eras of peddling in our country, with patent medicine sellers, book sellers, cameramen going all over the country.) Note that the play begins with a melody played on a flute.
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