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 17 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...
(The entire section is 727 words.)
In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the Lowman family finds it quite difficult to decode and differentiate between the real and illusion. This theme of reality versus illusion continues throughout the play, which in the end leads to the death of the protagonist, Willy Lowman. The key element of the play encompasses the value and importance of the American dream of becoming successful. The play is set up in the 1940s era when men in America were determined to be successful, not only in the pursuit of provisioning for their families, but also in living a life where they could indulge in luxury. In particular, the longing for materialistic accumulations possesses Willy. He is thus in pursuit of the contemporary American dream, which is to strive for immense wealth that he never attains, and the greed controls his life to the extent that he becomes blind to life’s realities.
Right from the inception of the play, Willy’s illusionary essence is evident. Willy imagines a life filled with luxury, and in which only good things materialize. Being unwilling to be openly face realities of life, Willy’s life ends up being one that is constantly filled with deception, and he spreads this illusory to his family. It is imperative to note that this illusory transpires largely because of his reluctance to see reality. Imprudently and mistakenly, Willy has the belief that the key thing to success in business is to be liked and to be nice-looking. He goes on to state “…if a man is well liked, he has a prosperous life.” Willy believes that he was well-liked by people and this imagination of success went on to the point that he lied to his family. In fact, his delusionary state increased to the extent that he borrowed money from Charlie his friend, in order to deceive his wife and family that he was making money and being successful (Miller, 2001).
This illusory extends to Willy’s sons Biff and Happy Lowman. Willy also creates the illusion that his sons were successful and perceived as great men. When asked why his sons were not lending him a hand, he exclaims, “They are working on a big deal.” However, the reality was that his sons were unsuccessful. For instance, Biff fails to get a loan. This delusion largely rubbed off on both of his sons, but it had more impact on Happy. Happy begins to believe that he was a top and major functionary in the company. However, the reality was that Happy was the assistant to somebody else’s assistant. Even Biff points out to him asking him, “You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant, aren’t you?” (Miller, 2001). In addition, Happy places a great deal of value on material things and he tries to find solace in his relationships with women and the allusion of his successful position within the company.
On the other hand, when Biff fails to get a loan, he considers it not because of his financial state but rather because he lacked the charm. This indicates the extent of illusions on Willy’s sons. Biff also convinces himself that his boss considered him very important, in a job he had worked for several years. This perspective came from his illusion that he was of great standing and significance to the company. However, reality hits him when he tries to pitch a business idea, and he realizes that he was never important to the company. Failing to accept his inadequacies, Biff also deceives his family that he had travelled due to a great job, while the truth of the matter was that he did not have an address (Miller, 2001).
Willy Lowman ends up forcing his dreams on his sons, particularly Biff. He considers that Biff’s success would cover up his own failures and inability to succeed. However, in the end, Biff realizes his folly and becomes mindful of the reality of their lack of success and that their notion of the misplaced American dream is wrong. He even points this out to his father. The theme of illusion versus reality is also apparent in Willy’s marriage. Without doubt, it is portrayed in the play that Willy is unfaithful to his wife, and even Biff ends up stumbling on him while cheating. However, Willy maintains the appearance that he is constantly being honest and faithful in his marriage. His wife, Linda does not know the reality of their marriage. In the culmination of the play, they realize the facts over the make-believe illusion under which the family was living and accept the truth. The Lowman family finally accepts that they are not successful, nor of great importance to the companies as they deem themselves to be. However, Willy refuses to accept this reality and completely reluctant to give up his dream, which in the end destroys him (Miller, 2001).
The lack of discernment between reality and illusion has a significant impact on the Lowman family. They end up deceiving not only others but also, most unfortunately, deceiving themselves. These illusions take control of their lives, and it is only at the end, that they finally see the reality of their circumstances. However, Willy Lowman finds it impossible to let go of his illusions. He is still blinded by the idea of the American Dream, where every man has to be successful and that this is a certainty. In the end, this leads to his demise as the play ends (Miller, 2001).
Miller, A. (2001). Death of a Salesman. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Fourth Edition. Lee Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.