Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller Unit Dates: Wednesday, January 5- day One – Wed, Ja

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Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller

Unit Dates: Wednesday, January 5-
Day One – Wed, Jan. 5

1. Read and discuss poems regarding family relationships:

  • “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

  • “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Questions for the class after reading:

  • “Mother to son” – Is there anything about the language of the poem that seems to support the poem’s message? (Imagery, word choice…)

  • “My Papa’s Waltz” – How many saw this poem about a positive parent/child relationship? Negative? Why? Look at the language of the poem – Circle: positive connotation. Square: negative connotation.

  • What do these poems tell us about some different types of relationships between parents and children?

  • How much and what type of influence do you think the respective parental figures in the poems have over the children?

2. If there is time left, have the students write a reflection about their relationship with a parent/guardian. This is not a formal assignment, nor does it have to be in a certain form. It can be about the relationships or the influences that their parent has on them.
Day Two – Thurs, Jan. 6

1. In order to become familiar with the author and his background, the class will read about Arthur Miller and the focus of his works.

  • Group 1 – Tragedy and the Common Man

  • Group 2 – Arthur Miller (Rubinstein)

  • Group 3 – Biography

  • Group 4 – Obituary

General questions to discuss as a class:

  • Where does he get his inspiration?

    • The Greeks, Sophocles, Ibsen, stories of the “highly placed”

    • He looked at Greek tragedies – he writes about the common man as they wrote about kings and princes.

  • What does he like to write about?

    • He likes to write about the trials and tribulations of people. Their experiences and misfortunes.

    • Heroes and anti-heroes – pathetic men.

    • Moral rectitude

    • Finding your identity through others’ perceptions of you.

    • Aging – how people got to be where they are

    • Actions have consequences – individual’s responsibilities.

    • “The aim of each of his plays was to discover which commitment or challenge his main character would accept, and which he would walk away from. ‘Fixating on one star.’”

  • Are there any reoccurring themes in this works? What does Miller say “tragedy” really is?

    • Tragedies and the suffering of the common man.

    • The morality of tragedy and its lessons.

  1. If there is time left, briefly go over the historical context of the play.

    • 1949

    • Post WWII economy

    • Excess goods and production from the war

    • Bigger businesses are starting to appear

*Homework: Read this play up to page 28 “Boy, you must be really makin’ a hit.” by Monday. Questions to be collected:

    • What are some things you are noticing about the characters?

    • What are some of their values?

Day Three – Fri, Jan. 7

1. Vocab Quiz

2. Essential Questions

  • American Dream:

  1. Is the American Dream idealistic or realistic?

  2. How has the American Dream differed throughout time?

    1. Shift Happens video (5 min long)

  3. Is a person successful if they have achieved the American Dream?

  • Relationships:

  1. How do the relationships we have with others impact the decisions we make?

  • Status/Reputation:

  1. At what point does a person’s status become more important than their skill and perseverance? Is it possible to “get ahead” in life through “likeability” rather than hard work?

*Homework: Read up to page 28 “Boy, you must be really makin’ a hit.”

    • What are some things you are noticing about the characters?

    • What are some of their values?

Questions will be collected Monday.

Day Four – Mon, Jan. 10

1. Reflect through page 28:

  • What have we learned about the characters so far? What are some of their values?

  • Pg. 21-24 “Why does Dad mock me....” to “…gorgeous creatures?”

    • What does Biff say constitutes satisfaction in a person’s life? What do you think about this?

    • What does Happy say in response? Why is he so lonely?

    • Can a person be successful if they are lonely?

    • What do Biff and Happy say about success? Are their ideas of their potential happiness realistic?

3. Read aloud 28-42

  • Start page 28 “Willy is gradually addressing…”

  • End page 42 “…Take it easy, huh?”

    • What message is Willy sending to his sons when he says “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (p 30)

    • Willy makes some very bold statements (p. 33). What is he saying about a person’s reputation and their status?

    • Can a person advance in today’s world just by “knowing people” and being “well liked”? Is it more important to have a great reputation than it is to work hard?

    • What is the significance of Willy comparing his boys to Adonis? (p. 33)

    • Why does Willy get so mad at Linda about mending her stockings? (p. 39)

Day Five – Tues, Jan. 11 (elongated period)

  1. Read pages 42-69 / 1469-1481

  2. Some important ideas to discuss in Act I:

  • Hallucination of Ben

    • What do you make of Willy’s hallucination of his brother?

    • Why is Willy so insistent that his boys hear Ben talk about himself and their (B & W’s) father? (They want the boys to know what greatness was like – Willy wants to leave some sort of legacy for his sons. He thinks Ben and their father are the greatest people, the best legacies that were left.)

  • What is Arthur Miller saying about men in this story? How does Willy view being a man?

    • Good looking, strong, muscular…

    • How does he view Charley and Bernard in this story?

    • How is Willy trying to raise his boys into men? What does he try to teach them is important? (This occurs in both direct and indirect ways.)

  • Why do you think Willy spends the majority of his time trying to impress people? (pg. 49-50)

    • He feels like he needs to be approved. He wants people to like and respect him.

  • Linda’s justification of Willy’s character (pg. 56-57)

      • Pg. 56- “I don’t say he’s a great man…Attention must be paid.” “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man…” What are your thoughts on Linda’s speech?

All men deserve respect and attention; no person deserves to die feeling that they don’t matter. Take a look at Linda’s speech. How does this apply to our society today? Does anyone deserve any more attention than anyone else? What is the result of society making people feel this way?

    • She compares Biff and Happy to Willy’s dead clients. Is there any significance in this? Willy relies on his clients for business and for success, and now his sons are part of his downfall.

    • Do you agree with Biff when he says that Willy “has no character?”

HW  Finish reading Act I. Questions to be collected:

“It’s not what you say it’s how you say it – because personality always wins the day.”

How does Willy’s job as a salesman influence this viewpoint? Does

this viewpoint reflect Miller’s social commentary?
Day Six – Wed, Jan. 12

  1. Review of Act I:

    1. Personality questions

    2. Talk about the rest of Act I

2. Ad archive

  • Show a few ads from 1948-1950. Discuss the messages they are sending to consumers. What does this tell you about the American Dream in the late 40s/early 50s?

  • Show a few ads from 80s and do the same.

3. Writing activity

  • Describe what you see is the perfect job for you. What about this job will help you achieve your life dream? Be specific.

  • Share your job with a group of classmates. As a group, write down the aspects that you find today’s American Dream consists of.

  • As a class, discuss what some common aspects of today’s American Dream include.

      • How do you think the vision of the American Dream has changed over time?

      • How does the American Dream affect a person and the way in which they live their life?

      • Does the media have any affect on the perception of the American Dream?

    • Show ads from today. Discuss these changes as they are portrayed through the media and advertisements. Do these ads correlate with the aspects of the American Dream that the students’ groups discussed?

Day Seven – Thurs, Jan.13

1. Start Act II to page 1496 “We’re gonna do it here!”

  • Pg. 73 – Brand name items. What is the importance of having brand name items?

  • Pg. 81 – Dave Singleman

    • “He died the death of a salesman.” What is the significance of Willy’s story? Why do you think he is telling Howard this story?

    • What is this saying about success and relationships? Can you achieve both? Do you think Dave Singleman was happy? Willy thinks he was…

  • Pg. 82-85 – How does Willy react to being fired? Why is Willy unable to accept Howard’s perfectly acceptable views?

  • Pg. 87 – What are some of the differences in values between Linda, Ben, and Willy?

HW  Read up to page 1519 “Happy, who backed up into the kitchen, afraid.” Come to class with three scenes/passages for discussion.

Day Eight – Fri, Jan. 14

  1. Review up to 1519:

  • Why do you think Bernard didn’t tell Willy about working for the Supreme Court?

  • Why do you think Willy refuses to work for Charley even after he got fired?

  • Recall the scene at the restaurant. Do you think Happy is happy?

  • Ethics – Page 117-118 (Biff failing the class; Willy saying Bernard should’ve given him the answers): What message is Willy relaying to Biff? What are your thoughts on this message? Do you find it ethical? How would you respond if your parent/guardian said that to you?

  • Is it okay to cheat your way through life?

  • Why didn’t Biff tell his mother about the affair?

  • Symbolism: The title, the hallucination of Ben, the stockings, “Loman,” “Singleman,” etc.

Day Nine – Tues, Jan. 18 (2 hr delay)

  1. Watch the final scenes.

  2. Split the class in two – Start with a writing prompt:

    • People often think that Willy Loman is the portrait of human failure. Do you agree with this idea? If so, to what degree to you think society beset his downfall? If not, what are some traits of his you find admirable? Provide textual evidence.

    • Do you think that Happy or Biff is destined to become like Willy? Find some textual evidence to support your claim.

  3. Collect this writing prompt until tomorrow.

Day Ten – Wed, Jan. 19

  1. Hand back questions and go over students’ answers.

  2. Other questions:

    1. #1, 3, 7 (Would your interpretations be different if not for the Requiem?)

  3. Share assessments

The Assessment
Choose one of the following assignments: (60 points total)

  1. The Eulogy: Write a eulogy for Willy Loman from the viewpoint of any of the characters (besides Charley because he had one). Keep in mind that eulogies mention funny, sad, or important moments in the deceased’s life and the ways in which that person impacted the lives of others. Remember that the purpose of a eulogy is to honor the life of the person for whom it is written. An appropriate length for a eulogy is at least one page (double spaced).


  1. The Soundtrack: Construct an album of approximately six to eight songs to add a musical aspect to the play. Pay close attention to the lyrics. Write a short reflection for each song explaining why you chose it. What is the artist/band saying in the song? Which theme does the song identify with? How does the song relate to the play? Be sure to provide the lyrics and assign the songs to scenes of the play.

  1. The essay: Write an essay, approximately two to three pages (double-spaced). You can choose one of the two AP prompts provided. The essay will be graded based on the AP scoring guidelines, however this will be a take-home assignment. Quotations and passage are to be included in your essay.

    1. Prompt 1 (2007): In many works of literature, past events can affect, positively or negatively, the present actions, attitudes, or values of a character. Choose a novel or play in which a character must contend with some aspect of the past, either personal or societal. Then write an essay in which you show how the character’s relationship to the past contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

    1. Prompt 2 (2005): In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, protagonist Edna Pontellier is said to possess “that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” In a novel or a play that you have studied, identify a character who conforms outwardly while questioning inwardly. Then write an essay in which you analyze how this tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the meaning of the work. Avoid mere plot summary.

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