Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

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•  Using the Video
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Activities: Author Activities

Arthur Miller - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Arthur Miller Activities
  • Have your students brainstorm about the many versions of the American Dream. Categorize these versions as a class. Discuss which versions are mostly based on illusion and which are more realistic and possible. Explore for whom they might be possible and who could probably not realize these dreams.

  • In Death of a Salesman, Willy says, "The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want." Discuss with students the differences between character and personality. You might have students explore how Americans once idolized mainly people who had good "character." Then discuss how that has seemed to change to an appreciation for public figures with interesting personalities, or those who are "well liked." After this discussion, apply the conversation to Death of a Salesman.

  • Have students consider Willy's definition of masculinity and its dependence on a triad of sexual appeal, work, and sports. This is one of the places where you could discuss what is considered Jewish about the text. When Willy wants his sons not to be bookish but instead to be sports heroes and be "liked," he engages in a classic juxtaposition of Jewish and American conceptions of manhood.

  • Have students view selected segments of Death of a Salesman on film. Use these segments as a springboard for discussing Miller's critique of mid-twentieth-century life in America. Note that this play is set entirely in the house and in this sense depends upon classical (Greek) dramatic conventions, in which everything happens around the ancestral house, and we are just told about other events/places. What kind of house is the Loman house? How does it symbolize the action that will take place?

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