What do you know about stage directions? Like stage right, stage left, down stage, up stage. Wait, you don't know anything about stage directions? Then how are you going to do the assignment that your teacher gives you, on the significance of stage directions in this play? Do you at least know what a tragic hero is? What? How are you going to write on that paper that your teacher assigned you, on whether Willy is a tragic hero or not? And Quotation analysis, don't tell me you're not sure about that either. Well you're lucky because that's why I'm here. Today we're going to go over some common assignments that might show up in your class. I'm going to show you exactly what to do, so you can earn that big fat A.
Chances are when you're working on literature in English class, you're going to be asked to explain some quotations. This freaks a lot of people out, because they don't know even where to start. We're going to go through a couple of different ideas on how you can do this with ease. You can take this right into your classroom and use it for class discussion. Or if you're given a written assignment, where you have to deal with a quotation, it totally works for that too. Let's check it out.
With quotation analysis, step one is determine the context. So you just basically want to know what's happening when this quote is being said, who is saying it, who are they saying it to, if that applies. Maybe when in the book are they saying it, or the context of what is going on in that particular situation.
The next step is determine the significance. I know, that's way easier said than done. But I'm going to share some questions with you that can kind of put you in the right track for figuring out significance.
First of all does it relate to the theme? Is this quotation something that's enlightening us to a big idea on the story? Does it help establish what a character is like? Is it telling us about somebody's personality, maybe through their actions or their words? Is it providing background information? If you think about all these flashbacks in Death of a Salesman, it gives us a lot of info that we need to know. Is it showing the relationship between two characters? So maybe if the quotation of the passage you're given, is a dialogue between two different people, it's showing us what the relationship is like.
Last, it might just be a quotation that's advancing the plot, that's keeping the story going. So when in doubt and you really don't know significance, you're not sure, you can kind of use this as a check list to run through. Which of these apply to the quotation that you have to explain? I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. We're going to use this and explain some of the more popular quotes from Death of a Salesman.
Willy says, "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit!" What on earth is he talking about here? Let's do our steps first. Step one determine the context, so I already gave it away that this is Willy talking. Can you remember who he's talking to? He's talking to Howard. This is the scene in the office, he's gone in to address the issue of staying at home and not being a troubling salesman any more. But, we know that this ends really badly. This is when Howard actually ends up firing him. That's the basic concept. We have the two characters who're speaking and we have what's really going on here.
You might also want to put when this is happening. So in about the middle of the book, you don't have to just give enough contacts so that your teacher or whoever is reading this, knows that you know what you're talking about. Remember the quote is about eating this orange and throwing the shell away, so let's use this as a sort of a checklist and see what's really going to apply to this particular quotation.
So does it relate to theme? Yeah, I'd have to say so. We have this whole idea of Willy as a shell of a man, he's not accomplishing what he wants to, so I think think that one pretty much works. He can't provide financial success for his family, especially if he's getting fired.
The next one, does it help establish what a character is like? Certainly, because we get this view of what Willy sees himself as. He's given his heart and his soul, he has given his orange to this company and all that's left is when he is right now. He doesn't want to be thrown away, he doesn't want to be disposed off.
Is it providing background information? I don't think that this one really applies. We're not finding out anything about the past or something that happened before.
The next question, is it showing the relationship between two characters? It certainly is, this is Howard and Willy having an interaction together. It's showing basically how Willy thinks that he's being treated, that he's being thrown away and disposed off.
The last one, is it advancing the plot? I will have to say so because, we're highlighting the fact that he's been fired. That's really significant because it's going to make him feel more hopeless than he'd ever felt in his whole life.
Let's move on to another quotation, "I'm not licked that easily. I'm staying right in this city, and I'm going to beat this racket!... I'm gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have-to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I'm gonna win it for him." It's kind of like an inspirational quote sort of, but then we have to look at the context in which this is said.
Do you know who it is? Do you know when it is? This is actually Happy at the very end of the play. This is at the grave site in the requiem section. So he's the speaker and who is he talking to? Who is he making this big bold gesture to him, his grand statements? He's talking to the rest of his family. So this is Happy to his family. And again, remember the when can be important, so this is at the funeral. That's all you really need for context. If you want to take it a little bit further, you can be specific about who the family members are, at what point in the funeral it is, all that's well and good but this really suffices for what we're trying to do.
Let's move on step number two. Let's go through these questions again for this quote and see which ones apply. The first one, does it relate to the theme? Certainly. He in this situation is basically hanging on to his dad's dream, the American dream. Remember how we talked about that in the theme episode, it's certainly him holding on and maintaining this ideas that his dad really died believing. So it really does go with theme. Does it help establish what a character is like? Yeah. This is him showing denial, he's not going to believe that his dad did something bad, or that his dad died in vain. It's going to show us that he's kind of naive, that he's stubborn. It's giving us a lot of character traits to see Happy basically embarking on this mission to be like his dad, who didn't get what he wanted. He says he's going to try to do it for him, but we know it really might be a fruitless dream.
Is this providing background information? This one doesn't really apply here either. If anything, it's kind of providing future information. We see where he's going to go next and what he wants to do.
Is it showing the relationship between two characters? What's interesting here is, I think that this says the most about Happy and his dad. He's not saying it to his father, he's saying it to the rest of his family, the ones who're there with him. However it's showing the pride he still has in his father, which is in question sometimes in different parts of the play. So it's interesting to see it kind of coming together. In the end he has pride, he has love and that's why he wants to continue doing things that he knows would make his father proud.
The last one, is it advancing the plot? Even though we're really at the end, I would still agree that this does advance the plot and that it shows us where he is and what he might do at the end of the play. So what's the next step? We have step one, step two. We practised it and you know how to do it. But how does that come together for a quotation analysis? I would recommend, let's say you're going to do this in writing. Your teacher says, "Explain the significance of this and that quote." I would start with step one, establish the context, who is saying what to who, where, what point in the work. The next thing I would do is simply put the sentence or the little clause in there that says, "This is significant because..." going to those questions whichever ones apply, add them in there. Just like I verbally said well these adds to theme because it really shows us how much Willy wants to provide to his family, that's really all you have to do. Write something like that down. Flash out the answers to those questions just a little bit more, put them together with the context and it's a completely winning combination for quotation analysis.
Stage directions are a really important part of this play, and maybe you don't have a lot of experience with them. Most of what we do in literature class is usually a novel or a short story. So let's talk a little bit about stage directions and specifically in this play, Arthur Miller puts in a ton of instructions about how the play should look, how it should sound and kind of the atmosphere. Most playwrights don't do it quite as much as he does, I feel like he had a really definite vision of what he wanted it to look like and he might be a little bit of a control freak like I am. He wants everything exactly the way he imagined it.
There are so many details that points, it's almost a book like quality that he gives it. Usually stage directions don't tell us specifically about the character, but in the stage directions here, Linda, his wife, she more than loves him. She admires him even with his tempers, his massive dreams and that so above and beyond normal stage direction, that it's really important that we pay attention to the stage directions in this play.
So how's this going to show up in English class? Let me show you what I have my students do. I gave them this assignment: Arthur Miller uses a significant amount of stage direction in his play, Death of a Salesman. How do these directions serve to further the play's themes, moods, or main ideas? Be sure to reference at least two separate examples. I've done this before as a paper that they have a couple of weeks to write. I've also done this as an essay exam. So it's really quite genuine and this is something that could totally show up in your classroom tomorrow.
So where do you start if you're given this assignment? The nice thing about stage directions is, you can totally go back and very easily spot it. It's written in italics and your eyes are going to go that, if that's what you're looking for. It's going to be pretty easy see. Also, Arthur Miller does these things where he has great big sections of stage directions. And that's I think really, what I'd focus on, because there is so much information there. If you look in my book, the first page and almost the entire second page, is all stage directions. So I think that's a great place to start. Re-read some of the longer passages of stage directions and kind of get some ideas.
So this is from the very beginning and this is one of the very specific directions he gives. So let's take a look at it. "Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door on the left. But in the scenes in of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping "through" a wall onto the forestage." This really advances the theme. So I'm going to say remember the assignment as for two examples, let's use this as one.
As I said, it advances the theme, it's got this whole idea of the fantasy and the reality and how the lines are blurred. And there are actually literally lines in the stage directions, the wall lines and at some points there are there. And at some points they're wavy, they're blurry, people walk right through them. I think what this does is, it reinforces the idea that fantasy and reality for Willy Loman, are not really two separate things, they're all joined together.
His whole big thing of the American dream and all the success that he wants, is rooted back in his fantasies and his flashbacks that he has and it all works together. It's not really clear that this is this, and that is that, that this is fantasy and this is reality. It's really a kind of interesting thing if you think about it, visually, and how that visual representation of stage direction really works with different ideas that the author puts forth in the dialogue of the play.
Let's reread some stage directions for something else that could be an example. Let's try this one. "Biff enters the darkened kitchen, takes a cigarette, and leaves the house. He comes downstage into a golden pool of light. He smokes, staring at the night." I think this would hit you over the head with how obvious this is. Biff is the golden child and he literally has a golden pool of light coming down on him. We know that he's always been the favorite of his father, and many people think he can do no wrong. He was the big man in campus and high school, and he is learning in the play that he kind of has to live with this but still do his own thing. So we're showing him there's still this idea that he's got this hail around him almost, there's potential for great success. And in the play, there is potential when he says he's going to have this business plan and go to his boss and ask him for money.
So there's hope in this, there is hope in Biff the golden child. This is also really elaborated upon later in the dialogue, and it's kind of cool to see sometimes how dialogue is going to go with stage directions. So they can kind of reinforce each other. Willy actually says when he's talking about Biff, "Like a young god. Hercules-something like that. And the sun, the sun all around him." So I think it's cool that this is in dialogue, backing up what we're going to see visually in this light imagery.
Now check this out, here is the two together, right one after the other. Willy says, "A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!" He's talking about Biff again, and this light that Biff has. Now look at the stage direction here. "The light on Willy is fading. The gas heater begins to glow through the kitchen wall, near the stairs, a blue flame beneath red coils." This just blows my mind, I think it's so cool. He's saying that the light from his son's star is never going to fade away. At the exact same time, literally the light that is on him on stage, starts fading.
We see this transferring of the American dream, of financial success, being pushed on to Biff as Willy's light is fading away. His chance to do this, to accomplish the American dream, is fading as well. Not to mention the fact that we have this glow of the gas heater. Well we know that's significant because this is something that Willy has tried to use to commit suicide. And as the blue flame beneath the red coils gets brighter, Willy's light is fading. So it kind of gives me goosebumps. It's like the juxtaposition of these different ideas all together in one visual image.
The last of the common assignments that we're going to discuss today is the idea of a tragic hero. Now before we can really get into the nuts and bolts of the assignment, let's make sure that we understand what a tragic hero is. There are very specific qualities that go with this idea. The first of which a tragic hero is a noble good person. The second is that, although he's noble and good, he has a tragic flow. He recognizes his own problems, his tragic flaw too late, and it ultimately leads to his downfall, which is usually his death. And then order is restored after his death. So everything kind of comes full circle and gets back to where it should be after the tragic hero has passed on. So this is kind of our working definition.
Now, hopefully you've heard this before, some famous tragic heroes are Macbeth and Oedipus or maybe Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. So hopefully this is ringing some bells. But let's check out what the assignment might look like.
Should Willy Loman be considered a tragic hero? Why or why not? Be sure to address the qualities of a tragic hero and back up your ideas with proof from the play. Didn't you love it the way teachers always do that and they make sure that you have to do all this extra stuff? Well this isn't really going to be too hard. We can kind of look back and use those qualities as a checklist and see what really is going to apply to Willy. So what you could do, if this was a written assignment, is just like we're going to talk about the answers to each of these right now, you could simply write how these do or don't apply to Willy. And then in the end, you're going to decide, does make him a tragic hero or does it not. It's very processed based, we're going to figure this out together.
Let's look at this. Is Willy Loman a noble or a good person? I want to say yes because I feel like I believe in him. I feel like he's a good guy ultimately. But then I think about the fact that he was having an affair, and his poor wife at home was not having any socks stockings and he's hooking his mistress up with this like luxuries and extravagances. So I'm not sure I really think he is a noble person. He's certainly not of like noble birth, he's a common man. So I'm going to say I don't think that one applies to him.
But does he have a tragic flaw? I will certainly say that this is going to apply to him . And what is really his tragic flaw? His desire to financially provide for his family. Now that's weird it doesn't sound like a flaw to want to help your family and be there for them. But in Willy's case it's going to lead to his downfall, and it's really an obsession on his part to become financially sound.
Recognises his own tragic flaw too late. Do you think that Willy ever really gets to a point where he sees his flaw? I would say I don't think so. He doesn't really have the chance to. He commits suicide in order to kind of feed his tragic flaw. So I'm not going to check that one off either. Does his tragic flaw ultimately lead to his downfall? This one for sure we can check off. His tragic flaw in wanting to support his family, means that he takes out a life insurance policy and then commit suicide hoping that they are going to get money from it. Now if that's not a downfall, I'm not sure what it is.
The last one, order is restored after death. You can kind of think about it that we do come full circle at the end of the play. Happy is kind of taken up his dad's mission to become a success and we have that whole thing where Willy Loman did not die in vain. Happy is going to go on and try to continue with what his dad was trying to do. So we're kind of restoring where we were at the beginning of the play, just without Willy in it. So here a point where you need to make a decision.
We have three out of five of these major qualities of a tragic hero that apply to Willy Loman. Now in my opinion, especially because he doesn't fit the first part of a noble good person, I would say that doesn't make him a tragic hero. But maybe you want to argue the other way. In fact as a devil's advocate, in the bonus material section, I included an essay by someone who very much feels that Willy Loman is a tragic hero. Remember how I keep saying that this is the cool part about literature. When you analyze it, you can use your own opinions and if you back them up, they're perfectly valid.
So check out the essay, if you don't agree with this. But there's more potential assignments than just the tragic hero, just the quotation analysis, I know that. So also in your bonus material section, check out the little cheat sheet I gave you. What that's going to do is it's going to give you different topics that might come up in class, and it's going to point you exactly it's what episode in this course you need to look at, to kind of review to make sure you ace that assignment.
So in case you were busy, really contemplating Jenny Humphrey's amazing designer clothing line in Gossip Girl, here is a gist of what you missed in this episode. We talked about different common assignments. We talked about stage direction and why Miller puts a lot of it into this play, and he uses things like light and music to go towards the scene. We also did some quotation analysis and now you know exactly how to tackle that assignment when it comes up. We also did some discussion on Willy Loman as a tragic hero. I decided my personal idea is while he's very tragic, he's not exactly a tragic hero. He doesn't completely fit that bill.
If you want a little bit more help on some other common assignments, check out what I've left you in the bonus material. It's a little cheat sheet for you in case you see some other assignments pop up in class. So congratulations, you've done a great job, we're finished. Death of the Salesman all done. Give your self a pat on the back, a kiss on the brain and congratulate yourself because you're ready to rock this play.