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12. Act II – “It’s a business, kid”
About this Lecture
In this module, we continue reading through Act II, from Willy’s meeting with Howard to the moment Charley leaves before Willy and the family head off for the big game at Ebbets Field (pp. 59-68). In particular, we focus on: (i) the contrast between Howard’s new tape-recorder and the tired old salesman in front of him; (ii) the nature of the conversation between Willy and Howard; (iii) Willy’s fragile mental state (“You didn’t crack up again, did you”, p. 59); (iv) the figure of Dave Singleman, his huge success (“he was eighty-four years old, and he’d drummed merchandise in thirty-one states”, p. 60) compared to Willy’s failure; (v) Willy’s appeal to how things used to be, including his relationship with Howard’s father; (vi) Willy’s continued delusion about his sons’ chances of success (“They’re working on a very big deal”, p. 63); (vii) the reappearance of Ben, and the collapse (as in Act I) of time and space; (viii) the story of the Ebbets Field game; (ix) the importance of the background music in shaping the drama (“The music has died away”, p. 67); and (x) the figure of Charley and what he adds to the scene.
In this nineteen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, literary and cultural context, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.
Note: Page numbers are based on the Penguin edition of the play (1998, ed. Christopher Bigsby). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both text and page numbers.
John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.
Cite this Lecture
McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act II – “It’s a business, kid” [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-it-s-a-business-kid
McRae, John. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act II – “It’s a business, kid”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021, https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-it-s-a-business-kid