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11. Act II – “It’s an accomplishment”
About this Lecture
In this module, we read through the first part of Act II up until the end of Linda’s phone conversation with Biff (pp. 52-56), focusing in particular on: (i) the time that has elapsed between the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II – it’s the following morning; (ii) the change in atmosphere since the previous evening, including the more positive sounds (“Music is heard, gay and bright”, p. 52) and smells (“I can’t get over the shaving lotion in this house!”, p. 52); (iii) the contrast between the unplanned action of Act I (“What brought you back tonight?”, p. 27) to the planned action of Act II (“You’re supposed to meet them for dinner”, p. 54); (iv) Willy’s famous concept of the “race with the junkyard” (p. 54), especially in the context of “the last payment on the mortgage” (p. 54), and the sense in which Willy himself is “broken”, “on [his] last legs”, etc.’ (v) the idea of paying off one’s mortgage as “an accomplishment”, and the theme of accomplishment more generally in the play; (vi) the importance, once again, of nature (“Maybe beets would grow out there”, p. 55) – and of his willingness to pick himself up after failure and try again (“But you tried so many times”, p. 55); and (vii) Linda’s phone call with Biff, and her famous description of Willy as “a little boat looking for a habor” (p. 56).
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 an accomplishment” [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-it-s-an-accomplishment
McRae, John. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act II – “It’s an accomplishment”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021, https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-it-s-an-accomplishment