Death of a Salesman Essay

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Death of a Salesman

An essay on the use of dashes in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman The dash is a handy device, informal and essentially playful, telling you that you’re about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course – only you have to remember that the dash is there, and either put a second dash at the end of the notion to let the reader know that he’s back on course, or else end the sentence, as here, with a period. __ Lewis Thomas

How does a writer – a good writer – convey epiphanies exactly so that it’s grammatically appropriate for – eureka! – a dash is used – placed just so – to convey, establish – a mood, feeling, tone – a character feels – whilst saying a line, monologue – even an exclamation – wherein characters experience a lot of feeling and – dominance is implied when a line is ended by a dash – interruption in short – by another character – allowing the reader to see – feel – the personality – traits, characteristics – of a character subtlety.

This simple line – the dash – is a many faceted gem – a treasure – that can be used to highlight many ideas – key terms – certain events jump off the page because of the use of a dash – rather than an ellipsis – causes a noticeable break – a sharp break – unlike that of an ellipsis – which immediately gives off the impression of abruptness – just as it appears visually – a sharp-edged line in the center of a line that breaks the fluidity of words – just as the dash in a sentence breaks the flow of thought or conversation.

Dashes – menial as they are – give substance to a pause, break – charging it with emotion and meaning – no number of words could do the same. Although dashes may seem like a punctuation mark so rarely used, it is an integral tool in writing conversations. The dash represents a discontinuation of an intended statement – a visual representation of the abruptly derailed trail of a train of thought – allows the writer to interrupt characters – as is normal in an average conversation – like most of Linda and Willy’s conversations.

Linda’s lines are often ended by a dash – interrupted by another speaker – subtlety informing the reader of Linda’s subservient personality. The dashes imply the abruptness of Willy’s interruptions – thereby insinuating that he doesn’t listen to her – including times when she expresses her adoration for him – clarifying that Willy’s view – behavior – towards Linda is rather poor- which in turn personifies Willy’s personality. “Linda: You are, Willy. The handsomest man. You’ve got no reason to feel that- Willy: I’ll make it all up to you, Linda, I’ll- Linda: There’s nothing to make up, dear.

You’re doing fine, better than- Willy: What’s that? Linda: Just mending my stockings. They’re so expensive- Willy: I won’t have you mending socks in this house! Now throw them out! ” (Page 39) This whole conversation establishes the relationship between Willy and Linda – Willy being the dominant – though insensible – one, while Linda is the subservient – although quite practical one – as well as giving insight to Willy’s guilt over the woman – all done with four appropriately placed dashes at the end of a character’s lines. However, dashes are not only useful at the end of lines but in the midst of a sentence as well.

Just as the dash on the page is a break from the stream of words – a break in the voice is represented by a dash on the page. Thus, when a character is overcome by emotions, a dash is placed in the proper place in the sentence’s structure and a feeling of overwhelming portions is conveyed to the reader. In a tragic play such as Death of a Salesman, the proper use of the dash is essential to establish certain key conversations – and the significance of the feelings of the character – and their significance in the overall meaning of the story line.

Such a conversation is seen when Willy is affirmed of Biff’s love (Page 133) – where there was placed four dashes upon the page – in the span of the conversation – each of which insinuates a great deal of emotion. It is these emotions that help build the tragedy in the story line – characterizing Willy and Biff in the process. When Biff tells his mom – or whoever it is he is speaking to – to put Willy to bed – “Put him-put him to bed. ” – the dash stresses the exhaustion that Biff feels – his inability to finish his sentence implies a deep caring for his father – an overwhelming emotion.

It is the strength of this emotion that astonishes Willy and awakens Willy to the fact that Biff still loves him, and the following lines he says are also broken with dashes – so choked with love and boundless joy is he – “That boy-that boy is going to be magnificent! ” (Page 133). These statements foreshadow Willy’s decision to kill himself for the sake of his sons – making an impact – greater or equal to that of – Willy’s statement on page 98 – where he states “After all highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.

” Both statements imply that Willy is going to commit suicide, playing against each other. The quote on page 98 establishes that Willy was considering the option – the possibility – while the conversation with Ben – prior to Biff’s outburst – acknowledges the cause of Willy’s hesitance and indecisiveness – the effect the suicide would leave on Biff – the opinion that Biff would have of him afterward.

Thus, when Willy is offered that which is all he really wants – his life as it was before, with a loving relationship with his Adonis son and the admiration that this son once had for him – through Biff’s compassionate voice and tears – Willy makes a definite choice as to what he intends to do – first seen in his line “That boy-that boy is going to be magnificent! ” (Page 133). It is this line that resolves the inner conflict that Willy feels over Biff and over his lack of success – it is in this line that Willy decides to kill himself.

Without the use of the dashes, the emotions would not have been conveyed to the reader appropriately – losing its power and significance in the overall storyline. Another significant line – dash – in the play – though not necessarily filled with emotion – begins Biff’s voyage into realization and truth. A dash can represent a hesitance – changing of mind – as to what must be said to convey the thoughts – and sometimes feelings – of the character.

“I tell ya, Hap, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know-what I’m supposed to want. ” The dash before “what I’m supposed to want,” allows the reader to realize that Biff’s restlessness and lack of success is not failure – not in the true sense of the word, for Biff would have to truly attempt – thus want – success in order to fail. Biff’s definition of success is different to that of his family’s and this makes him uneasy – insecure as to what his life really means.

This dash allows the reader to acknowledge that Biff is at a loss of exact words to define what he means and the thoughts running through his head. It is this pause that changes the overall meaning of the sentence – without the pause, the sentence would pass over – unnoticed. The pause – dash – underlines Biff’s uncertainty which continues throughout the play – until Biff realizes the absurdity of his situation and awakens. The dash informs the reader that here lies Biff’s conflict – this dash is the resolution wherein the conflict is introduced.

The dash – is the conflict. As a modern tragedy, Death of a Salesman is – when broken down – an informal play, thus the dash is the perfect punctuation for the certain situations -and sentences – that needed to be highlighted in the subconscious. The dash evokes an awareness that is subtle – sliding beneath our mind’s eye – to implant ideas – emotions and feelings – thereby creating importance to an event – or phrase. When a dash is used, it’s used to emphasize – and encourage analysis of – a phrase.

The involuntary response to a dash should be curiosity – as to the purpose of this dash. A dash is not so easily used and is thus, so rarely seen. Therefore when a dash is used in writing – be it at the end of a line or in the midst of a sentence – “so attention must be paid”1!

Bibliography: Arthur Miller (1949) Death of a Salesman Penguin Books USA Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA 1 Page 56 said by Linda. Jolene Kui September 6, 2002

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