Death of a Salesman Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for Death of a Salesman


Death of a Salesman - Symbols

Example



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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the play, and support their choices with details from the text. In the classroom, students can track the themes Miller uses in the play to express the tragedy of Willy Lohman.


Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For & Discuss

The American Dream

The American Dream is the idea that no matter a person's background, anyone can achieve their goals through hard work and determination. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman's dream is to be a great salesman. He also believed that it was better to be well liked and have charisma than it is to work hard. However, it is his son, Biff, who realized in the end that Willy's dream was wrong and vows to live his life without regret.


Infidelity

Although usually meaning “adultery”, this can also mean a breach of trust and general disloyalty. In the play, Willy feels betrayed by Biff because his son does not fulfill the ambitions that he has for him. However, it is Biff who catches his father with another woman, shifting the onus of betrayal. Willy's infidelity comes full circle when the audience sees him gift a pair of stockings to his mistress while his wife is forced to sew the holes in her stockings.


Exotic Places

To Willy, places like Alaska, the Jungle, and the Wild West represent the untapped potential and ambitions of a better life. His father found success in Alaska, and his brother Ben became rich in Africa, and he had high ambitions for Biff out west. For Willy, these exotic places were an escape from his hackneyed life in New York.


The Home

Throughout the play, many aspects of the home are mentioned. Owning your home and providing for your family are key components of the American Dream. For Willy it is a constant struggle; he can barely afford to keep his appliances. Even when he attempts to commit suicide by inhaling gas, he abandons the attempt after realizing his family needs it to heat the house, again showing his need to provide for the home.


Stockings

In the play, Willy purchases a pair of new stockings for his mistress, while his wife is forced to sew hers because they cannot afford a new pair. This symbol not only serves as a reminder of Willy's infidelity, but also his failure to provide as a good husband and father to his wife and sons.



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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Death of a Salesman. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Death of a Salesman.
  3. Create an image for the example(s) that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

Template: Theme

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