Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trace one of the symbols (stockings, diamonds, etc.) throughout the play and explain why and how Miller has used it. What other symbols does Miller use and to what purpose?

[THE WOMAN bursts out laughing, and LINDA'S laughter blends in. THE WOMAN disappears into the dark. Now the area at the kitchen table brightens. LINDA is sitting where she was at the kitchen table, but now is mending a pair of her silk stockings.]

LINDA: You are, Willy. The handsomest man. You've got no reason to feel that--
WILLY [coming out of THE WOMAN'S dimming area and going over to LINDA]: 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 [noticing her mending]: What's that?
LINDA: Just mending my stockings. They're so expensive--
WILLY [angrily, taking them from her]: I won't have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!
WILLY: She's nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.
BIFF: You-- you gave her Mama's stockings!
LINDA: Be careful on the subway stairs.
[She kisses him, and a silk stocking is seen hanging from her hand. WILLY notices it.]
WILLY: Will you stop mending stockings? At least while I'm in the house. It gets me nervous. I can't tell you. Please.

An important symbol throughout Death of a Salesman is stockings. For the protagonist Willy Loman, they stand as a reminder of his betrayal and infidelity when it comes to his wife Linda. As can be seen in the passages above taken from the play, Willy lashes out at Linda for mending stockings because it reminds him of his affair with THE WOMAN and the incident in Boston with his son Biff. When Biff caught Willy cheating, he was heartbroken and really upset. Apparently, Willy had promised the Woman a box of stockings, and Biff accused him of giving her Linda's stockings. 

No one wants to be confronted with something that reminds them of their own bad qualities and mistakes. Willy certainly does not wish to be either. He is not comfortable with Linda fixing her stockings because he cannot fix his betrayal. If her stockings not being mended means that she won't wear them, the better off for Willy. If she throws them out, they can no longer haunt his conscience as much. Also, the fact that Linda has to mend her stockings instead of simply buying new ones stands as a further reminder to Willy that he is failing to provide for his family and his wife. 

The stockings evoke shame and guilt- two feelings that Willy Loman does not want to have brought up. He does not wish to face these emotions, rather, he wishes to suppress and ignore them. This is what drives him to yell at Linda for no apparent reason. 

Other symbols seen throughout the play include diamonds- which act as a symbol of tangible wealth, a wealth that Willy was never able to put his hands on like his brother Ben was- the rubber hose taken from the water heater serves as a symbol of a man's desperation to kill himself and be of some kind of worth to his family, and the seeds Willy wishes to plant are a symbol of Willy's efforts to provide for his family. A garden would feed Linda and his sons where his income is lacking in its ability to do so at the time. A garden is all that Willy has left, considering the son who was supposed to turn into a big success turned out instead to be a "bum." 

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