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A Drama-Stylistic Study of Death of a Salesman

Author ChenXueJuan
Tutor HuangShiXiang
School Guangxi Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller Drama Stylistics Conversation Implicature Cooperative Principles Politeness Principles Turn Taking
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Death of A Salesman written by Arthur Miller in 1949, tells of a tragic story of a common American family. In the drama, Arthur Miller molds a series of vivid characters. When it is put on the stage, it creates a great sensation throughout America, even the whole western theatrical circles. Because of its popularity, it won six awards such as the Drama Critics’Circle Award, the Pulitzer Award, American Press Award, Drama Club Award, etc.In spite of many literary reviews about the play, there are very few from the perspective of Stylistics. Aiming at a full appreciation of the drama, the thesis attempts to analyze the personality of characters, relations and conflicts between them on the base of Drama Stylistics, including three aspects such as Cooperative Principles and Conversation Implicature, Politeness Principles and Face Theory, and Turn Taking. And the author also hopes the thesis can provide a relatively new angle for readers to appreciate the drama:Firstly, the Cooperative Principles such as quality maxim, quantity maxim, and relation maxim and Conversation Implicature can expose part of personality of the characters in the drama: Willy is out of a false sense of pride, when his business is in depression, he violates the quality maxim, refusing the job offered by his neighbor Charley, telling a lie that he has a good job. He is reluctant to lose face in front of Bernard, lying that his son Biff has been a big shot. On the other hand, inferred from conversational implicature, Willy really feels a sense of guilt to Linda because of his adultery with another woman; Linda, gentle, kind and sincere, adores her husband from bottom of her heart. When she learns that Willy’s business is in the big slump, she evades the cruel reality and intentionally violates quality maxim and relation maxim to encourage him to cheer up. She always stands on his side no matter what happens; Biff, shows great sympathy with his mother, he intentionally violates quality maxim and relation maxim, not telling Linda about Willy’s disloyalty. At the same time, he shows a great grudge to his father through such kind of behavior.Secondly, Politeness Principles and Face Theory can help to explore deeper into the hero, Willy’s personality and his relations with others. Willy often violates Politeness Principles, pounding his opinion on Linda, and threatens Linda’s negative face to defend Biff for his theft and undisciplined behavior; He violates approbation principle and constantly threatens Charley’s positive face by mocking at him for his being not good at handiwork; However, his behavior is also blamed by his son, Biff, and his positive face is also threatened by his son, which to some extent, reveals the conflicts between son and father.Lastly, Turn Taking theory is employed to reveal the power relations between Willy and his boss Howard. The average length of turns, turns control, turns initiatives and turns sequence will be used to analyze the dialogue between them:Willy and Howard fight for controlling the topic fiercely. Willy tries to converse Howard’s attention to his talk in order to be hired again. However, Howard gives no response, interruption, but keeps silent about Willy’s talk. Finally, through a long period of fighting for talks control, Willy failed and is fired by Howard. Willy’s dream of success in business collapses. He commits suicide in an accident in exchange for 20,000$ for his son to run business.In a word, by using Stylistics theories analysis of Death of A Salesman can help us to have a deep understanding that a person’s personality determines his social relations with others and his fate. Therefore, Willy’s personality demonstrates that it is difficult for him to get well with others and his personality is destined to the failure of his American dream, and his tragic death.

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