Use of quotation in the critical essay

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USE OF QUOTATION IN THE CRITICAL ESSAY

The rule in general is PEE. Make the Point first. Quote an Example. Give an Explanation.
You are, however, writing a critical essay in answer to a question. So the first thing to do is analyse the KEY TERMS of the question. Then to indicate a clear STRUCTURE or line of argument – follow a mind-map which gives you a clear line of thought related to the key terms of the question. You should also show engagement with the text i.e. show what you like about it or how you react to it.

Choose a play which has a key scene around which everything turns. Examine this scene in detail and show how it is so important in terms of the play as a whole.
Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” is about the suicide of a commercial traveller who has the wrong set of values and a mistaken view of the American Dream. The key scene of this play could be considered to be the restaurant scene where the central character, Willy Loman, finally decides to commit suicide to set up his son, Biff and the rest of the family with the insurance money. It illustrates the themes of illusion / reality and betrayal.
Willy has been filled with optimism at the start of Act 2 when both he and his son have planned to ask for a new job and financial assistance. This turns out badly, however, as both Willy and Biff have been fooling themselves over the prospects of succeeding. Biff does not manage to have an interview with Bill Oliver and Willy ends up being sacked by Howard Wagner.

Both Willy and Biff meet in the restaurant scene and Biff tries to convince his father that he has been living an illusion and not facing reality.


Whoever said I was a salesman for Bill Oliver…Dad, I was a shipping clerk.

Willy tries to win sympathy by finally admitting the reality of his failure and that he has been sacked.



The woods are burning boys. I was fired today and I’m looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered...I haven’t a story left in my head.

So Biff once again decides to tell lies and make up a story to reassure his father and live an illusion.



Well he talked and I listened see? Dad you’re not letting me tell you what I want to tell you…

His father virtually blackmails him emotionally to feed him the story he wants whereas Biff really wishes to face the truth.


Willy is confused and dreams about the past when Biff was a failure at school and looked for help from his father in Boston only to be let down by finding him involved in an affair.

Biff flunked math! Birnbaum flunked him! They won’t graduate him…Is Uncle Willy in Boston?

Willy can talk to the teacher.

So Willy feels guilty, confused yet blames Biff and thinks Biff is spiting him when he stole once again from Bill Oliver’s office when he had a “chance” of setting up a new business.



If you hadn’t flunked math. You took Oliver’s pen?

Willy’s mind is both in the past and the present. Biff realises how broken Willy is and tries to give him hope by lying to him once again.



Pop, listen to me Oliver talked to his partner about the Florida idea. He said it was just a question about the amount…

Willy does not fully understand but does recognise that Biff cares for him and may have forgiven him for his affair with a woman in Boston in the past.

Meanwhile, Happy and Biff argue about who has caused this nervous breakdown in Willy. Is it Biff who refuses to be the person Willy wants him to be and leaves home but because of his upbringing has led a life of dishonesty and now wants to face up to the truth? Or is it Happy who is heading for a life of deceit following in his father’s footsteps both in work and in his relationships with women.


HAPPY Who runs off?

BIFF Yeah but he doesn’t mean anything to you. You could help him. I can’t….

At least, Biff tries to help his father and faces the truth whereas Happy is selfish and only interested in a good time. He is the one who betrays Willy in his hour of need and leads Biff off with two girls.

.HAPPY …No that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on…

Willy is left to reflect on his own act of betrayal of the boys and Linda with the woman in Boston and this is symbolised by his memory of the stockings. His mind is in disarray with memories of the past, present and thoughts of the future all mixed together.



THE WOMAN Where are my stockings? You promised me stockings, Willy!

BIFF You gave her mama’s stockings!

Determined to set things right as he recognises Biff is not spiting him, Willy plans to rush out in the night, quickly buy some seeds and plant them by torchlight!



I’ve got to get some seeds right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.

The seeds, too, are symbolic of the need to plan for the future for his son(s) and atone for his guilt, recognising that Biff really loves him. He thinks mistakenly of Ben, his “successful” brother who seemed to know the secret of success. He plans to kill himself and leave the $20.000 to Biff to give him a start in life. Still recalling the funeral of the one successful salesman – Dave Singleman – which was so well attended, he thinks his life will then amount to something worthwhile.



A man can’t go out the way he came in, Ben, a man has got to add up to something.

Ben, that funeral will be massive!

Just as Ben is an illusory figure; so too is Willy’s idea of being a success – being well-liked is no substitute for hard work as shown by Charley and his son, Bernard.


The restaurant scene has left Willy in a toilet having a breakdown while his sons go out on the town and Willy reverts to his old mistaken ideas of what will make him a success. The scene has been important because it sets Willy on the final step to suicide and conveys the theme about the mistaken ideals of being well-liked being more important than hard work. The themes of illusion / reality and betrayal are also illustrated well in this scene.


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