Miller's Death of a Salesman Morrison's Beloved and Dunbar's Antebellum Sermon Research Paper

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Dunbar writes his entire poem in a dialect that is nearly indecipherable at first glance as well.

All of the collective characters in Death of a Salesman, Beloved, and "Antebellum Sermon" have experienced some kind of difficulty in their pasts (some obviously more horrific than others); however, there is the commonality that all seem to oppress what they have faced in their pasts. Sethe and Paul D. choose to not deal with the past while other characters like Stamp Paid fights against it, which is still a form of oppression. Willy chooses to live in his world of illusions rather than deal with the mistakes that he has made in his life. Sethe, Paul D, and Willy Loman all actively choose to not accept their pasts and this means that there will never be resolution for them in life. On the other hand, "Antebellum Sermon" has the narrator talking about the past (in metaphor) and offering up hope and ways for a changed world. "Antebellum Sermon" uses the religious account of Moses in order to make the audience see that God saw injustice with what the Pharaoh was doing and God will see injustice again when it comes to the slaves the narrator is addressing.

There is a major similarity between Death of a Salesman and Beloved when it comes to the way both works of fiction portray reality. Both Miller and Morrison use supernatural elements (i.e., ghosts) in their works yet within a realistic framework. The ghosts in each work push the boundaries of normal understanding. The characters in Beloved use these ghosts and hallucinations as a way to understand the world. Willy has conversations with his dead brother, Ben, which seem to Miller's way of illustrating Willy's fragile grip on reality.

Ben seems to represent what Willy could have been. Willy was supposed to go with Ben to Alaska, one of his many regrets. Because Ben was willing to take risks, he was able to not have to go the business path and instead get rich by finding diamonds in Africa. Ben, unlike Willy, did not have to struggle everyday as a salesman to get ahead and this feels like one of the reasons Willy may conjure Ben. Willy's lack of self-identity and self-awareness urges him to bring forth Ben to ask him questions about their father or even about parenting. The questions that Willy asks Ben are questions that he is essentially asking himself and creating his own answers. Though Ben is obviously someone whom Willy has admired throughout his life, there is some skepticism put forth in the play as to whether Ben was really as admirable as Willy believes him to be. First of all, Ben must cheat to win the fight with Biff; there is also some kind of peculiarity around the situation with the diamonds and how he found them in the African jungle. Perhaps he didn't just find them, but rather, perhaps Ben stole them. This brings up questions about Willy's American Dream. How can Willy find his sense of self and not cheat to get what he needs from the American Dream?

In Morrison's Beloved, it becomes clear that Beloved is Sethe's murdered baby reincarnated; she is the human version of the very ghost that Paul D. exorcises from the house and she is now the same age as the baby would have been had it lived. Beloved is awkward and dressed in peculiar clothing. She appears to be quite naive, but it becomes clear throughout the story that Beloved is quite powerful and even a bit malevolent. At first, Beloved's presence is not understood and she seems to be a very benevolent presence, in fact; however, as the story goes on, it becomes obvious that Beloved is not doing anything good for the family; rather, she is destroying it. The ghost has not forgiven Sethe for what she had to do (i.e., murder the baby) and it takes a physical toll on Sethe: as Beloved gets more powerful, Sethe gets weaker. Beloved has become the oppressor in the story and so not only has Sethe been an actual slave, but also she becomes a slave to Beloved -- the ghost of her dead baby. This is quite significant because it represents Sethe's repression of the past and how the past has come back to oppress her.

While Beloved may be the reincarnation of Sethe's baby, Ben in Death of a Salesman is not real, but rather, a figment of Willy's imagination. However, like Beloved, Ben oppresses Willy because the conjuring of Ben's "ghost" keeps Willy in a state of deception. Willy cannot deal with reality because he is, in a sense, a slave to his own imagination about what he should have been and what his children should be as opposed to simply accepting who he and who his sons truly are.

"Antebellum Sermon" rejoices the imminent release of the slaves, though it has not happened yet while Beloved is a story that represents the violent and powerful legacy of slavery. Sethe, though eighteen years free from slavery, is still constrained by its chains and Beloved is the personification of all the suffering under slavery, which is why she is so strong. She is the embodiment of collective souls that suffered for so long. For the people listening to the narrator's sermon in "Antebellum Sermon" with such hope, it would be difficult for them to believe that once slavery was abolished it would still effect their lives in such a powerful and malicious way.

Death of a Salesman, Beloved, and "Antebellum Sermon" are all works that deal with sacrifice, oppression and a loss of identity, though "Antebellum Sermon" is -- arguably -- a much more hopeful perspective on all three themes. Dunbar's preacherly poem worked to "master and manipulate the expectations of their various audiences" and give black people "a model of what it means to be free" (Blount 590-1). On the other hand, Morrison wrote Beloved in a way that brings the painful legacy of slavery back to life by focusing on the horrible sacrifices that slaves had to make and the ongoing oppression and lack of self-identity that remained even after slavery was abolished. Death of a Salesman does not have the traditional definition of slavery in the play, however, Willy Loman serves as an example of how a person can become, by his own machinations, a slave to a dream. All three works are interesting takes on oppression, whether that oppression be self-inflicted or inflicted by others.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of America Literature: Shorter Edition. W.W.

Norton & Company; 5th edition, 1999.

Blount, Marcellus. "The Preacherly Text: An African-American Poetry and Vernacular

Performance." Performance. Spec. Issue of PMLA 107.3 (May 1992): 582-93.

Braxton, Joanne M. The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. University of Virginia Press, 1993.

Felder, Cain Hope. Stony the Road We Trod: African-American Biblical Interpretation.

Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1991.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman (Viking Critical Library). Penguin (Non-Classics),


Morrison, Toni. Beloved…

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