Throughout the semester, many stories, biographies, and plays have been read – each one showcasing one or more social issues. Langston Hughes and Mark Twain both wrote about racism during their time, Mina Loy and Ezra Pound discussed the social classes they were in, and Susan Glaspell wrote about gender-fluid social issues. Miller, in Death of a Salesman, and Faulkner, in “A Rose for Emily”, showcase the gender and racial stereotypes also found in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,which allows the issue of social class to truly shine. Dalton Conley and Annette Lareau wrote an article titled Social Class: How Does It Work where they state, “To subjectively locate themselves and others, people have to correctly perceive the extent of social inequality, correctly identify where inequality comes from, and then correctly find their place in the unequal scheme of things” (Conley and Lareau 26). In this quote, it’s shown that the idea of social class is made up by the people, deciding their own placement in life. The play Death of a Salesman and the short story “A Rose for Emily”, along with the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn all showcase this issue in one way or another.
For starters, gender stereotypes can be found in many places, including Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, where Willy Loman is confronted with the problem of conforming to society’s views on men. Death of A Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller that shows how the issue of social class allows readers to see how characters may see themselves. The main character, Willy, is shown to be overall unhappy about the position his family is in, constantly making payments on things that break all the time, being a salesman, and his sons, Biff and Happy, turning down jobs for happiness. One example of this from the play itself would be, “I just finished paying for the car and it’s on its last legs. The refrigerator consumes belts like a goddam maniac. They time those things. They time them so when you finally paid for them, they’re used up” (Miller 1255).
Throughout this play, we are able to see one point where an urge for action is used – when he crashes his car and kills himself. This point is used as an urge for action in hopes of it teaching people to do what makes them happy, even if they struggle for a little. Andrew Bishop states in his literary criticism, “Health or Wealth? Environmentalism and Consumerism in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman” the reasons as to why Willy would be down on himself enough to commit suicide, “From his life’s work as a salesman, from “all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years,” Willy has gained nothing but poor health, a dead zone of a backyard, and insurance premiums he cannot pay without Charley’s help” (Bishop 13).
In pieces of literature such as plays, different forms of irony can be found, which in case of this play is true. There are three forms of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic, all three of which can be found in this piece. The first one, verbal, can be found in the last name of the characters: Loman and also in their character. With the last name meaning “Low Man”, it somewhat foreshadows how the play will end for the family – as a failure seeing as the characters had such high goals for themselves. In character, this form of irony could be found with Happy. His name is a word that could mean upbeat and excited, however his true character is the opposite of that, with the character even stating that he feels lonely at times. With the second form of irony, situational, an example could be found with Biff and Bernard. Biff was the one expected to succeed because of the praise Willy puts on him, however Bernard is the one who succeeding in the business world after high school. The final form of irony found in this play is dramatic irony. An example of this could be Willy’s suicide and the insurance he had on his life, as it’s discovered that the policy may not honor Willy’s death if he kills himself. This is an example of dramatic irony because the readers/watchers of the play are aware of it while the characters aren’t.
“Literary and artistic criticism would have long since been reduced to silence if the terms that designate movements, periods, tendencies, or various styles were all so precise that their meaning could be agreed upon once and for all time” (Peyre 1). Henry Peyre, author of the criticism What is Symbolism?, discusses here how the idea of symbols having different meanings with people who read the same thing, is better than it meaning the exact same thing to everyone. The quote helps to explain how and where one could find symbols, allowing readers to have more freedom with discovering new meanings to things. With symbols, there are four found in the play: the seeds, the diamonds, the stockings, and the rubber hose – all of them representing something important. Starting with the seeds, they represent Willy’s failure with Biff. As he tries to care for and nurture the seeds, attempting to make the plant/flower grow, it showcases how he failed doing so with Biff. With Biff being a football star, he begins to lack what he needs to succeed in the real world. The diamonds would normally showcase the wealth someone has, but in this case they symbolize Willy’s failure at his job because Ben discovered them and gained a fortune from it. The stockings in the story could symbolize Willy’s betrayal and infidelity in his marriage, the new ones he gives his wife suggesting that not only is he capable of taking care of his family, but that he can release guilt that he’s saved up for some time now. The final symbol in this piece is the rubber hose. This one has a much darker meaning behind it, meant to be a reminder to those reading and watching the play of just how many times Willy has attempted to off himself in his life. All of these symbols advance the work by making the reader truly think about what has happened and what will happen to the characters and the story in general.
The short story, “A Rose for Emily” was written by William Faulkner and it shows the way that social class makes some people treat others. The main character of the story is Miss Emily Grierson, a girl who stayed hidden most of her life and then kept away after her father’s death. Emily is seen as an introverted high stander in the community, allowing others to see her as too ‘high up” for some people. A quote from the story that supports this would be, “Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people” (Faulkner 1013).
During this story, there isn’t really an urge for action found by or for the reader, but there are some found by smaller characters in the story. One example of this could be the time four men snuck around Miss Emily’s house and sprinkled lime around the building in order to cover up a smell. There is another time when everyone entered her home not knowing she had passed, worried about her since they hadn’t seen or hear from her. These show an urge for action by the characters for taking matters into their own hands so as to see things be taken care of.
Within this story, there are also pieces of irony following Miss Emily and the other people of the town. Katharina Barbe is the author of the literary criticism Irony in Context in which she states, “Inherently, instances of irony can be either more language-related (verbal irony) or situation-oriented (situational irony)” (Barbe 3). Barbe discusses how there are different forms of irony that can be used along with how they could be used in a piece of work. One example of irony in the story is that way that the other characters get upset at her thinking she’s above them and their taxes, even though they give her special privileges and outs. Another piece of irony would be the fact that they have ostracized her from the town, but get upset at the fact that she refuses to converse with them. One final example of irony in this piece would be the fact that they say mean things about Emily behind her back, but still hold her in such a high regard. There are no hints towards sarcasm in the story.
Throughout this story, there are a few different pieces of symbolism. Emily’s house is symbolic for a couple reasons. Firstly, it represents the preservation of tradition as the rest of the street and town have been upgraded and modernized. The house also represents death and isolation, as her father passed away in the house and kept her hidden from others in the house. It represents the traditions her father placed on her. The strand of hair found on the pillow represents ones willingness to live life their own way, refusing to convert their life to be how others wished it to be. The hair is also a piece of foreshadowing in the story, as the narrator continued telling of how she aged, leaving the reader to guess what would happen at the end.
These pieces of symbolism advance the work by giving it some character. Knowing that Miss Emily lived in more of a dilapidated, worn-down house gives the story that “house on the end of the street” kind of vibe, making it much more interesting to read. The house and the meaning behind it also give a grim aspect to the story, allowing the theme of death and isolation to really shine through. The strand of hair on the pillow advances the story by giving more depth – it makes the reader go back through and look for why the one strand was so important.
In the story, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we see Huck Finn and slave Jim on the run from whites who own Jim and wish to change Huck. We see these characters grow and changed throughout the story, mainly Huck on what he was taught was right and what he’s learning it right. The relationship between Huck and Finn is important at the time because segregation was going on, keeping whites and blacks from being friends or even equals. This friendship helps to prove that whites and blacks can be friends and treat each other as equals – that the color of one’s skin does not define the kind of person they are.
This story does follow the issue of social class, mainly covering the idea on how we see people being treated by others. One example here would be, “The nigger run off the very night Huck Finn was killed. So there’s a reward out for him – three hundred dollars. And there’s a reward out for old Finn too – two hundred dollars” (Twain 143). This quote is a perfect example as to how this story follows the issue of social class. The white people who own and order Jim around not only put a price on him, but a higher one than on Huck. This showcases that the white people are scared of losing their property and losing their power over the black man.
Through this story and the idea of social class, Twain presents a couple of messages. One of the messages is to not judge others based on the color of their skin – Jim was assumed to be a bad man and less of a man merely because he’s black. But, throughout the story we see him work with Huck in order to make it through a series of trials and tribulations, attempting to do whatever was necessary for them both to survive. Another message would be to not act as though you are better and put all your work onto others. The whites in the story have put their work onto the blacks and have acted as though they are better, doing things such as putting a higher price on their slave than their own people merely to stay in power.
The social issue of social class is one that has been around for ages, staring around the early 19th century and remaining since. Susan T. Fiske and Hazel Rose Markus wrote the literary article, Facing Social Class: How Societal Rank Influences Interaction, in which it is stated that “One way we make class disappear is to describe virtually everyone as middle class: both the lawyer earning $175,000 a year and the truck driver earning $60,000 a year are likely to think of themselves as middle class. In fact, the lawyer would likely refer to himself as upper middle class.”(Markus and Fiske 39). While the people in this example most likely decided on their own jobs, the ideal in the example is true – those who make more money tend to associate themselves with those whom make the same amount of money as they do. Thusly, giving the idea of social class true meaning and keeping all separated into their “categories” such as poor, middle-class, working middle-class, and rich. While the terminology has taken place of other terms, it has the same meaning and the same executions. Even in today’s world, we see this issue come between the rich and famous, the working-middle class, and the poor – homeless class. The idea of social class in today’s world mimics a mix of the stories, it follows part of “A Rose for Emily” and part of Death of a Salesman, but it doesn’t follow one completely.
Barbe, Katharina. Irony in Context.John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1995. EBSCOhost,
Bishop, Andrew. “Health or Wealth? Environmentalism and Consumerism in Arthur Millers
Death of a Salesman.” Midwest Quarterly,vol. 60, no. 4, Summer 2019, pp 402-418.
Conley, Dalton, and Annette Lareau, Social Class: How Does It Work? Russell Sage Foundation,
Markys, Hazel Rose, and Susan T. Fiske. Facing Social Class: How Societal Rank Influences
Interaction.Russel Sage Foundation, 2012. EBSCOhost,
Peyre, Henri. What is Symbolism? University Alabama Press, 1980. EBSCOhost,
Levine, Robert S. Norton Anthology American Literature: 1865 to the present. Norton