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Dear Mitch,

I have a final paper to write on either the play "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, or Death of a Salesman," by Arthur Miller.  Which one should I pick and if there's any hints or ideas that you could tell me before I start, I'd really appreciate it.  I'm betting that you know them both because you seem to know every book or story that anyone asks about and these two are supposed to be famous.



China E.


Dear China E.,

First, I most certainly have NOT read "every" book or story people ask about, and you have to remember that by far most of the letters we get I respond to in private emails, so that gives me a chance to pick the letters about books and plays I know and like best!

So, anyway, I do happen to know these two classic plays, as almost anyone in education does, especially because one of them, "Death of a Salesman," has long been considered one of the greatest plays ever written, and "The Glass Menagerie" is a play that falls into a very unusual and seldom discussed category of literary works.  And the category is one I find fascinating and sad at the same time: While "The Glass Menagerie" has long been considered an excellent, prize-winning play, styles, preferences, and levels of sophistication change over time, to a level where a critical symbol in a play or book which once seemed to audiences and critics to be "brilliant" (or some variation of "brilliant,") such a work can be revisited a decade or more later and surprise the reader by seeming almost sophomoric (simple, not very inciteful or even clever).  Without giving away too much for students who have yet to read it, In the "Glass Menagerie," the symbol of the glass unicorn which finally loses ((something?!?)) now seems (to me, at least) so contrived that it gives the play the feel of something written by a high school student and hardly worth an prize at all.  Still, the play has plenty of other elements that keep it interesting and worth reading.  A talented writer today would strive to make a symbol more subtle and less "in your face."

NOTE: This is not always the case; some books and plays, such as many of Shakespeare's plays, are FAR older and still hold up as masterpieces, such as "Hamlet."

Okay, now, with that said, I think the most helpful thing I could do for you in the long run is lead you toward a very simple piece of information that will help you analyze and write about plays, books, short stories, etc.

And that's this:  All novels, plays, short stories, films, etc., are about the SAME THING!!



And there are only seven different kinds of conflict, although, of course, a story can contain more than one of the seven:

1) Man v. Man

2. Man v. Society

3) Man v. Self

4. Man v. Time

5) Man v. Machine

6) Man v. God


7) Man v. Nature

(Oh, and please forgive the out-dated use of the word "man," as, of course, the protagonist could be a male or female, but, to keep things simple in a relatively complicated discussion, I chose to stick with the basic, old-fashioned way this type of list has long been presented).

And once you figure out which conflict is at the heart of the story, writing your paper will prove to be MUCH easier to wite!

I hope this helps,