Paper 2 on Death of a Salesman and Death and the King’s Horseman

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Drama can be said to contain something of the ritual—something to be repeated in front of an audience for a significant occasion, event, or purpose, or simply everyday routines and patterns of behavior. In what ways have at least two plays you have studied made use of the notion of ritual in this way and to what effect?

Thesis: Both Death of a Salesman and Death and the King's Horseman address the concept of ritual, through the vehicle of duty, although they differ in the form of ritual they represent.

Death of a Salesman

The ritual is trying to achieve the American Dream through his job Willy tells his sons, “Be liked and you will never want.” (33)Willie’s duty to his family as breadwinner is a daily ritual Goes to a job that he no longer is successful at - a man like him has become obsolete Biff tells his father, “Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?”

This ritual brings about his downfall, as is seen with a tragic hero such as Willie Cannot achieve the success he strives for because he never becomes a prosperous man, as he hoped for His own character and obsession with the American Dream, and his inability to successfully fulfill the ritual is what causes him to fail Happy says, “He had a good dream. It’s the only dream to have—to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this where I’m gonna win it for him.”

Blames only himself for his shortcoming, leading to his suicide Death and the King's Horseman The ritual is taking one’s life for the king, as is prescribed by Yoruban culture Elesin says, “… Life is an honor. It ends when honor ends.” (1.44) Although he knows what needs to be done, he is slow to do it, getting married and having sex before moving on to the suicide A bit too prideful and enjoys the respect the job of King’s Horseman brings him, leading him to not fulfill the ritual and, therefore, not achieve is duty Praise-Singer: “Elesin, we placed the reins of the world in your hands yet you watched it plunge over the edge of the bitter precipice.” (75)

Iyaloja calls him out for this lack of action, saying, “I warned you, if you leave a seed behind, be sure it is not tainted with the curses of the world. Who are you to open a new life when you dared not open the door to a new existence? I saw who are you to make so bold?” (67)

His slow speed to action - to completing the ritual - brings about his downfall

Blames others for his failure to complete the ritual, stating, “You did not save my life district officer. You destroyed it.” It is his failure of duty and ritual that ultimately does lead to his suicide.

Works Cited:

  1. Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Play in Two Acts. Logan, Perfection Learning Prebound, 1977.
  2. Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman. New York, W.W. Norton, 2002.
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Paper 2 on Death of a Salesman and Death and the King's Horseman. (2021, Nov 25). Retrieved September 23, 2023 , from

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