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Compare And Contrast The Role Of Symbolism

Symbols are often used in drama, representing a broader meaning to emphasise major themes, shed light on a character, or and evoke abstract concepts and ideas. Symbolism plays an important role in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. This essay will compare and contrast the role of symbolism in these plays. Symbols may often be used to emphasise or reveal aspects of a character’s personality. One such symbol in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is that of Brick’s crutch. Brick stumbles through the play, continually dropping his crutch or losing it at the hands of others. His crutch may be seen as a symbol of various things. It may be seen as a symbol of his weakness and his inability to be whole after the loss of Skipper, emphasising that Brick is a broken man. Brick’s crutch may also be seen as a manifestation of his dependence on alcohol.

Lastly, in a showdown between father and son in Act II, Big Daddy attempts to make Brick face the desire that confronts him and as Brick tries to escape, wrenches the crutch away from him. One can thus see that the crutch may also be seen as a phallic symbol, and it’s removal by Big Daddy may symbolise the loss of Brick’s manliness due to his insecurity about his sexuality. In this way, the symbolism of the crutch evokes a deeper understanding of Brick’s character and what he is trying to conceal. One major symbol in “Death of a Salesman” which also enhances aspects of Willy’s character is the rubber hose. The presence of the rubber hose on stage serves to remind the audience of Willy’s distress and despair which continually lead him to attempt suicide. He has attempted suicide by inhaling gas which, ironically, is a substance that is essential for equipping his family home with heat.

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Willy struggles to afford even this most basic necessity, and his death by inhaling this gas reflects this struggle. The rubber hose may also be seen as a manifestation of Willy’s failure, as he is unsuccessful even at his attempts at suicide. One other such symbol in “Death of a Salesman” is the tape recorder in Howard’s office. The tape recorder may be seen as a symbol of change and the advancement of technology – something Willy fails to keep up with. In his office, Howard demonstrates the tape recorder to Willy and appears to be more interested in the technology of the machine than Willy and his job woes. Willy fails to accept change and defiantly sticks to his old techniques of succeeding, and the insignificance and obsolescence of this in modern society is illustrated when Howard decides he no longer needs Willy’s services and dismisses him. This symbolism, like that of Brick’s crutch, exposes much about the protagonist’s characters to the audience.

Another role of symbolism in the two plays is to mirror the situation of the characters as a whole. One such symbol in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is the console combination of radio, liquor cabinet and TV set, a gift to Big Daddy and Big Mama from Mae and Gooper. As Williams notes, it serves as a shrine to the “comforts and illusions” the characters in the play hide behind to avoid intimacy with each other – namely television and alcohol. This may be seen when Big Mama expresses her hatred for the television when Brick turns it on, as she is the one who likes to communicate with her family and detests anything which may threaten or interfere with this. At the beginning of Act 2, Big Daddy’s remark about wanting the hi-fi on so he won’t have to listen to Big Mama is another example of the console acting as an escape from intimacy. Lastly, Brick makes frequent trips to the liquor cabinet to live his life behind a veil of drunken detachment, the console providing him with a way to dodge confronting the truth he attempts to avoid.

Character, vices, revelations, but also the situation of the family. Another symbol in “Death of a Salesman” is the seeds Willy plants in an attempt to grow vegetables. These represent the ability to provide and nurture for his family, and Willy’s desperate attempts to cultivate them signify his shame at struggling to do so. He strives to achieve something which he will be able to leave behind so people will remember him yet soon realises that it may be too late to do so, in Act I remarking that “The grass doesn’t grow anymore, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard”. Moreover, the surrounding buildings which have boxed in Willy’s “small, fragile” house now make it impossible for sufficient light to shine through to the garden and stimulate growth, the changing society making success impossible for those who do not keep up. Lastly, one of Willy’s last acts in life is another fruitless attempt at planting seeds. That the seeds will never germinate in the inhospitable conditions ultimately symbolise how Willy and his family have failed to grow to full maturity and comfort in the inhospitable society.

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Compare And Contrast The Role Of Symbolism. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved May 9, 2021, from