The Cheese of a Salesman
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is one of those theatrical plays in which every object seen and referenced can, and often should, be construed as a symbol.
The stage directions and much of the dialogue make this clear, as there is repeated reference to plants, the sky and various other typical topics of symbology that congrue with the base content of the plot and the plights of the characters.
My IB English teacher, before assigning a group presentation on the aforementioned symbolism, claimed that "No word in this play is wasted."
In that spirit, here is a quasi-analytical poem from said presentation. Edutainment!
Please note that it won't make a lick of sense without seeing, at least, the first half of the play.
An Ode to the Cheese of a Salesman
Willy is flustered. So to put him at ease,
Linda suggests he eat delicious Cheese
Now, Willy’d be happy with Cheese, you would guess.
But Willy is angry: It’s from the U.S.!
When Willy wants Cheese that is called “Swiss” by name
It’s much like his wish that his life stay the same.
His affront to the fancy new Cheese in the place
Reminds us of how Willy can’t keep up pace
With a world that is changing, and sales are not found.
And Willy is old, and cannot drive around.
When he balks that The Cheese is whipped, and not flat,
It’s once again Miller reminding us that
Willy is lost in this updated state.
His old-timey stance is too little, too late.
So, Willy is asking us: “Why switch The Cheese?
If it’s not broke, why fix it whenever you please?”
The Cheese here’s a symbol of progress, it’s clear.
It’s a common such symbol, but not around here.
But for people who analyse dreams all their life
The symbolic change found within Cheese is quite rife.
Cheese, after all, requires much change to wield
Since it’s made up of Milk that has erstwhile congealed.
Now that fact brings us to the topic of Milk
Which fits the motif, as it’s of dairy ilk.
The question of why Willy thinks Milk is better
When urged to consume some American Cheddar
Ties into the baser events of the play:
His hopeless success is just too far away.
Willy’s world has been updated, we’ve seen.
But Willy still seeks The American Dream.
The Milk, like his dream, has intangible nature.
His desire to escape from his low social stature
Is not solid like Cheese, but is still what is sought
Expressed through the symbol of milk he has bought.
The Milk, unlike Cheese, contains no solid base
Like how Willy aspires to transcend the rat race.
Now life offers Will change but, still, he won’t tread
Through the strange new unknown, staying passive instead.
So The Cheese symbolises a world full of change
Which Willy avoids ‘cause he finds it too strange.
And if you thought Cheese symbols were beyond belief,
Their repeated occurrence makes Cheese a motif.
And when Linda says Cheese is on the middle shelf,
It could be Cheese import centralizing itself.