Death of a Salesman- My analysis

I apologize for my lack of posts this past month, or two, you would not believe my work load! Here is a critical analysis of my DOAS essay, it is only a first draft, but already 200 words over the word limit. I decide to do this question as I could generally avoid a political regime and debate as that does not even remotely interest me. I will possibly post a critical interpretation upon the character of Willy Loman at a later date, but for now:

‘There are no flashbacks in this play but only a mobile concurrency of past and present.’ Discuss Miller’s dramatic methods in presenting the past and the present in the play and their contribution to the overall tragedy.

Within Death of a Salesman, Miller incorporates a range of techniques to enhance the tragic genre of the play, including one of expression. Expressionist dramatists were concerned with presenting the inner psychological reality of a character and expression is shown through ‘flashbacks’- ones in which realism and reality play a vital role. By trying to forge his past dreams into present day reality, Willy’s past experiences are acted out; thus destroying the fragile boundaries between the past and present, the two exist in parallel as Willy’s mental state deteriorates. Miller’s tightly compressed, intensely composed scenes were therefore sown into sequential inevitability: past and present are drawn together in a single continuity, hereby exposing Willy’s mental inability and capacity. ‘Flashbacks’ would show objective images of the past, however, Miller’s mobile concurrences, show highly subjective memories. The infiltration of past scenes allows us to witness Willy’s futile pleas for humane treatment. Willy’s mindset is the fore-stage for the majority of action in the play and I’ll be assessing to what extent is the play merely a representation of his fragmented delusions.

Miller breeds a plethora of subjects into this play; Willy Loman’s last twenty-four hours are depicted to the audience as they watch a grief stricken man, one who is constantly ranging from one emotion to the other. As the play seemingly transitions from past to present, Willy is left distorted, his perspective confused. Miller uses this technique to combine elements of social and personal tragedy within the same framework. Miller interpositions the theme of madness firstly and we see this in Act I as Willy switches between morbidity and optimism. Willy’s nihilistic ‘I am tired to the death’ quickly develops into mental hyperactivity ‘God dammit’ such an abrupt change represents a man whose mindset is not coherent with his actions. Miller uses the tone of action as a generic convention in order for the audience to view Willy as a character; he is inconsistent, blind to his own foolish vanities and unsympathetic to those who ‘more than love him’ such as his wife Linda. Death of a Salesman hinges on classic Greek tragedy, Miller dared to take on an epic form of synchronizing cause and effect, Willy’s contradictions ‘Biff is such a lazy bum’ to ‘such a hard worker’ and weakness are exhibited, his implications embrace societies characteristics, humanity with all its vices and virtues.

By acting out upon stage the appearances of such characters as Ben and The Woman, the play shows the internal turmoil and psychological breakdowns that Willy is experiencing. The appearances of these two characters in Willy’s ‘present’ means that while the audience participate in sharing the nightmare experiences of Willy’s breakdown, they never lose touch with the real events. Willy perceives reality in a distorted way and the continual reappearances of characters emphasizes Willy’s recognition of reality and illusion, as it is blurred in his mind. The structure of the play resembles a stream of consciousness: Willy drifts between his living room, to the apron and ‘flashbacks’ of an idyllic past. When action is set in the present, the characters abide by the rules of the set, entering only through the imaginary wall lines and stage door to the left; however, when we visit the “past” these boundaries are broken, rules are removed, with characters openly moving through walls onto the fore-stage. Scenes in Mielziners’s Broadway adaption could easily help the audience understand Miller’s idea of Willy living in the past and present at the same time: Mielziner showed the present on stage by representing by house surrounded by tower blocks and the past showed a house surrounded by open land and trees, the set he used was described by Miller as ‘an emblem of Willy’s intense longing for the promises of the past, which indeed the present state of his mind is always conflicting’ The houses skeletal framework shows us that the sense of fragility the house carries. The play’s use of trees represents the rural way of life; the tower blocks represent how commercialism is choking these trees. Willy himself remarks on how ‘the grass don’t grow . . . you can’t raise a carrot in the back yard.” Demonstrating not only the barren landscape, but how fruitless his life has become. The more relevant commercialism becomes, the more brutal the play becomes. Willy confuses his metaphors exclaiming to Howard you ‘can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away’ Willy himself is the fruit as critic Cairns states, he is stripped of his layers, maimed and mutilated.

Commercializing in Death of a Salesman is one of many elaborate fables that define ‘The American Dream’, the future Willy wants for his boys is one built through hard work, courage and determination. He lays his ideals for the future upon his boys, especially Biff. When hostility mocks his every pursuit, Willy cannot fathom what went wrong, how ‘a young man with such-personal attractiveness, gets lost’ Willy is constantly demoralized and can only cling to idyllic fables that baffle and allude him as the dreams unwind out of themselves. Willy is constantly plagued by these daydreams and illusions; he owns nothing and makes nothing. He builds a life for his boys by building lies; illusions that replace reality in his mind, the yearning for the dream took everything Willy owned, except his fond memories of the past. He is a man completely immersed in memories, constantly reminiscing, telling Linda to ‘remember those days’ Willy is controlled by his fears for the future.

The Loman’s are entrapped in an illusionary environment, filled with deception and deceit. The stage directions indicates the house is “a dream rising out of reality” Arthur Miller’s ‘Timebends’ further depicts the house as one ‘trembling with resolution and shouts of victories that had not yet taken place but surely would tomorrow’ This reflects Willy’s longing to fulfill himself in a world where material wealth is the only acceptable goal in society. It is because of this reason, that religion is absent from the play, as religion isn’t compatible with capitalism and materialism. A sense of this environment is accentuated through the nostalgic music of the flute which is sporadically played through moments of mobile concurrency, symbolic of the illusionary environment which surrounds them.

This is a play about violence, the inadequacy of the American lifestyle and dream. Willy helps us to understand human condition in general; his issues are alienation, consumerism and its enduring appeal seems to lie in the fact that Miller tapped into the hopes and fears of not only an American but a global public. Universal human questions about the nature of happiness and success, of aging and of family responsibility are tackled. Willy Loman has the quality of an everyman, whose struggle to obtain his dreams of success resonates within us all. But, according to historic legends such as Aristotle this doesn’t make him a tragic hero. Although, ultimately Willy was responsible for his own downfall, Willy found he couldn’t control the world and instead choose change his own destiny, by ending his life. Willy demonstrates hamartia through his inability to accept the truth of any situation and success ‘I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in the year of 1928’ he is merely ‘a dime a dozen’ and his sons exhibit his flaw too, but Willy never has an anagnorisis. Willy’s death is not as tragic as his reason for dying. He died for his boys, hoping that the money they receive would set them a foundation to build themselves a business empire. The tragedy in this is that he never learned the truth that his sons were never going to be ‘big shots’. Willy blurred the boundaries between past dreams and future hopes, between illusion and reality; in death as he did in life, in is a horrifying indictment of the world we live in and the future we are striving for.

As critic Pete Bunten once asserted: ‘Genres need not be seen as watertight categories. Texts do not have to be definitely placed into genres, nor firmly allocated to one genre or another; we see the fluidity of the genre through the lens of tragedy.’ This play interconnects with several genres and tragedies. In fact, it was Arthur Miller himself who declared that there are no flashbacks in this tragedy, describing these experiences as ‘literally at that terrible moment when the voice of the past is no longer distant but quite as loud as the voice of the present’. He therefore did not view Willy’s internal sequences as ‘flashbacks’. The underlying plot structure enriches the inevitability, the abstract context is accessible so Willy’s thoughts can be viewed by the wider audience and the maximum degree of pathos can be set into motion. The past and present flirt and mingle with Willy inextricably; the future Willy lusted for was one built upon the dreams of a long imagined past. A debate can be constructed around the degree to which Willy’s expectations of a future full of hope and prosperity were satisfied, but his constant hallucinations elude him. Willy cannot escape from the past, it lies heavily upon the present and the audience earnestly learns that a play without a past is merely a shadow of a play.

There is a bibliography, I cannot be bothered to post it.

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