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Death Of A Salesman: An Overview

The play “Death Of A Salesman” , the brainchild of Arthur Miller was
transformed and fitted to the movie screen in the year 1986.  The play itself is
set in the house of Willy Loman, and tells the melancholy story of a salesman
whom is in deep financial trouble, and the only remedy for the situation is to
commit suicide.  In the stage production of this tale, the specific lighting,
set, and musical designs really give the story a strong undertow of depression.
And logically the screen and stage productions both differ greatly in regards to
the mood they set.  Moreover the movie production can do many things that just
cannot be done on stage, with reference to the setting of course.  To generalize,
the play gives us a good hard look at the great American Dream failing miserably.
However the combination of  both the stage and screen productions accurately
depict the shortcomings of the capitalist society.
Death of a Salesman specifically focuses on four characters, the first
being the main character Willy Loman, his wife Linda, and their two sons Hap and
Biff Loman.  As mentioned, the focal point of this play is Willy Loman, a
salesman in his early sixties.  Throughout the story we are told the hard life,
emotions and triumphs of  Willy the salesman.  Early in the play we learn that
he has recently been demoted to working for commission, which later in the
play,(on par with his luck) translates into Willy getting fired.  As the plot
unfolds we discover that Willy had a rich brother who recently died named Ben,
whom Willy looked upon with great admiration for becoming extremely wealthy and
the ripe old age of  21.  However Willy also becomes very depressed when Ben
leaves, the fact being that he re-realizes the meagerness of his own life, and
that he is still making payments on all of his possessions.  Willy then
comprehends that bye the time his worldly possessions are paid forthey shall no
longer be of any use.  For example, the Loman house has become virtually
unnecessary now that the two sons have moved out.  It isn’t until after Willy’s
death that the final mortgage payment is made.for a house with no one inside it.
The one example of this statement is given by Linda during the final paragraph
of the play,
“I made the last payment on the house today.  Today, dear.  And there
will be nobody home.  We’re free      and clear.we’re free.we’re free
we’re free”
As the plot thickens, Willy the salesman plummets deeper and deeper into
depression until his most likely route of action, which of course is suicide.
However the reasoning behind this course of action, we find, is his genuine love
for his family, along with Willy’s deep longing to supply his family with as
much money as he can possibly get his hands on.   As we learn more about Willy’s
trials and tribulations, the age old expression “like father like son” appears
out of nowhere like a beacon.  Like his father, Willy’s son Biff also has some
problems of his own, the main one being that Biff cannot seem to find his niche
in life.  Furthermore, we are told that Biff at one point did in fact have his
future all planned out.  It turns out that Biff was a shoe-in for a position on
the University Of Virginia State football team.  However, that chance was all
but lost when Biff did not qualify to pass his final mathematics course.  Now as
you can imagine the fact that Biff had to explain this to his father was quite a
large problem in itself.  But to add insult to injury, when Biff made the trip
to Boston to explain his mathematical dilemma, he is horrified to find that his
father has been with another women.  And this one incident would leave Biff
being an entirely different person altogether.  He didn’t even make an attempt
to finish his math in summer school.  After Boston, Biff couldn’t have cared
less what happened to his own life.  However, as is in life, out of something
horrible comes something worthy.  And Biff finally comes to the realization that
he in fact wants to make his future.  And that future entails working in the
outdoors on a farm.  The other reasoning behind this life decision is of course,
is to go against the wishes and values that his father has tried to instill in
Biff his entire life.  Biff  pours his heart to his brother Hap one quarter
through act I.
..”To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls,
or selling or buying.  To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two week
vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off …”
Fortunately for Biff, he determines his future by the play’s conclusion.
He comes to the understanding that he and Willy were never meat to be business
men.  Including that they were intended to be working on a farm with their hands.
And after vexing to procure Hap to come with him (which is to no avail), he
escapes from his home to continue on with the rest of his life.  Which for Biff
seems to be the soundest choice,  the decision that Willy just couldn’t make.
Hap on the other hand stays with his father,  and at play’s end decides to
follow in Willy’s footsteps.  That of course is to succeed at business at all
Both the stage and screen rendition utilize a melange of distinct
effects to set the tone and to enact the specific place where the action
transpires.  For example the stage interpretation utilizes a unique convention
that involves walking through the set to delineate circumstances in the past, or
episodes going on inside the mind of Willy.  This illusion can be easily created
with specific crossfades and musical underlay, and of course willing suspension
of disbelief.  Divergently, in the screen production the set is obviously
utilized in a completely different manner.  On that account the movie uses a
distinct fading and brightening lighting technique, that still stays true to the
conventions set forth by the playwright.  The one device that the screen
production contains that the stage does not, is the ability to display the past
events of Willy’s life in a completely accurately set  manner.  Meaning when
there is a flashback to a previous happening, the setting travels back in time
as well.  Which, from a certain perspective, better illustrates the past
recollections of Willy and his family.  As mentioned the stage production
successfully employs music to delineate certain characters or the tone of that
particular instant.  There is in fact music used in the movie, however it is
only a small aspect of the screen medium whereas it is an integral component of
the stage version.  Although you cannot fully comprehend the importance of the
music by simply reading the play, it must be performed right in front of you..
While the movie gives you a generally decent feel for the musical intonation.
In its entirety the music does an excellent job of setting the mood that Willy
is in.
The play is set inside the house of Willy Loman.  Surrounding his house
are some tall building that are quite visible on the edges of the set.  The
house itself contains two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen.  This is also
where the majority of the action of the play takes place.  All other action
happens outside the house lines.  Which for a stage audience requires them to
suspend their disbelief even further.  Whereas in a movie the viewer isn’t
required to stretch any of his or her imaginations.  Although this particular
screen production utilized a uncommon convention that allowed the viewer to
actually see through the set.  One other interesting convention used by the
designer was that there was no roof on the house at certain times during the
performance.  And in place of the roof were huge buildings and skyscrapers.
These buildings were used to divulge a over-powering feeling of gloom.  This
tool is much more effectual in the movie, due to its original and abstract
nature.  This was also was very helpful during Willy’s dreams, on account of the
house would exude an aura of peace an tranquillity.  Together with the prevalent
set in the movie, (where there is a roof and normal fencing), the idea is very
well perceived.
In spite of the fact that this play has been described as a modern
tragedy, there has been some controversy to that description.  The reason being
that it does not accompany the standard protocol of tragedy.  Traditionally
speaking, a tragedy usually begins with the main character in the midst of a
prominent position of piety.  And over the course of the play becomes
transformed and that character flips to a lower level of status.  A tragedy is
also reputed to acquaint its audience with regard to life.  The audience should
leave a tragedy feeling virtuous about themselves, even though the tragedy
concludes on a note of melancholy.  This is why scholars say they cannot include
this play in the definition of tragedy.
This famous tale of a salesman contains a singular main character; Willy
(The Salesman)Loman, his two strapping young lads Happy and Biff, and of course
his adoring wife Linda.  Willy struggles to climb his way up the American
capitalist hierarchy, but its seems his ship will not come in.  In spite of the
fact that Willy would much rather be laboring with his hands, he is set in
the mindset that his real love could never make enough money.  Disappointment
after disappointment Willy decides that his only way to provide for his family
would be to commit suicide.  The number one son of the salesman, Biff, is paving
his way for a discouraging life.  Symbolically speaking, the character of Biff
represents Willy at a younger age, for they both carry the same characteristics.
However Biff is given the same chance to do something with his life, and
surprisingly enough he takes it.  As for Willy’s other son, Happy decides that
he will take the same long, hard road as his father, only he thinks that he’ll
make it.
The Character of Willy Loman seem to be the consummate model to
illustrate the dissension of the American capitalist ideals.  For example he is
a salesman who dons an aged suit that is ceaselessly creased during the course
of the screen production, moreover in the script is directed to appear
dilapidated.  He drive an archaic, run down vehicle on the brink of extinction.
While on the contrary, a proper salesman must appear presentable and attractive
to market his goods.  And Willy definitely does not harmonize with the ideals of
being a salesman, divergently he pains to match it.  Moreover that is the reason
why he doesn’t belong inside the world of business.  As exemplified in the
passage made by Biff in the requiem.
“When he’d come from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop.You
know something Charley, there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the
sales he ever made.”
This story seems to epitomize the frivolity of agonizing to achieve
something as insignificant as money and power.  It definitely makes one question
the social values of the American capitalist system, and why certain individual
continue to pursue the ideals of that system on a daily basis.  For the downside
to the capitalist dream is hopelessness.  And that downside is more that
apparent in the Loman family.


Quote on page one: Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller, Viking Penguin Inc. 1949,

Quote on page two: Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller, Viking Penguin Inc. 1949,

Quote on page four: Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller, Viking Penguin Inc. 1949,

Category: English

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