We have been studying ‘Death of a Salesman’ which was written by Arthur Miller in 1949. The play is set in America and revolves around a man in his sixties called Willy. Willy is an insecure, self-deluded travelling salesman who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that has not accomplished his lifelong dreams. The play takes place over 48 hours and we see Willy’s fast decline into anxiety which eventually ends with suicide. During this essay, we will be exploring how Arthur Miller shows the audience the inside of Willy’s head.
The main characters in this play are Willy and Biff alongside many other supporting characters. Linda is Willy’s adoring spouse; she is the epitome of a perfect American wife. Happy is Willy’s younger son who is ‘tall’ and ‘powerfully made. ‘ He is more successful than Biff in the eyes of Willy because he shares Willy’s inclination to exaggerate his success by making himself and everyone around him believe that he is the assistant buyer at his store, when, in reality, he is only ‘one of the two assistants to the assistant. ‘ Biff is Willy’s oldest son who ‘bears a worn air’ and appears to be ‘less self-assured’ than Happy.
He has a simple dream, he wants to ‘find a girl’ and not ‘waste his life. ‘ He acknowledges his failure and eventually manages to confront it; he refuses to resort to self-deception like his father and brother. The central character in this play is Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s representation of a working class hero. At the beginning of the play, it becomes apparent that Willy’s state of mind isn’t stable. After arriving back from a business trip, Willy tells Linda that ‘I couldn’t make it. ‘ Not long after, Willy is in the garden talking to himself and reminiscing about the past.
Biff and Willy have a unique relationship, they love each other but their different beliefs about dreams have torn them apart. During the Time-switches, we see that a young Biff admired his father and Willy adored his son. Willy tells Biff that he is like a ‘young god’ who will ‘never really fade away. ‘ At this time, Biff was a popular football player at school and Willy believed that his future was secured. However, when Biff finds out about his father’s affair with ‘The Woman’ it tarnishes his opinion of his father and destroys his ambition.
Willy notices this and starts to harbour a grudge against Biff because he feels that Biff has not lived up to his expectations. He tells Linda, ‘it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week! ‘ While Willy is contemplating suicide, Biff realises his entire life has been blinded by the lies in the Loman household, his family have ‘never told the truth for ten minutes. ‘ This is shown when Biff discovers that his father has lied to him about Bill Oliver. Willy has made Biff believe that he was a salesman for Oliver but Biff uncovers the truth and says ‘We’re not going to get anywhere bullin’ around.
I was a shipping clerk. ‘ All of this is proof that Willy has warped himself and his family in a web of lies in order to create a fantasy world where he doesn’t have to face up to harsh reality. As it was mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Arthur Miller uses a dramatic device called Time-switch. A Time-switch is when a play goes back in time or into the future. Approximately a third of ‘Death of the Salesman’ is set in the past when Willy was still a young prosperous man and Biff had his whole future ahead of him. The audience know when a Time-switch is about to occur by the change in music, lighting and surroundings.
The normal apartment houses that surround the Loman residence are replaced by ‘leaves. ‘ The characters no longer ‘observe the imaginary wall-lines’ and frequently walk through them. Willy is usually talking to himself when a Time-switch is about to happen. Arthur Miller even informs the audience when specific characters are about to enter a scene during a Time-switch. For example, when ‘The Woman’ is about to come onstage, her distinct laugh is heard. These Time-switches help to show the audience the inside of Willy’s head by explaining the problems that he is suffering in the present.
For example, they find out about Willy’s admiration for his brother, Ben. Ben was a man who repeatedly tells us, ‘When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God, I was rich. ‘ Ben gave Willy the chance to go to Alaska with him but Willy decided to stay in America to build in career in selling. It is a decision that Willy deeply regrets in present day, he feels that he missed out on a huge opportunity. This amplifies Willy’s obsession with becoming wealthy. As you can see, Time-switches help the audience to understand the characters better.