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Death of a Salesman: Critical Analysis

Every literary genre is unique and marvelous in its way, but the genre of drama stands apart from other genres of literature, as it possesses certain features that are characteristic for it only. These characteristic features of drama will be analyzed in this work using the example of an outstanding play “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

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It would be logical to start the analysis with the examination of the beginning of the Act I, that is, the setting. On the whole, the setting is one of the special features of plays. Its aim is to give the reader a preview of the act, to create favorable ground for the perception of the action, to initiate the reader into the action. Such an important task is performed by the setting, because plays are deprived of the author’s descriptions, let alone author’s remarks. In “Death of a Salesman” setting performs a task of great importance: the melody, the sound of flute, which is the initial element of the setting, speaks about something light and pleasant. However, we remember the title of the play, and we are prepared for the sad atmosphere, this is why the melody does not make us glad, but, on the contrary, arouses anxiety. Besides, this sound of flute symbolizes the beginning of the mental disorder of the protagonist.

The colors, which are mentioned in the setting, are also symbolic: blue light suggests the idea that there is still life in the house, but “angry glow of orange” hints at the coming tragedy (Bentley 633). Besides, it is stated that the “small, fragile-seeming” house is surrounded and oppressed by large buildings, and “angular shapes” may be observed (Bentley 633). These details suggest that the inhabitants of the house are isolated from society and locked in their house as in a prison.

The literary talent of Arthur Miller can be an observer in the final paragraph of the setting, where he characterizes Linda. It is really surprising, that using several sentences the dramatist successfully manages to describe the relationship of the married couple that could well cover many pages. Here I would like to answer the last question in advance: the description of the setting is the most impressive thing of the whole play for me, as it captures the reader’s attention at once and keeps him “glued” to the text up to the end of the play.

On the whole, the play may be characterized by high dynamics of action, because it is full of events and changing relationships between the characters of the play. It may be vividly described by the changing relationship between the father and the son, Willy and Biff. We can see that at the beginning of the first chapter Willy is unsatisfied with Biff, and his attitude towards the son changes dramatically at the first pages of the first cat, when Willy calls his son lazy to deny this the next moment (Bentley 637-638). The intense emotions, which can be observed in the text, make the play realistic.

Internal conversations inside Willy’s head are masterful methods of narration, used by the author. They are presented in the manner of “stream of consciousness”. This is why they are a bit difficult for understanding, however, these conversations are necessary for the understanding of the main aim of the character – his desire to make the materialistic American dream come true. These conversations also contribute to the creation of the impression of a mentally unstable person, making the play realistic and impressive.

Ben Loman is a very significant character of the play, though he is the late brother of Biff and he is present only in his hallucinations. He is opposed to the protagonist, as he is rich and successful, and for Willy he is the incarnation of the dream, and his firm belief that it is possible to become rich overnight, relying on your luck only. A key phrase of Ben is the following: “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich” (Bentley 661).

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Willy represents all people who are wasting their lives in empty illusions and groundless dreams about wealth and recognition, doing nothing real and useful, waiting for a miracle. These people underestimate the essence of life and the pleasures that are around them. They are shallow and they harm themselves and their near and dear people.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the end of the first act is also symbolic, because it presents the climax of Willy’s insanity, and it seems that it can last no longer. The protagonist gets a “placebo” in the form of “Florida idea”, which heightens the tragic situation and adds dramatic nature to the play, preparing the reader for the Act II.

Works Cited

Bentley, Eric, ed. The Play: A Critical Anthology. New York: Prentice Hall, 1951.

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