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Evidently, the stage layout of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ is open and unfinished. Similarly in the film starring Dustin Hoffman, there are gaps in the walls and even no ceilings. Whilst talking with Charley, Willy refers to the fact that he has put up a ceiling, ‘Did you see the ceiling I put up in the living room’. Miller has used gaps in Willy’s home, to suggest that his life is not quite complete. Willy had hoped he would fulfil a successful life as a salesman, but he hasn’t quite made it.
He is an incomplete man.
Likewise, his house is incomplete, either because he has never earned enough money to pay for the repairs; or it is solely for dramatic effect to portray how his life is not quite finished or how it should be. ‘In the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken’ Miller has decided to do this because it is an emphatic method of showing the audience how scenes in the past are different from scenes in the present.
Also, because the characters in the play, in particular Willy and Biff, are strongly affected by their past; it is necessary for the audience to understand what has happened previously in their lives.
Another way, in which Miller has allowed the audience to understand what time sequence the scene is in, is to use alternative props. For example, in the past Willy owns a red Chevrolet, whereas in the present he is shown to own a cheaper truck.
In addition, the kitchen is unfinished and shabby; the Lomans use the bare minimum of appliances. The fridge is almost constantly broken and Willy isn’t bringing in enough money to pay for its upkeep. ‘I told you we should have bought a well-advertised machine. Charley bought a General Electric and it’s twenty years old and still good, that son of a bitch.
‘ Miller is contrasting Charley’s life with Willy’s to show that Charley can afford premium appliances, whereas Willy has to make-do with what he already has. Miller has shown Willy to be materialistic. As a salesman, he believes that owning expensive, classy and admired items, makes you a better respected person. ‘… when I had that red Chevvy -‘ He is always referring to the past, he is never content with what he has but always wanting to have the best. What’s more he displays how Willy gets exasperated by Charley always being better off, ‘son of a bitch’.
The use of the swear word emphasises how much the matter means to Willy. Furthermore, on the set there are grotesque, towering buildings surrounding the Lomans’ house and ‘an angry glow of orange’ filling the skyline. Miller has used the tall buildings to show how trapped Willy is in his life. Everything is above him and he is made to appear insignificant. The colour orange is used because it is associated with flames and more importantly, hell. By using this colour, Miller is conveying how Willy has an unfortunate life and is heading nowhere good.
On the other hand, Miller could have been subtly informing the audience about the fact that Willy would soon kill himself. In Christianity it is a sin to commit suicide. Therefore, Miller may be showing that Willy will be going to hell in his afterlife. Conversely, Miller may have been showing that Willy is incredibly small and insignificant in the scheme of things. The tall buildings could show the Lomans are unimportant because there are so many others, struggling to live the high-life. They are only a common example of the vast population of America.
Throughout the play an overall impression given of Willy, is that his life hasn’t quite panned out the way he hoped. He had always had high expectations for his sons, Biff and Happy. They were always first-rate at sport; they were popular and charming with the ladies; unlike Charley’s son Bernard, who Miller portrays as a nerd, who strives to learn. Miller shows how sport is the single most important thing in their lives. ‘On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. ‘ There are not many props used on the set, so this emphasises how important the trophy is.
Although it is only one trophy, they are proud of it, because it is a symbol of success and they don’t have much success in other aspects of life. However, in later life it turns out that Bernard has become the more successful in his work. So it proves to Willy that being a popular person isn’t everything. Alternatively, the trophy could be interpreted as an important prop because it is made of silver and therefore reasonably expensive. By having it on show, they could be trying to illustrate a false image of wealth.
What’s more, a symbol of success at the time was a gold fountain pen. Only the richest of businessmen could afford such an item. Biff stole one of these fountain pens, ‘You stole Bill Oliver’s fountain pen! ‘ He knew he could never earn a gold fountain pen truthfully, so he took the easy root. Furthermore, this shows how the Lomans see materialistic objects as thee ultimate goal in life. Miller’s use of the word ‘stole’ shows how neither Biff nor Willy have been able to honestly achieve success for themselves; they therefore resort to scrounging off what others have earned.
Willy’s view of life is that if you are an interesting and well-liked person, you will almost automatically have a good life with a large house, plenty of money and a close family. ‘What’re you lookin’ so anaemic about, Bernard? ‘ By referring to Bernard as an anaemic, Willy is suggesting that he studies too much Miller is displaying how many people in America have a false image of how wonderful life can be: the typical ‘American Dream’ that the government portrays as being a mandatory fact of living in a capitalist nation.
In the scene where Willy is playing cards with his neighbour Charley, the props that Miller uses are key dramatic devices that subtly inform the audience about aspects to do with Willy’s life that are not necessarily spoken. The playing cards represent the fact that throughout Willy’s career in sales, he has been gambling. If he had worked hard at school and got a high-paid safe job, like Bernard turns out to achieve, he wouldn’t be in the insecure position that he finds himself – on commission.
Unlike Charley, who has a better job, more money, and the fact that the actor used in the film is overweight, suggests that he has a lot of money to spend on food and luxury beverages. Charley knows he is more important and successful than Willy. He often asks Willy if he needs help or money. ‘You want a job? ‘ Charley is simply trying to be kind and to help Willy out. However, Willy’s view is that Charley is just trying to make him feel small and insignificant, so he feels insulted by being made to feel lower than he depicts himself.
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