Dramatic impact Essay
In 1915, Arthur T. Miller was born in the city of New York, where his family business was ruined after the stock market crash of ’29. This had a continuous affect on his life and work. The half-Austrian, half-American playwright wrote Death of a Salesman in 1949, at the age of 34. Along with his other acclaimed plays (including All My Sons and The Crucible): Death of a Salesman includes his common themes of corruption, society’s deterioration, the “Great American Dream” and lost values.
Set in the Mid-20th century after the Second World War: Death of a Salesman is a tale of values lost to a world where they now carry little weight and of a man, in himself, lost to those values and in so doing isolating himself to the ever-changing world. Renowned as one of the best plays to ever come out of America. A particularly dramatic and significant scene in this attack against capitalism is the “restaurant scene”, in which a father-son bond is torn in tragedy, brotherly love is dissipated and life grinds to a halt for an old, tired man.
The scene in general is a very significant part of the play as it acts as the final “trigger” for Willy Loman to take his own life. We know this as, in the scene that directly follows this, Willy is quoted saying: (To Stanley) “Here’s some more, I don’t need it anymore… ” This shows us that he has (after this event) well and truly given up on this life, by stating that he will no longer be needed to use his money for he will die and in doing so provide his family with some insurance support, making this scene very significant indeed. The final trigger that I mentioned could be a number of events.
Firstly, some critics believe, the fact that Biff has realised the truth: “I was just a shipping clerk”, which Willy has shut out for countless years deep inside, is the fatal factor of Willy’s suicide: that he himself, through Biff, finally sees what his life has lived up to – nothing. We can see evidence of this in the garden scene where he tries to leave something, however small, behind as his “legacy”: “I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground. ” He has an urgent need to leave something behind and the seeds are a metaphorical representation of this.
Some critics feel that this scene is significant as it builds up to the next scene where Willy has a “flashback” of Biff’s discovery of The Woman, revealing to the audience for the first time the event that sparks the turmoil that Biff suffers for the next fifteen years of his life: The knowledge of his father’s infidelity shatters this ideal that he has held for so long. This would patch up the “missing link” and explain to the audience how Biff went from the loving son we saw in the earlier “flashbacks” to the almost hateful adult we see in the present.
Others however believe that it is what has happened before this scene that makes it so significant. Due to the tension build up up-until then was mounting by Willy’s encounters with Howard, Bernard and Charley beforehand constituting harsh blows to the fantasy through which Willy views his life; his constructed “reality” was falling apart. The audience, after seeing Biff’s own disappointment through his conversation with Happy, are curious to see how Willy will react to yet another letdown. And after seeing how badly he does take it, we know this is the final straw/chapter in his life.
Biff has also experienced a moment of truth, but he regards his epiphany as a freeing experience from a lifetime of distorting lies. He wishes to leave behind the “facade of the Loman family tradition” so that he and his father can begin to have an honest relationship. Willy, on the other hand, wants his sons to help him in rebuilding the elaborate fantasies that have been crushed so many times before. Willy drives Biff to produce a falsely positive report of his interview with Bill Oliver; Happy is all too willing to comply.
When Biff fails to produce the expected report, Happy, comes in with lies about the interview. Another point of significance is the event of Biff’s Epiphany. Here he realises the truth for the first time “I was never a salesman for Bill Oliver” and in doing so he shows Willy the truth as well. He actually HAS the epiphany at Oliver’s office but here is the first time we, as the audience, heard or know of it. Many say that Biff is the main reason why Willy takes his life as Miller states himself: “…
Had Willy been unaware of his separation from values that endure he would have died contently while polishing his car… But he was agonized by his awareness of being in a false position, so constantly haunted by the hollowness of everything he put his faith in… ” And so if Biff had not confirmed what Willy had always known all along then maybe Willy might either still be alive or dies happily. However this point is very controversial. Biff is determined to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to come to terms with his own life and his own identity, which his father made for him years a go.
Intent on revealing the simple truth behind Willy’s fantasy: Biff’s identity crisis can only be resolved by destroying his and his father’s disillusionment, which has a devastating effect on Willy – leading to his suicide. However, taking into account of all the above, I personally believe this act is significant to the play as it provides great sympathy for all of the main characters. Biff, by his stage directions, is made to look sympathetic: “(takes a breath, then reaches out and grasps Willy’s hand)…. (Smiling bravely)…
(Gets down on one knee before Willy) and so on. Even by the stage directions, the audience is shown the character of Biff as a sincere and caring person with an undying love for his father. Willy is shown sympathy through the mere bombardment of misfortunes that he faces: “I was fired, and I’m looking for a little good news to tell your mother… “. Willy will be onstage in utter confusion and desperation in this scene, (at a loss), and empathy would be felt by the audience due to the music and lighting which places the audience into Willy’s frame of mind.
Happy is given sympathy by the fact that the audience can see that Biff has snapped out of “The Great American Pipedream” and Happy has not, and in doing so ensures his future life will be just like Willy’s – and that is definitely an aspect for sympathy. Linda also is shown sympathy in this extract as Willy mentions her: “… because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered… “. Another factor of the act’s significance is that it is riddled with dramatic impact, through lighting, music and action.
Music provides a good medium for emotions and also works were as a foreshadow of events-to-come. Music such as the “Raucous music” used in the setting of the restaurant can show what the event will unfold to be. Also the flute music indicates a more relaxing and nostalgic appeal as the flute was Willy’s father’s trade. Lighting is a huge dramatic effect as it is the only way, unless the theatre is packed with playwrights, that the audience can understand what is happening – especially during “flashbacks”. (Light on area snaps out).
The use of lighting also allows the audience to empathise with Willy by “seeing” what he does: (light fades low on the restaurant). Also it can be used to set a scene as in the restaurant: “a red glow rises behind screen at right”, here Miller employs the colour scheme to complement the music, which in turn foretell the upcoming event. There are many “dramatic” moments in this scene. One of which is the event of the trumpet note: Biff: “Listen, will you let me out of it, will you just let me out of it! ” Happy: “What the hell!
” Willy: “Tell me what happened! ” Biff: (to Happy) “I can’t talk to him! ” (A single trumpet note jars in the air) Before this, tension was building up slowly (speeches becoming shorter and shorter), with Biff’s frustration to tell his father of his revelation and Willy’s determination to hear what he wants to. It builds at an exponential rate until the trumpet note. This is used here to empathise to the audience of the final breakdown between father and son. It is also a symbol of the heightened tension and emotions running.
The audience is shocked and taken back by this, not suddenly, but still effectively. Sympathy is also felt at this point as these two once worshipped each other and now they are at this time of hatred. We can also, as the audience, know that Biff want to “let him out of it (Willy’s dreams)”. Another dramatic moment was when Willy tells his boys: “I was fired today”. This is not a surprise to the audience, as we knew it would come; however when it came comes as a shock. It is abrupt and early on into the scene. Beforehand he was talking “in tongue” and the audience sees that he is confused.
However this speech is a rare piece of metaphorical language used in the play as Miller tries to use as much “everyday” language as possible to keep a more naturalistic appeal and less focus on how characters are saying things but on what they are actually conveying through speech. He speaks of “the woods are burning”, which shows the desperation Willy is in and the fact that: he is seeing everything crowding around him, his dreams are burning, his dream of a country retirement, his beloved nature (woods) is being consumed by materialism (fire) – and so is he.
Also this metaphor re-enforces itself with: “burning… big blaze… fired”. This adds troubled depth to his life. The “flashbacks” that Willy has are very dramatic. Re-enforced using lighting and music as well they seem to “patch up” key points about the past that are missing. The whole play is about “patching up” the middle of a story that we already know the ending of “Death of a Salesman”. I use “flashback” in a loose sense, as they are not actually flashbacks. They, on stage, would be just as loud as reality, have the same lighting, are not distorted and so on.
Also the fact that they are so alike to reality shows us that in Willy’s desperation to justify his own life, he has destroyed the boundaries from past to present. All of the “flashbacks” are juxtaposed with scenes of failure. The final dramatic scene in this extract is Happy’s line of: “No, that’s not my father”. This is incredibly “low” and spiteful; the audience would not expect this even of Happy, who we know is already quite two faced in the way he acts towards Willy. Extremely tragic. This is right before Biff’s “elegy” of Willy in which he refers to him as a Prince. However Happy cant even acknowledge him as a father.
In Happy’s defence Willy ahs not really been the ideal father, but he still had Hap’s best interests at heart. However the audience can see that the character of Biff as a “changed man”: no longer bound into the capitalistic system that engulfed Willy, no longer deluding himself or others, no longer a “LOW-MAN”. In this extract, references are made to many different other stories. In Biff’s speech Miller refers to “A Troubled Prince” as in Macbeth. In the scene afterwards where Biff is knocking on Willy’s door, also have similarities to Macbeth. Willy’s flashback to avoid the truth is reminiscent of Oedipus poking out his eyes.
And finally Happy’s dismissal of Willy is like that of Peter and Jesus. This makes the scene significant as it contains all of these epic references. Death of a Salesman is a tragic tale of a man caught in a system he never got to know. During this restaurant scene, Willy decides he is worth more dead than alive because all he had left was his sons and after their failures and the breakdown of their relationship he is nothing. This scene in the restaurant is the most important of the entire play for this reason. It is also very dramatic as it reveals the death of a man, by the failures of him as a father, a salesman and of a man.