Seeing Inside Willy's Head in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Seeing Inside Willy's Head in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller chose to write, in the contemporary tragedy Death of A Salesman, about the story of an ordinary man driven by his own interpretation of the American dream. What characterizes this play is the way he does this : Miller breaks the boundaries of classical conventions of playwriting by allowing the audience to enter, visually as well as emotionally, Willy's mind in order to permit a better comprehension of the latter's inevitable tragic fate. Hence, the mingling of past and present in the play, essential in this role, and the way it affects Willy's view of the world and life in general, will be analysed.

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As a result, in Willy's mind, past and present exist on the same level, he perceives himself both in the present and in the past, showing a certain sense of schizophrenia in his personality. He is led by contradictions, saying for example at one point that his son Biff is a "lazy bum" and, very shortly later, that "there's one thing about Biff - he's not lazy". Overwork, worry and repressed guilt have caused Willy's mental collapse and in this state of nervous breakdown, the notion of time is fading away. There is an evolution : the function of memory entails a multiplicity of temporal levels, a series of various locations : Boston, where Willy lives; New York where he goes to find his work boss, Howard; Alaska where his brother Ben has found success; the numerous places where Willy has travelled as a salesman… Ultimately, Willy's memory causes his loss of any fixed identity.

In a sense, the exploded setting of the house, with its transparent walls, its scrims, its curtains, its nearby orchestra…, is a concrete, tangible image of an exploding consciousness, in which spatial and temporal fragments are entwined. This emphasizes the role of the appeasing flute, symbolic of a return to reality, which becomes more and more necessary and urgent, and eventually futile, as the plot unfolds.

It is important to note that the past is not