Death of a
Ar thur Mi l l e r
Arthur Miller has emerged as one of the most successful and
enduring playwrights of the postwar era in America, no doubt because his focusing on middle-class anxieties brought on by a society that emphasizes the hollow values of material success has struck such a responsive chord. The recurring theme of anxiety and insecurity reflects much of Arthur Miller’s own past. Born the son of a well-to-do Jewish manufacturer in New York City in 1915, Miller had to experience the social disintegration of his family when his father’s business failed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By taking on such odd jobs as waiter, truck driver, and factory worker, Miller was able to complete his studies at the University of Michigan in 1938. These formative years gave Miller the
chance to come in close contact with those who suffered the most from the Depression and instilled in him a strong sense of personal achievement necessary to rise above the situation. He began
writing plays in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until Death of a Salesman was performed in 1949 that Miller established himself as a major American dramatist.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1949, Death of a Salesman has to this day remained a classic. The play’s intellectual appeal lies in Miller’s refusal to portray his characters as two-dimensional — his refusal to involve himself in a one-sided polemic attack on capitalism. Even critics cannot agree as to whether Death of a Salesman
is to be categorized as social criticism, a tragedy, or simply a psychological study. Of necessity, each person will have to draw his or
her own individual conclusions.
The fact that performances of Death of a Salesman have met
with acclaim throughout the world testifies to its universality: the play’s conflicts and themes appear not to be uniquely American. THE CHARACTERS
The action takes place in Willy Loman’s house and yard and in various places he visits in the New York and Boston of today. New York premiere February 10, 1949.
A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises.
Before us is the Salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears,
we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small,
fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream dings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen
there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf
over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens onto the apartment house at the side.
Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys’ bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen.
The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and
over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all Willy’s imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the...
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