Dramatic Technique in Death of a Salesman

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Discuss the dramatic techniques in Death of a Salesman.

From a technical point of view, Miller was welcomed by those involved in the practical craft of theatre. In his plays, we find challenge and convention, boldness and caution, daring technical experiment and poetic dialogues. In Death of a Salesman , his new dramatic techniques- unrealistic setting, music, lighting, etc.-all generated a sense of mutation of old forms and conventions. Death of a Salesman concentrates on Willy Loman, an exhausted middle aged salesman, who has failed to realize his dream of economic success and is presented as being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Failure also engulfs his wife Linda and two sons-Biff and Happy. The play is divided into three main parts, act 1, act 2 and the requiem. Each section takes place in the present day (spring 1949). Act 1-night time Act 2-various times the next day Act 3-several days later The play is largely a representation of what takes place in his mind during the last two days of his life. In fact, Willy’s reminiscences allow us to understand what happened in the past, and why things are how they are now in the present day. Miller says: “The salesman image was from the beginning absorbed with the concept that nothing in life comes next but everything exists together and at the same time within us.” The story is told on two different levels. There is a public storyline (realistic) which begins late one night and ends twenty-four hours later. Parallel with this, there is the private storyline (non-realistic) inside Willy’s mind, which like our own minds, does not always work logically and chronologically but mixes up memories and imaginings with what is actually taking place in the present. Miller was interested in expressionism but didn’t want to abandon the conventions of realism. He used, like O Neill, a dramatic form that combined the subjectivity of expressionism with the illusion of objectivity afforded by realism. The firm reality of Ibsen’s method remained, but it was banded with the dream sequences or flashbacks of past life existing in the present. In All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, Miller adopts Ibsen’s ‘retrospective structure’ in which an explosive situation in the present is both explained and brought to a crisis by the gradual revelation of something which has happened in the past. In theatre, expressionism has been defined as a mode of writing and production in which the aim is to depict inner meaning rather than outward appearance. For writers, this may imply the use of poetic or stylized language and symbolic characterization. For producers, it implies the use of non-realistic scenery and effects. In expressionistic plays like “Death of a Salesman”, the following effects are likely to be used:

1) The action may flow without interruption from one time period to another. More than one time period may co-exist. In “Death of a Salesman” ,the audience see present and past action at the same time when Willy talks to Linda and sees the woman(past) in the same room, when he talks to Charley and Ben(his dead brother) at the same time. 2) The action may be presented as a dream or vision by one of the characters. In Death of a Salesman, this style is most obvious in the use of flashbacks or dream sequences .Much of the family’s history and past events are revealed through Willy’s flashbacks. This is done by narration, dream sequence and memories. All these scenes, in which we have flashbacks, start in the present and then the character only visible to Willy appear. Most of the flashbacks take place during the summer after Biff’s senior year at high school when all the problems began. Biff saw his father with another woman and lost faith in him. Before this, his father was a hero to him, now he is a fraud. These flashbacks explain the current conflict between father and son. We see the second flashback while Willy is playing card game with Charley. Here we see how the flashback appear...
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