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Expressionism in Death of Salesman

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Expressionism in Death of Salesman

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The Expressionistic Devices in Death of a Salesman
Musical Motifs
From the opening flute notes to their final reprise, Miller's musical themes express the competing influences in Willy Loman's mind. Once established, the themes need only be sounded to evoke certain time frames, emotions, and values. The first sounds of the drama, the flute notes "small and fine," represent the grass, trees, and horizon - objects of Willy's (and Biff's) longing that are tellingly absent from the overshadowed home on which the curtain rises. This melody plays on as Willy makes his first appearance, although, as Miller tells us, "[h]e hears but is not aware of it" (12). Through this music we are thus given our first sense of Willy's estrangement not only from nature itself but from his own deepest nature. As Act I unfolds, the flute is linked to Willy's father, who, we are told, made flutes and sold them during the family's early wanderings. The father's theme, "a high, rollicking tune," is differentiated from the small and fine melody of the natural landscape (49). This distinction is fitting, for the father is a salesman as well as an explorer; he embodies the conflicting values that are destroying his son's life. The father's tune shares a family likeness with Ben's "idyllic" (133) music. This false theme, like Ben himself, is associated finally with death. Ben's theme is first sounded, after all, only after Willy expresses his exhaustion (44). It is heard again after Willy is fired in Act II. This time the music precedes Ben's entrance. It is heard in the distance, then closer, just as Willy's thoughts of suicide, once repressed, now come closer at the loss of his job. And Willy's first words to Ben when he finally appears are the ambiguous "how did you do it?" (84). When Ben's idyllic melody plays for the third and final time it is in "accents of dread" (133), for Ben reinforces Willy's wrongheaded thought of...

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