What Do the Flashbacks Sequences in ‘Death of a Salesman’ Contribute to Our Understanding of Willy Loman’s Character?

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The word expressionist has been applied to Arthur Miller as a playwright. This is relatively accurate as ‘Death of a Salesman’ features some of the early expressionist characteristics such as Miller dramatizing the sufferings of his characters. Willy is the character that suffers most and it is dramatized at different points in his life. For example when Willy is first made to work on commission and then is not even allowed to work on commission. Miller also likens his characters to mythic figures in history. An example of this is during the first flashback Willy compares Biff and Happy to the mythical Greek figures Adonis and Hercules. He does this because Willy believes the boys are the pinnacle of 'personal attractiveness', to him they are the physical representation of the American Dream.

Miller uses a range of theatrical devices in Death of a Salesman. These devices are used to define the environment the characters live in and to convey the meaning of the play. The set of the play is designed to show little sense of place or time. This is because the play is about Willy’s search for self-actualisation and a happy family life rather than the environment in which his search takes place. Willy’s failure is reflected in the humdrum environment in which he lives. The use of music in the play is very important. The flute is associated with nostalgia and is used during the flashbacks when Willy remembers his father who earned a living by making and selling flutes. Willy is also reminded of a happier life when he was younger.

The play features references to the American Dream. Willy believes wholeheartedly in what he understands the American Dream to be—that a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business will achieve success and the material comforts offered by modern American life whereas the American Dream identifies hard work without complaint as the key to success. Willy’s interpretation of “likeability” is superficial. He dislikes Bernard...
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