A sign is defined as ‘a things or action that represents an idea, function or process,’ basically anything which ‘stands for’ something else. When seen in relation to the Aristotelian model of catastrophe in Poetics, Miller’s rich usage of symbolism in Death of a Salesman opposes an essential premise within Aristotle’s tragedian theory, labelling the terrible hero’s hamartia as the cause for their failure. Miller uses symbols to explore the concepts of success, liberty and failure, along with to help form our view of his characters.
Throughout the play Miller emphasises the strength of these signs through the method they affect the Loman household and in particular Willy, whose obsession with the American Dream– and all that it encompasses– brings him to his awful end. We may consider Willy to posses the awful defect of hubris, which will just help the interaction of the material and metaphorical symbols Miller creates to allure Willy within his beliefs, leaving him unable to leave.
Intrinsic throughout the play is Miller’s heavy use of symbols to convey significances such as hope, battle and self-respect.
Significantly, symbolism assists the tragic imagery as a vital component of Miller’s stagecraft. Miller elaborately constructs the ideal conditions for Willy’s downfall in several essential methods including his use of music, the motif of dreams and symbolic props. His very first approach is the repeating component of music used through his phase directions. The melancholy ‘melody heard, played upon the flute’ starting from Act 1 resonates with the environment and is Miller’s structuralism strategy of oscillating to and from Willy’s reflection of the past.
The natural aspect of this symbol mentions his dad’s influence as a flute-maker, and its use throughout Willy’s introspection might suggest an alternate, more effective life pursuing in workmanship instead of being a salesperson under the impression of becoming ‘well-liked.’ It functions as the shift in between imagination and truth, setting the scene as we witness the vibrant symbol of Willy’s regrettable situation.
In addition, the flute symbolises Willy’s faint connection with the natural world, clearly highlighted by the phase directions as he goes into Scene 1: ‘The flute plays on. He hears however is not aware of it’ By not being ‘aware,’ one might consider this ‘melody’ to be a calling which Willy tries to psychologically reduce. In addition, Miller presents his awful hero with an affected understanding the moment he is presented to the audience. Structurally, Miller develops this additional as Willy gives us an account of his journey house, stating ‘I almost forgot I was driving.
‘ This disregard for his environments and safety illustrates simply how easily his physical and psychological stability can be compromised. Additionally, one may associate Willy’s captivation by the ‘thick’ trees and ‘warm’ sun with the nearly hallucinogenic connotations of nature, or what he may be describing as ‘such unusual ideas’, with the roadway perhaps symbolise Willy’s suspension in between responsibilities and his sense of nirvana, a road he confronts ‘weekly of my life. ‘
Using nature is substantial to the settings produced by Miller. As the drape rises and reveals the Loman home, he guarantees that ‘We know towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides.’ The way they enclose the setting directs our attention to the ‘fragile-seeming’ house and emphasises Willy as the ‘Low-man’ meant by his name. One may interpret this as an useless misconception, alluding to their sense of seclusion and vulnerability, the former of which being a conventional trait of the terrible hero.
However, the method Miller isolates the whole Loman family shows the method the American dream was an influence to lots of people’s lives and is not simply an unique defect in Willy. The setting created by Miller corresponds with Aristotle’s unity of place, stating that ‘a play should cover a single physical area and needs to not try to compress geography.’ This properly fits within the Aristotelian model as it focuses less on the power of external disputes, but rather the intrinsic and non-progressive world view Willy is unable to leave from.
This peripheral is sharply contrasted by Miller’s recommendations to the ‘jungle’ through Ben, who regardless of being dead prior to the play starts, stays a big influence to Willy and his search for capitalism. The jungle’s symbolic undertones of ‘wild freedom’ and ‘liberty’ epitomises all that opposes the American dream. One might likewise argue that they represent the opportunities Willy turned down due to his hubris, his uncompromising faith in the American dream.
Rollyson explores this idea and states ‘Willy is only as strong as the society in which he attempts to sell himself,’ and everything from his view of America as ‘the greatest country worldwide’ to his idolisation of ‘David Singleman’ recommends that the American dream is something he is deeply ‘sold’ into. Through Miller’s usage of a non-linear story, the audience acquires a higher understanding of the way signs are developed and the advancement of the setting in which they manifest.
Willy’s recollection of the past makes us conscious that the apartment changed their natural environments, most notably the ‘2 stunning elm trees,’ the presences of which echo through the duplicated look of leaves around their home. The construction of the apartment has actually rendered their area lifeless, and Willy’s declaration ‘The lawn do not grow any more’ might reflect on the state of poverty throughout the United States, caused by the Wall Street crash.
He includes that ‘they massacred the neighbourhood,’ with the lexical option ‘massacred’ highlighting the ruthlessness of the industrialisation which compromised their way of living. The uncertainty of ‘they’ may echo Willy’s lack of perception over who is really accountable for the desolate state of their economy, represented by both Willy’s failure as a salesperson and their home environment, isolated, unable to grow. At this moment, the audience must understand the power of these signs, which are revealed to have direct impact over Willy’s life by jeopardizing his mental stability.
Willy’s ‘2 large sample cases’ symbolise his squandered efforts trying to fulfil the role of a successful supplier. Their physical weight functions as an useless misconception to represent Willy’s psychological heaviness and an attract the audience’s sympathy. Linda’s very first words express her stress and anxiety of him possibly smashing the cars and truck, symbolising mobility. The paradox is that no matter how far he drives to work, he doesn’t appear to get anywhere or accomplish anything beyond his mundane routine.
Miller immediately contrasts this genuine symbol in their present timeframe with a mentally-constructed sign from Willy’s past, exposed to us through Willy’s inner thoughts: ‘That amusing? I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today.’ This juxtaposition of previous and present tenses helps develop the feeling of disorientation which we would expect Willy to experience. The Chevrolet symbolises status and success, even described by Willy as ‘the greatest vehicle ever developed’ only for him to later on oppose himself by asserting that ‘they should forbid the manufacture of that automobile!
‘ We may identify Willy’s tragic defect as his determination to base his extremely existence on product items. Miller’s comprehensive usage of such symbols shows the obsessive nature of Willy and this effective literary technique acts as a vehicle to draw our attention to the flawed society of 20th-century America, totally preoccupied with the unrelenting pursuit of the tragic American dream. It is at the end of Act 2 when we find that the automobile, a sign of progression and modernity, ends up being no more than an instrument for Willy’s self-destructive failure.
Throughout Willy’s internal conflict, Linda remains a symbol of psychological security, whose unconditional love sees previous his absence of success. Her critical speech ‘Willy Loman never ever made a great deal of cash … So attention should be paid!’ mirrors the Chorus of Greek disaster, functioning as an interlude throughout which the audience reflects on the progression of the play. Linguistically, her repeated usage of negatives ‘not’ and ‘never’ emphasise his lack of achievement and simplicity as a character.
She is heavily mindful of the terrible fate Willy is heading towards, and her devotion to him is revealed as she heals her stockings. Structurally, this is placed right away after Willy’s scene with The Females whom is treated with brand-new stockings. Miller juxtaposes Willy’s infidelity with the embarassment he feels being unable to offer successfully– shown as he acts ‘madly’ at the sight of them. The themes of hope and dreams symbolise the search for the unobtainable, a fundamental flaw in Willy’s characterisation.
With the working title The Inside of His Head, Miller originally intended to make the setting itself a physics symptom of Willy’s internal frame of mind, with the stage layout resembling the shape of a head. One might argue that Miller’s use of ‘fictional walls-lines’– which characters walk through rather of the doors as to indicate a recollection of Willy’s past– would reveal a consisted of mental structure within Willy’s mind.
Although these externalities mostly influence Willy’s behaviour, we need to likewise consider him as symbolic, as he represents the struggling everyman whose belief in the problematic American dream is slowly killing him. Miller’s use of signs within Death of a Salesperson allows us to witness exactly how Willy, an awful character bounded by ‘his temper, enormous dreams and little cruelties,’ becomes progressively more influenced by both his thoughts and surrounding environment.
By stimulating our senses and heightening significant stress, it is an ultimate gadget utilized to enhance the audience’s understanding and sense of compassion toward this terrible character so psychologically distorted by this ideal, without which there would be no disaster to interpret. As a play famously referred to as ‘a time bomb skillfully put under the erection of Americanism,’ Miller makes a terrific effort to highlight his beliefs of the American Dream as a corrupt principles by showing its tragic result on the typical American male.