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POINT OF VIEW IN ARTHUR MILLER"S DEATH OF A SALESMAN BRIAN PARKER I In Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller wrote far better than he seems to have realized, at least if we may judge by his critical essays on the play." This is true of both the play"s content- its analysis of American valuesand of its technique. Miller"s recent After the FaIl uses the same nonlogicatogether , subjective memory structure as the earlier play, and uses it far more consistently and skilfully, and yet is far less effective in engaging the self-identification by the audience for which expressionism strives. And this is not only because the experience examined in After the Fall is less common than the disaster of Willy Loman, but because the very hesitancies of technique in Death of a Salesman, its apparent uncertainty in apportioning realism and expressionism, provide a dramatic excitement of a more complex kind than Miller achieves in his later, more consistent plays. To claim to understand a play better than its author does may sound egotistic, but we may take comfort from the fact that Miller himself says in the Preface to his Collected Plays: ... a writer of any worth creates out of his total perception, the vaster proportion of which is subjective and not within his intellectual manage . .. . if it is art has created, it must by definition bend itself to his observation rather than to his opinions or even his hopes.2 It is the contention of this paper, therefore, that by keeping close to actual observation Death of a Salesman presents a far more accurate weighing of American values than Miller"s subsequent analyses suggest, and that the blurred line between realism and expressionism is not the weakness some critics have claimed, but, on the contrary, one of the play"s most subtle successes. II The realism in Death of a Salesman is fairly obvious, and reflects the influence on Miller of Henrik Ibsen, the Ibsen, that is, of the middle Volume xxxv, Number 2, January, 1966 POINT OF VIEW IN Death of a Salesman 145 phase, the great realist reformer. 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 Death of a Salesman this is, of course, Willy Loman"s adultery, which by alienating his son, Biff, has destroyed the strongest value in Willy"s life. This structure is filled out with a detailed evocation of modem, urban, lower-middle class life: Miller documents a world of arch-supportS, aspirin, spectacles, subways, time payments, advertising, Chevrolets, faulty refrigerators, life insurance, mortgages, and the adulation of high school football heroes. The language, too, except in a few places which will be considered later, is an accurate record of the groping, half inarticulate, cliche-ridden inadequacy of ordinary American speech. And the deadly realism of the picture is confirmed for us by the way that American audiences have immediately recognized and identified with it in the theatre. However, even in his realist plays, Ibsen has details which, while still being acceptably probable, have also a deeper, symbolic significance: One thinks of such things as the polluted swimming baths in The Enemy of the People, the eponymous wild duck, or, more abstractly, the hair and pistols motifs in Hedda Gabler. Such a deepening of realism is also a technique in Death of a Salesman. Consider, for instance, the value that Willy and his sons attach to manual work, and its glamorous extension, sport, their belief that it is necessary for a man to keep fit, to be able to handle tools and build things.
Willy"s handiness around the house is constantly impressed On us: "He was always good with his hands," Linda remembers, and Biff says that his father put more enthusiasm into building the stoop than into all his salesmanship; in his reveries Willy again teaches his boys how to simonize a car the most efficient way, and is contemptuous of his neighbour Charlie, and Charlie"s son...
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