Expressionism and Realism in Death of a Salesman
Death of a salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller in the year 1949. The entire plot it told from the perspective of the protagonist Willy Loman. As the last name alludes, Willy has never accomplished anything in his life and now is at the very end of it where he still hopes of making it big in the world. He is 63 years old and has the mind of a child. Willy literally lives in the glory days of the past where his mind tends to switch back and forth, from the present to the past.
From his name we learn how the reader is hanging on a cliff to see Willy “will he do it”. And His last name gives the feeling of him being a “low man,” someone low on the social ladder and unlikely to succeed. He alternates between different perceptions of his life. Willy seems childlike and relies on others for support, even though he pretends to refuse the help given by his brother Ben when he’s asked to go to Africa. But in the end he fails to accomplish anything at all. Expressionism is defined as a style of play in which the playwright seeks to express emotional experience through their work.
Miller uses many motifs to show this, such as in the very beginning where the flute is played but even though Willy hears it he’s really not aware of it. This imparts to the reader a major characteristic of Willy. It is of the absent minded life that he leads. The flute is one of the many musical motifs in the play such as an indirect reference to Willy’s father. Also music is linked to many tragic elements and events which are present. Biff whistling in the elevator leads him to lose his job. In the past Willy has an affair with another women, when Biff finds this out their relationship sours.
The appearance of the women who Willy has been having an affair with is introduced with sensual music. Willy’s wife Linda also has the habit of constantly humming; this appears as tragic because in order to escape the tensions of her life she developed this habit. Realism is defined as tendency to reveal or describe things as they are actually experienced. It attempts to capture real people doing everyday things. There is not much room for imagination because the author tends to revel what he sees in life. The events are sometimes connectable with that of every day man.
The novel is set place in the 1930’s during the Great economic depression which hit the United Sates. But more than the historical backdrop the common struggle for money is faced by all. Willy who works with a firm which fools him, refuses to pay him and in the end fires him after all he put in is a everyday experience. Willy wants his children to have a better life than he did so his decision to end his life so that Biff and Happy may have money is an extreme but an possible one in society. Biff and Willly drift apart as time goes by; this is because their ideas of happiness are completely different. Willy viewed success as achieving money and power; Biff however viewed success in life as being happy and doing what he loved which is working and tilling the land and accomplishing something with his own hands. Many times the parent’s view of success is far different from the kind of success that the child sees. The seeds which Willy buys are an important part of the play. Willy is constantly troubled by the thought if he has raised his sons well. He worries that as a father he will be unable to provide for them. There are times Willy says “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground”.
This is an allusion to the belief that he has within himself that he has done nothing to provide for his sons. There is times where we see Willy regret his affair for example when he sees Linda stitching her old stockings. He is reminded of how during his affair he gave many stocking to the nameless women, and becomes guilt ridden that he can’t provide for his wife now. There are further events which use more of these two elements. As far as the setting is concerned, when we see the room of Willy and Linda, it becomes obvious that only the needs of Willy is taken in to concern.
Willy’s room contains only bed, chair and shelf holding Biff’s trophy, no items of Linda’s are shown. Much like Ahab’s white whale, realism is seen as the unachievable dream for Willy. No matter how hard he tries to achieve this it has long been a lost cause. In the end the protagonist realizes that his life has been an failure and that he doesn’t want the same to happen to his sons. They are both travelling down a path which will only end in failure. In order to avoid this Willy takes his own life so that he may be able to give the insurance money to his sons.
Here is a time where we see one action fulfilling both of the elements. For as Willy takes his life then he shows how much he loves his sons and how desperate he has become. His family was doing their best to survive from day to day. This is seen at many grass root levels of any society. Many people of our society live in denial as to cover up the worry that’s building up inside. Every time they feel they are getting ahead financially, a problem occurs and they find themselves right back where they started. Most people also have to deal with problems and conflicts within their family throughout their life.