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American Family in Death of a Salesman

The play “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller depicts life and destiny of an American family which dreams about prosperity and high social position in society. in this play, Miller tries to escape social contradictions by using a dramatic form. Fundamental in this play is the fact that Miller does not mask the analysis of social values and low morals. The play vividly portrays that the past is no longer forced into open conversation by a dramatic conflict; the main character of Willy Loman is no longer portrayed as master of the past to satisfy a formal code when in fact he is its helpless victim. The passage selected for analysis is a conversation between Linda and the boys, Act One, pp. 42-47. The beginning of the passage does not involve Willy as a participant of the conversation but it vividly portrays his personality and relations with his family. The movie reflects the main ideas and messages of the Miller’s play but Volker Schlondroff adds emotional tension and vivid images of the three characters placed in home environment.

The passage reflects ideas and feelings of the family members and allows readers to understand opinion differences and worldviews of Linda, Biff and Happy. In contrast to the play, the movie depicts that the past achieves representation in the same way that it appears in life itself. Thus, for all characters the past remains a painful experience and can create no deceptive bridges between the family members and Willy whom the analysis brings together— the family members whom it had left in lifelong separation. Therefore, instead of an interpersonal action that would call forth representation of the past, the present conversation generated by the family members overpowered by memory. Once Linda mentions:

Linda: Remember I wrote you that he smashed up the car again? In February?

Biff: Well?

Linda: The insurance inspector came.

This remake proves total indifference between sons and a father, and their inability to understand and perceive pain and sufferings of Linda.

In contrast to the play, movie simplifies this scene and makes it less impressive. Schlondroff depicts hat the family has recently begun to notice that Willy has problems. In fact, he is actually talking to them, not in the real present but in the past Willy remembers, which no longer leaves him alone. The present of the movie is constituted by the forty-eight hours that follow unexpected return from a business travel. The conversation is more emotional and moving as it reflects real life feelings of the three characters. These scenes in turn create a means (flashbacks) of introducing the past into the space beyond conversation. The movie scene shifts constantly towards negative representation of Biff and Happy. Unlike the play, remembrance in the movie occurs without being spoken of—that is, completely on the level of form. The Linda regards herself in the past and, as self-remembering I, is fascinated into the formal prejudice of the movie.

Happy: Like when you worked for Harrison’s. Bob Harrison said you were ops, and then you go and do some damn fool thing like whistling whole songs in the elevator like a comedian.

The movie scene presents only the object of this crusade, the salesman in the past, his relations with the members of his family. The latter are no longer free characters; they emerge as references to the central role of the past, in the same manner as do the character reflections in dramaturgy. One can readily grasp the dramatic nature of this scene in the movie of memory, which presents the imagined ideals ad values in order to impress the audience.

The episode constitutes a closed field that leaves the world of action intact. Because this play is a thematic work that does not need to mask the fact of its performance, the time and place of the movie are not in conflict— the dramatic unities and the absoluteness of the actions are maintained by emotional and impressive play of the main characters. In the play, emotional tension is not played as a thematic element; the plot development and its action constantly overflow into the play. No troupe of actors enters; without saying a word, the main actors can become actors enacting themselves because the alternation between personal and non-personal events anchored in the principle of form operative. in the play, the dramatic tension is likewise abolished—certainly, abolished in the most radical sense: memory.

In contrast to the play, movie scene signifies not only a multiplicity of times and places but also the loss of character’s future. Taking into account the social environment, the temporal-spatial hopes are not simply depicted in terms of other events. So, there is no real change in the movie setting, and, at the same time, it is continually transformed. The salesman’s house remains the main setting, but in the scenes remembered, its walls are of no concern—as is the case with future hopes and past troubles, which have no temporal or spatial limits. This relativity of the hopes and ideals shared by Willy and Linda becomes clear in transitional scenes that belong to the outer as well as the inner setting. Willy Loman says nothing that indicates he accepts his sonsand his wife. The movie vividly portrays that Willy’s appearance is a hallucination, but only within dramatic shape, which by definition excludes the inner world. Yet, in the play, future hopes and the past achieve simultaneous representation. Their synchronized representation sets in motion the new standard of form: when all characters are appeared on the scene simultaneously. In contrast to the movie, the supporting theme in the play is symbolic and remains vague. This situation introduces the possibility of mutual misunderstanding, but it, moreover, hides the real source of this conflict—the Willy’s preoccupation with himself and with a remembered past. In the play, this scene remains a permanent and heavily guarded by all characters. In the movie, this scene plays a significant role as it helps viewers to understand the conflict and problems faced by family members. The superficial shape of the play, the way it blends the workings of Willy’s mind with truth, demonstrates that Willy has no control over his mind. Willy is, merely, a man breaking down. In addition lacking mental ability, Willy also does not possess moral values.

In sum, the main difference between the movie and the play is emotional representation of the characters and their actions. The conclusion of this scene one draws from all this, Willy’s lack of control over his world and dreams, his lack of moral strength, his victimization, his faith in what is for him a misguided definition of wealth and the American dream, his ensuing lying and self-delusion is that Willy is pathetic. The movie shows that Linda and the sons somehow have the stature of a hero. However, though they are movingly humans, but remain pathetic. Besides an admission of family failure, this act is yet another sign that the family is breaking down. The movie dramatizes the conflict and differences between Linda, the bots and wily and criticizes principles of the Loman family and the setting that, in boxing them in, seems to assist their crusade. The scene under analysis shows Linda asserting too late—and not intentionally but impulsively—that possible true self who is good with her hands, who might have been a good wife.

Works Cited

Death of a Salesman. (1985) Volker Schlondroff. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2003.

Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.


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