Analyse the first set of stage directions. How do they serve to inform the audience/reader about the setting/staging of the play? What theatrical devices are introduced, how do they operate and how are they successful in helping interpret the play? Arthur Millers play “Death of a Salesman” is about a man disillusioned by passage of time and terrified at the realism that it has robbed him of his dream, ambitions and success. The belief is the American Dream offers riches even to those who start with nothing. In the play Miller conveys his feelings of the “American Dream” and how it manipulates the behavior of society.
Arthur Miller opens the play with a large set of stage directions. These directions are just as important as the actual text because they set the scene for what is about to happen. In the first set of stage direction we learn several things about ethos of the play. The author uses many theatrical devices including music, lighting, metaphors and symbolism. The play opens with the sentence “A melody is heard, played upon a flute”. The sound of the flute makes frequent appearances throughout the play, especially when Willy is reminiscing about the American Dream, but it also used to set the tone for the other characters.
In this example it serves as an indicator of the great outdoors “It is small and fine telling of grass and trees and the horizon”. The word “melody” is not used in a musical sense but as an image of serenity. The first scene we see as the audience/reader is one of the “Salesman’s house”. We are told about “towering, angular shapes” around the house that are “surrounding it on all sides”. The house seems to have become trapped in, as the buildings grow bigger. This is an example of realism. This is a clever use of personification by Miller because the house is supposed to represent Willy and his role in society.
It shows that over a period of time the people around Willy have progressed while he has stood still. “The towering angular shapes” depicts his claustrophobic confined surroundings combined with his feelings of isolation from the outside world making him more confused. Only the “blue light of the sky” falls upon the house and this is contrasting strongly with “an angry glow of orange”. Lighting is one of the theatrical devices used by Miller and in this case it is used to single out the “fragile-seeming home” from the solid vault of apartment houses” surrounding it.
“An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality”. This is the first piece of direct expressionism used by Miller in the play. The fact that Miller has placed this piece of expressionism in the middle of naturalism descriptions means he is trying to change the tone/atmosphere which he has set. After reading further we realize that Miller is referring to the American dream which has a stronghold upon Willy. Willy is hanging onto his dream but is stuck in reality. Miller then divulges into descriptions of the rooms in the house namely the kitchen and the bedrooms.
During the description of the bedroom we learn of a “silver athletic trophy”. This trophy is a representation of the dreams that Willy has for his sons. Another theatrical device which Miller uses is the actual stage set. Miller uses the set to enable the audience to view Willy’s thoughts and his past. He does this by having parts of the “entire setting “”partially transparent”. This is another example of expressionism, because it allows characters to enter or leave a room by stepping “through a wall” when performing past actions.
The “transparent walls make the past and present become exchangeable and this helps us view that mental well-being of Willy. Lighting is often used to make the switches in time. An example of this in the play is when in Act one Willy opens the refrigerator door, the surrounding lights dim around him and the house becomes covered with leaves. The leaves show that what is happing is fiction or a memory. When Willy shuts the refrigerator door we are firmly locked into one of Willy’s past memories.
After all of the information passed to us we are then introduced to Willy Lowman the main character of the play. Straight from the beginning Will seems strange because he hears the flute playing “but is not aware of it”. We know that Willy is tired “lets his burden down” “feeling the soreness of his palms” but we know this is not the reason for him not consciously recognizing the flute. After we meet Willy his wife Linda is introduced. Miller takes time giving us an in depth description of Linda. This shows that Lind will have an important role to play.