Symbolism in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller's masterwork, Death of a Salesman, a drama stocked with compelling characters and accessible themes, interweaves the dramatic with the poetic to transform ordinary material into extraordinary theater. Symbolism, the chief poetic device Miller uses to deepen the setting, action, and expectation in Death of a Salesman, lends plain objects suggestion or significance.
The symbols are appropriately common for a play based on the scuffed hopes and illusions about the American dream of material success in the mind of a worn-out salesman whose unsuccess governs the plot. Even with his last quixotic act, Willy Loman attempts to sell himself for justification of a life and family left in emotional and moral debris. The illusions of unmerited wealth prove corrupting and contagious, and the harder he tries to transfer his hollowness to his son Biff, the more he alienates him. Biff recognizes the way to emptiness in a household, he says, where "no one ever told the truth for ten minutes" ( ).
The poetics of the playùthe symbols and imagesùdisclose the characters and their motives like a chain of evidence. Audiences and readers tend to overlook much of Miller's symbolism because it resides in common objections and actions. The cultural, universal, and private symbols commonly encountered in poetry would disturb the colloquial tone and everyday language of the play.
The plaintive flute music sets a wistful, sometimes haunting, unrelated sound, elusive as Willy's wisps of dream, as detached from the urban humdrum environs, as Willy is detached from realistic expectations. The high-rise towers that overshadow the Loman home and deny it sunlight symbolize impersonal urban sprawl. Since the play uses two time senses and flashbacks, the symbols may not show up in chronological order, and key symbols recur. Willy's battered Chevrolet symbolizes an earlier poin