Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ (1949) opens with a comprehensive description of the Loman home. Miller utilizes incredibly precise and comprehensive phase instructions, consisting of prop positioning, noise and lighting, providing heavy significance to each of these elements and painting an unchangeable picture to guarantee that it is preserved in every analysis of his work.
Throughout the opening stage directions of Act 1, despite the structure and tone being extremely factual, made up of short, clear sentences, Miller hints at underlying styles and messages through a range of stylistic devices, preparing the audience for the play, and setting the scene.
As the play is embeded in Brooklyn, New York some years after the fantastic anxiety, numerous referrals are made currently at this early phase to idealism and the American dream; the desperate and yearning vision of many Americans at that time of a much better life.
This penetrating theme becomes apparent previously even to the introduction of the characters, as the mere scenery and props function as symbolic elements, which show this concept. Miller nevertheless subliminally makes it evident that this dream is purely an illusion, through emblematic expressions in his phase directions such as ‘rising out of truth’ and physical representations, for example the damaged limits where ‘characters go into or leave a space by stepping through a wall onto the forestage’ which develop an aura of misconception.
The first phase instructions consist of a tune played on a flute, ‘telling of lawn and trees and the horizon’. This natural imagery including 3 physical aspects accompanied by the soft and harmonious sound, sets a serene tone which is then highly juxtaposed with the following representation of your home and it’s community, featured with darkness and hostility.
This heavy contrast may be symbolic of the dispute in between the dreams to which the individual aims and the real harshness of society’s reality. The description of the surrounding cluster of apartment obstructs appears almost to have a higher prominence than your home itself, as this is the first thing the audience ‘becomes conscious of’. The high and ‘angular’ silhouette of Manhattan that depends on the background has expressionistic functions and surrounds the Loman home in a way that suggests some metaphorical type of injustice or confinement.
The ‘glow of orange’ that falls upon the ‘fragile-seeming’ home is personified as ‘upset’, maybe showing the hostile times in which the play is set. This confining and intimidating hostility is in part what makes the home appear so delicate, a fragility that might represent weakness in family bonds or equally, weakness in he who represents your house, condemning him right away to the function of a tragic protagonist. Willy holds on to his dreams just as ‘an air of the dream clings to the place’.
This idea becomes present again in the description of Linda’s sensations towards her husband and his characteristics. ‘his massive dreams’ are the source of his tragic nature, dreams that he shows the rest of society, but that for him end up being an unhealthy obsession. Willy is cursed with the incessant desire to pursue his dreams ‘to their end’ and these words forebode a fate that unfolds as a result of this fixation.
In general the opening of this play supplies the audience with a sense of the styles that will penetrate throughout, by cleverly using phase plans and components that insinuate profounder significance of what is to come.