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Musical Motifs in ‘Death of a Salesman”


Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a stealthily simple play. The simpleness of the play, nevertheless, rapidly dissolves into a respectful uncertainty through Miller’s ingenious phase instructions, nonverbal expressions and, most notably, his musical style. From the opening keeps in mind to their final reprise, the audience is tremendously attracted by what Tennessee Williams called the “plastic theatre” (Williams 213). Using musical expression matches the textual variation of the play developing a more lucid production. This desire that Miller needs to open his theatre to more than merely a language-embedded efficiency enabled him to develop a lyric drama, a more poetic theatre through the melodic themes. The musical themes presume essential functions in the production, functions accentuating the disputes that the Lomans articulate to the audience through language. They foreground, through metaphor, many of the play’s much deeper ambiguities and discords.

Miller’s musical themes express the contending influences in Willy Loman’s mind. Once established, the themes need just to be sounded to evoke particular timespan, feelings, and worths. The very first sounds of the drama, the flute keeps in mind “little and fine,” represent the turf, trees and horizon. These are items of Willy’s and Biff’s longing that are tellingly missing from the overshadowed house on which the curtain increases. This melody plays on as Willy makes his initial appearance, although, as Miller informs us, “he hears but is not knowledgeable about it” (1165 ). Through this sweet-sounding music we are hence offered our very first sense of Willy’s estrangement not only from the nature itself but also from his own deep nature that puzzles happiness with success.

The flute music likewise holds important past references for Willy. Ben notifies Willy that their dad made flutes and offered them throughout the family’s early wanderings (1185 ). As Ben participates in their daddy’s bio a new music is heard, presenting an extra musical theme as the daddy is identified by “a high, rollicking tune” (1184 ). The tune is differentiated from the little and great tune of the natural landscape (1165 ). This distinction is fitting, for the father is a salesman along with an explorer. The rollicking musical theme that is heard in referral to his name collides with the tender music that he is kept in mind for. This represents the contrasting values that he possessed and passed on to those around him, hence offering proof to Willy’s negative connection in between happiness and success.

The daddy’s tune shares a familiar similarity to Ben’s “picturesque” (1182) music. This style emerges falsely, as it is associated in depressing and discouraging contexts. Ben’s theme is very first sounded after Willy expresses his exhaustion from his pursuit to be successful (1182 ). Then it is viewed again after Willy is fired in Act II. This time the music precedes Ben’s entrance. It is heard in the range, then closer, just as Willy’s thoughts of suicide, when repressed, now come more detailed at the loss of his job. When Ben’s picturesque melody plays for the 3rd and last time it is in “accents of dread” (1228 ), for Ben enhances Willy’s wrongheaded idea of suicide to help finance and support Biff and the household. This idea of offering out associates with the desertion that Willy’s dad portrayed given that Willy can not keep in mind much about him. The daddy’s and Ben’s themes contribute significantly to Willy’s disillusionment about life. They are therefore in opposition to the small and great style of nature that begins and ends the play. The whistling motif elaborates this vital conflict. Most people visualize whistling to be an outside activity that accompanies work. A whistler in a workplace would be an interruption. Biff Loman loves whistling, therefore enhancing his ties to nature rather than the business environment. Delighted looks for to stifle Biff’s true voice:

Happy: … Bob Harrison stated you were tops, and after that you go and do some damn fool thing like whistling whole sounds in the elevator like a comedian.

Biff (against Delighted): So what? I like to whistle in some cases.

Happy: You do not raise a guy to a responsible job who whistles in elevators! (60 )

Delighted holds a lot of the comparable worths that his dad does, as he believes that success and acceptance are the roots to joy. He attempts to discuss to Biff that to prosper, and therefore get happiness, he needs to not surrender his desires. This corresponds to Willy’s estrangement from nature to get successfulness.

Later in Act 2 the whistling theme reverberates once again as Howard Wagner plays Willy a recording of himself whistling “Roll out the Barrel” right before Willy requests an advance and a New York task (1198 ). Willy’s anxiety with the recorder that plays the whistling repeats the principle of Willy’s estrangement and more significantly his blindness to the fact. Being that Howard is an extremely thriving guy and is the person whistling on the recorder, negates Willy and Happy’s concept that whistling is disapproved by service authorities. In a sense, Howard is revealing Willy that joy does not depend on one’s success however rather with his connection with nature and finding himself.

Willy’s clashing desires to operate in sales and to do outdoor, independent work are complicated by another longing, that of libido, which is expressed through the “raw, sensuous music” that accompanies The Female’s looks on phase (1179, 1215). It is this music of libido that insinuates itself in Act 2. It is likewise heard prior to Willy, reliving a previous discussion, offers this paradoxical warning to Biff, “Simply wan na be careful with those ladies, Biff, that’s all. Do not make any guarantees. No guarantees of any kind” (1174 ).

This raw style of sexual desire contrasts with Linda Loman’s musical motif. She is characterized by a maternal hum of a soft lullaby. This soothing music becomes a “desperate however boring hum” at the end of Act I (1195 ). Linda’s monotonous drone, in turn, contrasts with the “gray and bright” music, the boys’ style, which opens Act II. This style is related to the “good times” (1195) that Willy keeps in mind with his kids before his infidelity is found. Like the high, rollicking theme of Willy’s father and like Ben’s idyllic melody, this gay and intense music is eventually connected with the incorrect imagine materialistic success. The boys style is very first heard when Willy informs Ben that he and the boys will get rich in Brooklyn (1185 ). It sounds again when Willy implores Ben, “How do we return to all the good times?” (1218 ). In his final moments of life, Willy Loman is revealed battling with his furies, “sounds, deals with, voices, appear to be swarming in upon him” (1229 ). Unexpectedly, nevertheless, the “faint and high” music enters, representing the false imagine all the “low” males. This incorrect tune ends Willy’s battle with his contending voices. It hushes the other voices, increasing in strength “practically to an intolerable scream” as Willy rushes off in his automobile. As the cars and truck scampers, the music crashes down in a craze of sound. The clamorous music softens as it becomes the soft pulsation of a single cello representing death and the end of Willy Loman’s battle for success. The play ends in the form of the flute’s little and great refrain. It continues despite the tragedy we have experienced insinuating that nature and following one’s true self is the foundation of happiness.

From page to phase, Arthur Miller thoroughly structures Death of a Salesman upon a cluster of regressive musical images, images that correspond straight to Willy Loman’s fall. Without paying much attention the music in the play help the audience experience the mood that each character adds. Upon additional assessment, the sounds add to the musical themes that underlie and support the general style that Miller is addressing. From the conflicting nature of the flute to the debate of whistling, Miller amazingly resolves the disillusionment of the American dream through Willy Loman.

Barnet, Berman, Burto, and William E. Cain. “Death of a Salesperson.” An Introduction to Literature. New york city: 1997. Williams, Tennessee. “Production Notes of Plays, The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, vol. I. New York: New Instructions, 1971.

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