What techniques does Arthur Miller use to highlight the conflict between past and present in Death of a Salesman? How do these techniques also demonstrate his main themes? Death of a Salesman is set in a time when the capitalist system is changing. It is set in the late 1940s, not long after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Willy Loman is unable to adjust to these changes and therefore, there is conflict between the past, where his dreams were achievable, and the present, where he has fallen foul of the capitalist system and is no longer any use to the firm.
These conflicts are personified in Willy, and Arthur Miller uses a number of techniques to highlight this. The techniques Miller uses represent Willy’s mind and they distinguish between past and present. These theatrical methods also help to demonstrate the main themes in Death of a Salesman. These theatrical methods include music, lighting, wall-lines, scenery, the use of leaves and also use of costumes. In my essay I plan to explain what each method conveys to the audience and show how Miller uses these methods effectively to highlight the conflicts.
Music is used to highlight significant points and themes in the play. Also, the type of music sets the mood for a scene. It creates atmosphere and conveys to the audience the emotions of the characters. Also, silence can highlight a particular scene. The absence of music means that the audience focuses entirely on the conversation taking place. In Death of a Salesman, flute music is heard constantly throughout the duration of the play. It bridges the play, as it is heard both at the beginning and the end.
The flute music evokes a faraway, idyllic world, representing the past. It also represents a contrast between Willy and his father. Willy’s father was a pioneer; he made flutes and sold his own products. Willy, on the other hand, has to sell other people’s goods to make a living. A good example of music being used to set the scene is at the beginning of the restaurant scene. The lights have blacked out signifying the end of the previous scene ‘Suddenly rollicking music is heard.
‘ This is setting the mood of the scene for the audience. It shows that the atmosphere is happy and lively. This is to show the mood of the present time. It is a contrast to the past. By having rollicking music, Miller is highlighting this contrast. This links to the theme of Happy and shows more of an insight into his character. Happy has chosen this restaurant and it shows the kind of life he lives, and this is a contrast to Willy.