Write a note on the structure and narrative strategies of Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman?

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Miller's two act play utilizes plot parallels, flashback, and a series of minor conflicts to build to a tense and emotionally gripping climax. 

Biff and Willy have similar experiences in the play as the two characters are presented sometimes in parallel with one another. Willy visits with his boss, Howard, and is fired. Biff meets with his former boss and has a similarly negative experience. Biff's character is associated with flashbacks to his childhood and Willy is associated with flashbacks that are hallucinations. 

The flashback's in the play help to develop exposition of the play's themes and characters as well as the conflict between Willy and Biff. It is in the final flashback that we learn what caused the break between Biff and Willy and led Biff to leave his parents house and move out west. Also, the placement of these flashbacks serves to transition between scenes set in the present. The final flashback, offering its revelation, functions also as a denouement of the true conflict between Willy and Biff, elevating the tension of the play and bringing the play to its climax. 

When the climax arrives in the dinner scene, Willy's internal conflicts, Biff's internal conflicts, and the conflict between the two of them are each fully articulated. Willy's psychological problems become clear and Biff's struggle to attain self-awareness comes to its successful end. However, despite the fact that Biff is able to reach a kind personal salvation (by facing reality), he is unable to help his father do the same. 


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