How is the flute symbolic in Death of a Salesman?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As one of the first sounds that the audience perceives, the flute plays faintly in the opening of Act of Death of a Salesman.

A melody is heard, played upon the flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass, and trees and the horizon.

As a stylistic device, the sound of the flute is actually the cue that Miller uses to signify the presence of Willy. Many characters in the play have a particular "entry" which is often accompanied with a specific sound, or a motif.

As a motif, it represents the dim, faint, and ethereal presence of Willy's father; an exceptionally crafty flute maker who also played it in one of the few moments of normalcy in Willi Loman's childhood.

It is important to denote that the sound of the flute is meant to remain in the distance. This is also the position that Willy's father occupied during Willy's childhood and the main reason why he is the way that he is at the tie f the play: the "telling of grass, and trees, and the horizon" is symbolic of the way in which Willy was raised to love nature, and to think big. Yet, since his father abandons him at such a young age, Willy is left with the faint memories of him. During many occasions it is clear that Willy always wants to know a bit more about his father, and he even wonders if he is doing a good job as a father, himself. Therefore, although absent, Willy's father has a presence on the back of Willy's mind, within his heart, and perennially during his lifetime.

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Death of a Salesman

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