How does Miller visually introduce the motif of enclosed versus open spaces in Death of a Salesman?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Through visual descriptions, Arthur Miller is very clever in showing how Willy Loman and his family are psychologically closed, restricted, and trapped by their own lives.  One of the first ways is the description of the Loman’s house.  The house is out of place in the neighborhood and is surrounded by new apartment buildings that seem to loom over the back yard.  The apartment buildings have enclosed Willy and his family symbolically pushing them out of their home and old lives.  There is a claustrophobic effect caused by the encroaching buildings.  Being surrounded by these buildings and the number of people living in them traps and restricts the Lomans.  The many windows are like eyes judging Willy as a man and salesman.  In addition, the back yard backs up to a cemetery, probably the best symbol for being enclosed and trapped.  You can’t escape a coffin once buried, just like Willy can’t escape his lack of success as a salesman.  It is fitting at the end of the play that Willy dies, and we see the family at his funeral.

The majority of the play takes place in the Loman home and yard.  The house is in need of repair, but because Willy is no longer making any money, the dilapidated house restricts and limits their opportunities.  Willy and his family are living in a prison both physically and emotionally.  Unable to move and fix failing appliances and make small repairs, they are imprisoned and must stay in the house.  The Lomans are also locked in by Willy’s failures as a salesman, husband, and father.  Through his lies and deceptions, he has created a life blocked by his inadequacies and ego. 

It is fitting at the end of the play when Linda declares they are “free”.  With Willy gone, the family can move on to a life not restricted by his failed American dream.