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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Looking at the opening stage and setting directions in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, what social commentary is Miller appearing to make in this description?

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There are a number of important directions in the opening stage, but three stand out;

1. The flute overture:

It is small and fine, tell-ing of grass and trees and the horizon.

2. The color and scenery contrast of the quaint, sunshine-y home against the looming, somber cityscape:

Before us is the Salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the
blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange.

3. The "transparency" of the home:

The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and
over it we see the apartment buildings.
While much of this is open to interpretation, I think the author's social commentary is fairly clear. He makes several distinct points:
  • The scene is meant to be idyllic, but illusory; this is not "reality" but a microcosmic fantasy.
  • The "reality" outside the home is pervasive and cannot be ignored, even inside the home, since it is always visible
  • The outside world has "intruded" upon the idyllic home; in fact it may be unclear if the home is a foolish anachronism built among the "angry" modern world, or if the modern world was built around the idyllic home, its looming presence threatening to crush this last element of resistance.
Thus, the main message appears to be that the safety and hope encapsulated in the form of the home are unstable and endangered; the characters are, almost literally, living in a fantasy; as a matter of social commentary, this may be interpreted as a message that the "American Dream", or at least, the America that many people think existed, is nonexistant or threatened with extinction by the presence of an intrusive modern reality; that hopes and dreams are no match for the real world.
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