What do you make of the many references to how the Loman house has been closed in by other buildings in Death of a Salesman?
What do you make of the many references to how the Loman house has been closed in by other buildings and, generally, to the contrasts between life out in the open and city life that come up frequently in the play?
The answer to this is key to understaning Willy Loman. When the Loman's moved into their house, it would have been sometime in the 1920's, when Biff was around seven or eight years old (if I am recalling correctly). At that time, the house was in a part of the city that was much more rural. As time progresses, the city seems to creep up on the Loman house. Trees are torn down and the encroaching apartment buildings block any sunlight, making it difficult for vegetation to grow. This is ultimately a metaphor for the urban industrialization of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
My students have read the Transcendentalists long before they read this play, so I ask them to recall Emerson and Thoreau's views on nature and the individual. With that knowledge, students begin to see how Willy's frustration with the modern world is just like Thoreau's frustration with the pace of life in the 1840's. Remember, Willy is good with his hands. He can put up a ceiling and he talks about how great it would have been to work his boys in the outdoors of Alaska. Willy also mentions he would like to build a house out in the country some day (a la Thoreau moving to his cabin by Walden Pond). What Willy is expressing is the disconnect from nature America has experienced as it grew into a world power. Willy has the sense of self-reliance and rugged individulism that helped build American in the nineteenth century; however, he finds himself lost in the world of modern America, unable to find his footings in a career he never should have entered. Like most Americans, he chased the quick buck (sales profession) and abandoned his dream of working out in the open. Thus, this disconnect coincides with the fact that the house has become closed in. Willy is just as boxed in as the house.