Silhouette of a grinning person wearing a top hat with a skull-like face and a red nighttime sky in the background

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

Start Free Trial

What is the setting of the play Death of a Salesman?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Setting refers to where and when the action in a story takes place. In “Death of a Salesman”, the play is set in 1949. Willy has experienced the depression and the post-war boom and, like the rest of America at this time, is consumed by the desire for material possessions which force him into a lifetime of credit.

The action moves between New York and Boston. It is while Willy is on the road in Boston that Biff discovers his father’s affair – an event which changes his opinion of his father forever.

The Loman house is in Brooklyn. The walls of the property are used flexibly by Miller to highlight the sequences which are out of time: Willy’s flashbacks and dream sequences.

The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent…whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines…but in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken.

The house was formerly surrounded by space, but an apartment block and other buildings now dominate it-

 We see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home.

Other settings in Brooklyn are also referred to. The restaurant where Biff and Happy abandon their father, Howard’s office and the site of Willy’s grave in the requiem are also seen.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the setting influence the play in Death of a Salesman?

The setting as far as time lines shift from past to present and back to the past. The scenes that occur in the present tense are characterized by Willy's flashbacks in time, which influence the play in that it shows the qualities of Willy's character.

- A man stuck in the past,  unable to move forward, still haunted by his mistakes, will lost, going towards insanity, dysfunctional, hopeless.

Those same flashbacks affect Biff similarly in a way, a he also becomes enthralled in his father's long lost world. They also help us see that Biff, in his own way, is not much different from his father in terms of giving up and letting circumstances take over his life.

Hence, Biff has also  a) lost the image of his father as a hero, b) does not trust him, c) still remembers his father's infidelity, and d) he quit a possible football career because of all this. He also has all hope lost, and he is also caught in the past.

What we get from this is that in Death of a Salesman the past is what maintains the present stuck in a rut.

The future does not look as bring as it should, but ironically looks brighter without Willy. The “Requiem,” which takes place after the funeral, exposes the true image of the salesman described under the same light as Willy: Aperson whose streaks of luck, charisma, and personal magnetism are the only weapons that ensure their success. Hence, once Willy, or any other salesman , loses those weapons, their only resort is to dream, like Charley expressed. Yet, as Willy had an uneventful funeral which followed an uneventful and incomplete life, the one bright window into the possible future of the Lomans is when his wife says, poignantly referring to making their last house payment: "We are Free".

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on