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

Identify three differences between the print and film versions of Death of a Salesman.

Expert Answers

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

A filmed version of Death of a Salesman, directed by Volker Schlöndorff, was televised in 1985 and was later released in theaters. Dustin Hoffman repeated the role of Willy Loman that he had played on Broadway.

One of the differences that the film introduced was to expand the actions in the scenes by showing the hallucinations and flashbacks that Willy experiences. An example is Uncle Ben. He does not merely converse with Willy but acts out his lines, such as when he threatens Willy with an umbrella tip to emphasize a line about fighting fair.

Miller’s play calls for impressionistic sets in which lighting helps suggest the different locales of Willy’s imagination and memory. The original staging was designed for traditional proscenium theater, in which staging is strongly influenced by the audience’s sight lines. Using cameras in the film allows for additional perspectives, including close-ups where the audience can see character’s expressions. The movie’s sets are more fully realized. The restaurant is more complete and realistic. It is more feasible when the limitations of quick changes are eliminated.

The play’s instructions are specific only in regard to a single musical instrument, the flute. At the beginning of act 1, Miller’s stage directions state: “A melody is heard, played upon a flute.” The movie, however, uses additional music.

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

The two mediums function so differently, along with the people who create them, that when a play is translated to film, it is often inevitable that major changes will be made to the story in one way or another. 

First things first, the opening has been changed. In the play, we begin with Willy arriving home, walking into the main set piece of the play— the Loman household, which is described by Miller in depth. The movie begins with a shot of Willy's headlights in the darkness, as he drives home. This eventually pans up to Willy's face, while we hear cars honking and passing him by. Instead of just being told by Willy about his difficulties driving, we see it happen in a way that could not be done onstage. 

It's also been mentioned in a previous answer that rather than being large in stature, the film's Willy Loman is quite small—Dustin Hoffman is only 5'6''. This gives the appearance of the character a different effect than in the play. While play Willy is a large man brought down over time, film Willy is a small man, looking quite pitiful while he struggles with large cases of products to sell. If you do your research, you'll find that this is actually what Miller originally intended for the character! 

Lastly, some lines of dialogue have been changed/cut from the original play. Arthur Miller often writes some extraneous dialogue to help build up the feeling of everyday life in the world of the play. Generally speaking, these aren't necessary in a movie because the world is made whole with the use of visuals. 


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

When a director undertakes a film presentation of a popular novel or play, he has the right to infuse his own interpretations of its theme and character.  This is certainly true of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and its movie counterpart starring Dustin Hoffman and directed by Volker Schlondorff. While the play stays true to the script, Schlondorff took some liberties in other areas. 

First, he deviates from Millers copious stage directions in which one set is used for multiple scenes.  Miller spends a page and a half describing his set, clearly indicating his vision for holding to Aristotle's unity of place.  However, scenes with Biff and Happy as children, the other woman, and even Ben, are far more detailed and presented as one would expect in a film, very realistically.  This detracts from Miller's style of creating dream-type flashbacks occuring only in the mind of Willy.  Stylistic deviations aside, this does tend to make the viewer better able to understand these sections of the play.

Second, the character of Willy, noted to be large and like a "walrus" in the play is cast using Dustin Hoffman.  The words describing Willy's size are changed to conform to Hoffman's small stature.  This loses the full effect of Willy's downfall.  He is more devastated to have lost his intimidating image in the play.  This element of physical demise is lost, leaving only his emotional demise in the film.

Finally, the play focuses more on Willy's illusion that being well-liked is all that one needs to succeed in the business world.  Willy's inability to reconcile this belief with the changes in business practices are central to the play.  In the film, more focus is put on Willy's insanity and less on his inner conflict.  What used to work for him as a salesman, no longer does.  As a result, the film version lacks a clear connection between the failures of Willy and Biff, an important characteristic in the play.


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

Death of a Salesman is actually one of the plays where most of the scenes were kept identical and the lines remained the same. Plot-wise there weren't great differences and deviations from the play but the the production of film definitely had some technical differences. The first difference was the change of scenes from present to flashbacks. In the play the transition is very ambiguous as Miller leaves no indication of such change. However in the film it is clearly indicated by the change in scenes and setting. Second difference is the appearance of Ben. The play depicts Ben as a very mysterious figure who isn't clearly identified but in the film Ben actually appears and makes Ben easier to understand. The last difference is probably music. In the introduction of the play, the presence of flute medley is clearly written out but the actual use of music in the film contributes to a better understanding of the atmosphere.

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
Approved by eNotes Editorial