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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What is the "point of attack" in Miller's approach in Death of a Salesman?

Quick answer:

The point of attack comes in Scene 1, after the family is introduced, but Willy's story is not presented up front. Instead we see his behavior and hear some of his comments as he enters the house. We are drawn into the family and their lives before we get to know Willy Loman, who turns out to be a problem in this family.

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In the play, Arthur Miller provides ample setting description and stage directions about the Lomans' house and neighborhood before the action begins with Willy's entrance.

Three items are directly relevant to the point of attack: the flute music that will serve as a motif, the directions that mention flashbacks, and...

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the sound Willy makes.

A word-sigh escapes his lips — it might be "Oh, boy, oh, boy."

He is otherwise silent as he enters his house from outside.

The first line of dialogue belongs to Linda, and Scene 1 is a conversation between her and Willy. It clearly establishes several important aspects of the plot and of their marriage.

Willy is at a major breaking point, we will later learn, but from the opening lines we only suspect that things have not been going well in the past few days. Willy cut short his sales trip and returned home ahead of schedule. Linda is worried, and Willy is tired and cranky. He also expresses concern several times that he was daydreaming and almost ran off the road. But he goes on to state something more ominous.

I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.

Miller carefully constructs the scene to draw us first into their marriage, establishing that Willy is really not okay, and then to introduce their sons as one of his perceived problems. The point of attack of starting the action near, but not at, the crisis point pulls the audience into the home and family, locating Willy as protagonist but also making clear that he matters most within the family context.

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Hmm. You may want to share a few more details in your questions. It sounds like you're looking for something very specific about Miller's way of writing the play, and to be frank, I'm not sure I know what it is. I'll answer in general, and then you can tell me if I’m close.

In general, the term "point of attack" in playwriting refers to when the author/audience enters the story. It is pretty common for the point of attack be close to the final resolution in modern plays (a few days or even a few hours before things all get tied up). All the earlier history leading up to that climax has to be communicated somehow. In Miller's case, this is done mainly through flashbacks and through the bits of back story communicated in the dialogue.

In the heart of the play itself, the point of attack is from one night through the following day. In the requiem section, some time has passed and it is now Willie's funeral, but the core point of attack is the last day of his life.


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