What techniques does Arthur Miller use to highlight the conflict between past and present in Death of a Salesman? How do these techniques also demonstrate his main themes?

Authors Avatar

What techniques does Arthur Miller use to highlight the conflict between past and present in Death of a Salesman? How do these techniques also demonstrate his main themes?

Death of a Salesman is set in a time when the capitalist system is changing. It is set in the late 1940s, not long after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Willy Loman is unable to adjust to these changes and therefore, there is conflict between the past, where his dreams were achievable, and the present, where he has fallen foul of the capitalist system and is no longer any use to the firm. These conflicts are personified in Willy, and Arthur Miller uses a number of techniques to highlight this. The techniques Miller uses represent Willy’s mind and they distinguish between past and present. These theatrical methods also help to demonstrate the main themes in Death of a Salesman. These theatrical methods include music, lighting, wall-lines, scenery, the use of leaves and also use of costumes. In my essay I plan to explain what each method conveys to the audience and show how Miller uses these methods effectively to highlight the conflicts.

Music is used to highlight significant points and themes in the play. Also, the type of music sets the mood for a scene. It creates atmosphere and conveys to the audience the emotions of the characters. Also, silence can highlight a particular scene. The absence of music means that the audience focuses entirely on the conversation taking place. In Death of a Salesman, flute music is heard constantly throughout the duration of the play. It bridges the play, as it is heard both at the beginning and the end. The flute music evokes a faraway, idyllic world, representing the past. It also represents a contrast between Willy and his father. Willy’s father was a pioneer; he made flutes and sold his own products. Willy, on the other hand, has to sell other people’s goods to make a living.

Join now!

A good example of music being used to set the scene is at the beginning of the restaurant scene. The lights have blacked out signifying the end of the previous scene ‘Suddenly rollicking music is heard.’ This is setting the mood of the scene for the audience. It shows that the atmosphere is happy and lively. This is to show the mood of the present time. It is a contrast to the past. By having rollicking music, Miller is highlighting this contrast. This links to the theme of Happy and shows more of an insight into his character. Happy has ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a star student thought of this essay

This essay has a good structure. The clear and strong introduction allows for a focused argument throughout, with points always being relevant to the task. Paragraphs all start with a clear signpost which is able to summarise the point whilst linking it back to the question. I like this skill, as it shows the ability to craft a strong argument, and examiners will be thankful for a well structured argument. I feel this essay would've benefited from phrases such as "therefore" or "thus" to show a progression through the essay, making it more convincing. It was a shame to see the last paragraph cut off, and the lack of a conclusion. A conclusion is a great chance to offer a justified judgement and a final insight to the purpose of Miller's presentation of past and present being at conflict. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are fine.

The analysis here is strong, and there is always an understanding of how Miller's techniques affect the audience's response. I particularly liked how this essay writes about Miller's constructions rather than simply stating things happen. For example phrases such as "Miller uses lighting to demonstrate" shows you have an awareness of techniques having a purpose, naturally forcing you to discuss this. Once in a while this essay will write as if characters are real, for example "he wants to put the event out of his mind and ignore it, that is why it is in shadow." It is essential you don't simply retell the plot or explain what quotes mean, but look at the dramatic effect of techniques. This essay manages this well. Examiners are looking for analysis of language, form and structure but I feel the language analysis is lacking here. It is vital you maintain a good balance, and as mentioned above a discussion of Miller's mobile concurrencies of past and present would be a great way to focus on language used. If I were answering this essay, I would've looked at the effectiveness of techniques. Simple staging techniques such as lighting, walls, and music allow the audience to engage with the conflicts of past and present, which then contextualise and emphasise Willy's internal conflict as a protagonist. A discussion of tragedy would've been relevant here.

This essay engages superbly with the question. There is a sustained focus on the question, and techniques are analysed with confidence. I particularly liked how there was a strong awareness of the significance of theatrical devices, rather than simply analysing Death of A Salesman as a text. When writing about drama, examiners will always credit for the understanding of its context, and in my experience this sort of insight will be awarded the top band at GCSE. All the points are relevant and great, but I feel this essay missed out on one major technique. Miller uses mobile concurrencies of past and present (not flashbacks) where Willy's loss of control is made evident through these events. This would've been a very sophisticated discussion point, allowing some high level analysis.