Death of a Salesman

Musical Motifs

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a deceptively simple play. The simplicity of the play, however, quickly dissolves into a respectful ambiguity through Miller's ingenious stage directions, nonverbal expressions and, most importantly, his musical design. From the opening notes to their final reprise, the audience is enormously attracted by what Tennessee Williams called the "plastic theatre" (Williams 213). The use of musical expression complements the textual version of the play creating a more lucid production. This willingness that Miller has to open up his theatre to more than merely a language-embedded performance allowed him to create a lyric drama, a more poetic theatre through the melodic themes. The musical motifs assume important roles in the production, roles accentuating the conflicts that the Lomans articulate to the audience through language. They foreground, through metaphor, many of the play's deeper ambiguities and discords.

Miller's musical themes express the competing influences in Willy Loman's mind. Once established, the themes need only to be sounded to evoke certain time frames, emotions, and values. The first sounds of the drama, the flute notes "small and...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 741 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4429 literature essays, 1449 sample college application essays, 183 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in