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When the lights come up, the first thing we see on stage is the suggestion of a small frame house. The front wall is open, and the stage directions say that "an air of the dream clings to the place." The set is designed to minimize the boundaries between past and present. The same areas used conventionally for scenes in the present are also used for scenes in the past as free spaces where characters can step "through the walls." Only a few key objects tell us what each room is; for example, a refrigerator, a table, and three chairs represent the kitchen. In Willy and Linda's bedroom is a brass bedstead, a straight chair, and a silver athletic trophy that symbolizes the peak achievement of Biff's life. Upstairs is the boys' old bedroom, with two small beds.
In front of the house is an empty area that "serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all Willy's imaginings and of his city scenes."
Behind the roof the outlines of apartment buildings tower threateningly over the little house, which seems as fragile as Willy's dreams. The stage directions call the house "a dream rising out of reality." and this reflects the central theme of Willy's longing to fulfill himself in a world where making money is the only acceptable goal.
The stage directions say the play takes place "today." Its premiere was in 1949. Nowadays, some productions of the play leave the time of the action unspecified, and for others the program reads "1949." While the emotions of the play will never be outdated, the authentic details on every page place it in 1949. The brand names of the household appliances, Biff's football game at Ebbets Field (a baseball stadium where the Dodgers played, long gone from Brooklyn), the price of dinner in the restaurant ($1 for a specially prepared lobster)- all are details of life in the United States shortly after World War II.
A key detail that dates the play is the memory Willy describes of driving in his car with the front windshield open. In some early cars the windshield could be opened on a nice day for a breezy drive. At the time of the main action of the play, it had been many years since cars had windshields that could be opened, and so Willy is alarmed when he realizes he thought he was back in the era when he was a young salesman.