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POINT OF VIEW AND FORM
Death of a Salesman is not a strictly realistic play. It recognizes that the world of dreams is as real as the waking world: one's imagination is as real as the actual events of one's life. Unlike most plays, this one tries to capture both of these realities and present them with equal vividness on the stage.
Because the scenes from the past are actually recurring in Willy's mind as he conducts his present life, they are not strictly flashbacks-a term we have consistently avoided in this guide. Compare the flashbacks in a movie, where only the audience, not the characters, are viewing scenes from before the start of the story. What makes this play different is that the journeys into the past are Willy's clinical symptoms, his repressed experiences surging back into memory. As they unfold in his mind, they affect how he views events in the present.
In his daily life Willy has recently been moving uncontrollably from the present to the past and back again, much to the distress of himself and his family. As we read the play we must keep in mind that all time is in the present, as these memories of Willy's crowd in. We need to watch for clues that signal these transitions.
For Willy a word or a thought in conversation brings back a related incident from the past in all its original intensity. Therefore, we follow Willy from scene to scene as different times and places flow into each other. The theatrical set remains the same because, as Miller wrote, "the mere fact that a man forgets where he is does not mean that he has really moved."
Arthur Miller set out in Death of a Salesman to paint a true portrait of how one person thinks, and, in fact, his original title for the play was The Inside of His Head. Miller wanted to show us the feelings, observations, and associations that occur daily in our "subjective process of thought-connection," as he later put it. He was striving for a believable and accurate pattern of thought and language, with all its confusions and contradictions. In the "Introduction to the Collected Plays," Miller wrote, "I was convinced only that if I could make him remember enough he would kill himself, and the structure of the play was determined by what was needed to draw up his memories like a mass of tangled roots without end or beginning."