Death of a Salesman: Setting & Genre

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  • 0:00 What Is the Genre?
  • 0:53 What Is the Setting?
  • 1:15 Significance of the Setting?
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson identifies the genre of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'. It also discusses the significance of the setting in Miller's tragic play about Willy Loman, a traveling salesman.

What Is the Genre?

Death of a Salesman is a play, or drama, by Arthur Miller. This genre, or type of literature, works well for the story of Willy Loman, a dramatic character driven to distraction by his desire to be well liked. The play focuses on the Loman family's tragic story of inflated dreams and thwarted desires.

The play also includes several dream sequences, no doubt a challenge for set designers. Fortunately, the play contains stage directions, Miller's ideas to help the theatre audience distinguish between past and present. 'Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past, these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping through a wall on to the forestage,' Miller suggests.

What Is the Setting?

Death of a Salesman is set in the late 1940s. The Lomans live in Brooklyn, and most of the play's action occurs at Willy Loman's house. In addition, Willy experiences some dream sequences in which the time and place of the action are not established. He also recollects a life-changing encounter with Biff in Boston, and this scene is presented as a flashback in the play.

Significance of the Setting?

After Willy buys the house, apartment buildings are constructed all around Willy's property. Willy's house is literally walled in by the apartments that encroach from every direction. He speaks longingly of the days before the apartments were built. ''Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?'' Willy asks. Linda remarks that it was almost like being in the country until the neighbor cut the elm trees.

Willy's lot is so overshadowed by the looming apartment buildings that his backyard does not get enough sun to support a vegetable garden. Ever the optimist, Willy attempts to defy the odds by planting seeds shortly before he commits suicide.

Willy's dreams have walled him in just as the apartment buildings wall in his house. Willy is committed to his dream of success, which he defines as being well-liked. Now that he is aging and facing financial difficulties, his dreams close in on him.

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