Point of View in Death of a Salesman

Point of View in Death of a Salesman
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  • 0:03 Point of View in Plays
  • 2:13 POV & Death of a Salesman
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millie van der Westhuizen

Millie is currently working in tertiary education, whilst completing her master's degree in English Studies.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the different ways in which a playwright might use point of view and how Arthur Miller uses it to strengthen his message in ''Death of a Salesman.''

Point of View in Plays

Let's play a game. Imagine that there are three people sitting around a table. What are they doing? Are you one of them? If not, how did you know that there are three people? Because we said so, of course. Now imagine that you are one of the people. Are you now able to see the others' faces more clearly? What do they look like?

As you can imagine, the lack of detail about these people means that what you are imagining most likely differs quite a bit from what someone else might be envisioning. And if you initially saw three people from a distance, becoming one of them would have changed the angle and distance from which you see the other two. This is because, the moment you became one of the people, your point of view (or the way in which you see things) changed.

Along the lines of point of view, we might ask ourselves whether plays have narrators. In a sense, the playwright can be seen as a narrator, and the way the playwright tells a story when the play is performed is through diegesis. Diegesis refers to showing things in a narrative, whereas mimesis refers to when we are told about them.

Any narrative contains some point of view in that there's a specific perspective on the events we are told of. Some people feel that when it comes to watching a play, the point of view is only that of the audience. However, when you consider the playwright's role in selecting what is shown, we might consider whether we're seeing things through a character's perspective or whether we are shown things as they would appear in reality.

In the traditional narrative, there is no limit to what we are shown and we can see more than any single character would have been able to. This is known as external point of view. Alternatively, a narrator might use internal point of view, where everything is presented in terms of the knowledge, feelings, and perceptions of one or several characters. When authors use a fixed internal point of view, they portray the perspective of only one character. When they use variable internal points of view, we are given insight into the internal experiences of multiple characters. Note that, in cases where internal point of view is used, aspects of the character might influence the way in which the narrative is presented.

POV & Death of a Salesman

Some people would argue that, because Death of a Salesman is a play, the point of view used is that of the traditional narrative since we see everything that happens. However, when thinking about what Arthur Miller puts in front of his audience, and at what times, you could argue that the playwright uses both an internal point of view and an external one.

The reason why we might say this is because of those moments in which current events are disrupted by things that happened in the past. Some people consider these moments as flashbacks (meaning that the narrative jumps back in time), but since there are moments when events from the past play out alongside things happening in the present, it's clear that the entire narrative does not jump back in time.

Instead, it is possible to see these moments as Willy Loman's memories. We know that Willy is the only character seeing these events since his family mentions that he talks to himself and seems distant at times. As such, they obviously don't see their past selves on the stage when we do. Therefore we, as an audience, share Willy's point of view on these occasions.

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