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THE LOST PAST IN DEATH OF A SALESMAN Death of a Salesman HAS BEEN CORRECTLY CHARACTERIZED as a play about the triumph of substance over image. Willy Loman is destroyed because he fails to see that men buy appearances only in their leisure. But Death of a Salesman is also about the triumph of the present over the past. Public Willy is the modern gladhanded salesman, but private Willy is four anachronisms: he is the archetypal cherisher of the pastoral world, the pre-industrial-revolution artisan, the ham-handed outlaw frontiersman, and the dutiful patriarchal male intent upon transmitting complex legacies from his forbears to his progeny. Hence one may argue that in a sense it is Willy's civilization, which cannot encourage or even tolerate these anachronisms , that truly destroys him. The term "pastoral" will be used in this paper in the very broad sense: "The essence of the pastoral is simplicity of thought and action in a rustic setting."l In Death of a Salesman "pastoral" simplicity is at times the simplicity of the shepherd or hermit, at others that of the farmer, rancher, or frontiersman; however, all the Lomans' dreams of fulfillment in the countryside, plains, or wilderness have a common denominator: the promise of release from the complexity of urban life and obligation, the tangle of the American present. "A melody . . . played upon a flute,"2 one of several keynoting images present as the opening curtain rises, is a multivalent symbol, suggestive not only of the past but also of the lost pastoral life. Strongly associated with Willy's wanderer father, it is later often heard as Willy begins his schizoid voyages into bygone years. Similar melodies announce Willy's brother Ben and accompany Ben's brief tale of his and Willy's father. "Small and fine," the melody is equated with the Lomans' "small, fragile-seeming" house. Surrounded on all sides by "a solid vault of apartment houses," the anachronistic dwelling, like Willy himself, is diminished and constrained by its environment. These apartment houses of course symbolize urban 1 The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Sir Paul Harvey (London, 1962), p. 596. 2 Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (New York: Compass Books Edition, The Viking Press, Inc., 1965), p. 11. Subsequent references are to this edition. 164 1968 LOST PAST IN D'eath of a Salesman 165 civilization. Before the set is fully lighted, they are apprehended simply as "towering, angular shapes," reminding one of geometry, the draftsman's board, all the mathematical and technological underpinnings of our modern order. Since the set is "wholly or ... partially transparent," we see the buildings both above and beneath the one-dimensional roof line of the house, and we are therefore constantly aware of the influence of this civilization upon the tormented occupants of the house. The action begins as Willy returns from an abortive selling trip to New England. Because the pastoral scenery through which he drove drew him again and again into dreams of the past, he had been unable to drive his car safely: "... it's so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick and the sun is so warm, I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. And then all of a sudden I'm goin' off the road!" Willy's inability to control this essential modern machine is a symbolic failure. Committed to the life of the urban and mobile businessman, he cannot succeed in that life. Profoundly attracted by this rustic setting, he must pass hurriedly through it on his errands of commerce. His dramatically central ambivalence is repeatedly and ironically revealed in this opening scene. Pained by Biff's he complains to Linda: "How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand?" Moments later Willy is angry because the amenities no farmer lacks have disappeared from Brooklyn: "The street is lined with cars. There's not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don't grow anymore, you can't raise a carrot in the backyard. They should've had a law against apartment houses." Willy believes that if Biff got a...