Flashbacks/Daydreams

In Death of a Salesman, this style (blending of Expressionism and Realism) is most obvious in the use of ‘flashbacks’ or ‘dream sequences’. At the beginning of the play, Miller first of all provides an anchor in reality. He presents a series of events that are accepted by the audience as the objective reality of the play i.e. those sections of the play that take place in the present. We understand them as objective reality because we see various different characters’ perceptions of the events – for example, Willy’s breakdown is discussed by the boys and Linda; Jenny the secretary talks to Bernard before Willy enters.

However, the play also shows the internal turmoil and psychological breakdown that Willy is experiencing by presenting what is going on in Willy’s head. Sometimes this takes the form of the acting out of Willy’s past experiences, sometimes in the appearance of Ben or The Woman in Willy’s ‘present’. This style means that while the audience can share the nightmare experience of Willy’s breakdown with him, we never lose touch with the real events even though Willy perceives reality in a distorted way. Miller described Willy as ‘literally at that terrible moment when the voice of the past is no longer distant but quite as loud as the voice of the present’. He did not see Willy’s internal sequences as ‘flashbacks’.

“There are no flashbacks in this play but only a mobile concurrency of past and present… because in his desperation to justify his life Willy Loman has destroyed the boundaries between now and then.“ 
– Arthur Miller