…To me the tragedy of Willy Loman is that he gave his life, or sold it, in order to justify the waste of it. It is the tragedy of a man who did believe that he alone was not meeting the qualifications laid down for mankind by those clean-shaven frontiersmen who inhabit the peaks of broadcasting and advertising offices. From those forests of canned goods high up near the sky, he heard the thundering command to succeed as it ricocheted down the newspaper-lined canyons of his city, heard not a human voice, but a wind of a voice to which no human can reply in kind, except to stare into the mirror at a failure.
Arthur Miller, “The ‘Salesman’ Has a Birthday,” The New York Times, February 5, 1950
The first image that occurred to me which was to result in Death of a Salesman was of an enormous face, the height of the proscenium arch, which would appear and then open up, and we would see the inside of a man’s head. In fact, The Inside of His Head was the first title. It was conceived half in laughter, for the inside of his head was a mass of contradictions. … The Salesman image was from being absorbed with the concept in life that nothing in life comes “next” but that everything exists together and at the same time within us; that there is no past to be “brought forward” in a human being, but that he is his past at every moment and that the present is merely that which his past is capable of noticing and smelling and reacting to.
I wished to create a form which, in itself as a form, would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s way of mind. But to say “wished” is not accurate. Any dramatic form is an artifice, a way of transforming a subjective feeling into something that can be comprehended through public symbols. Its efficiency as a form is to be judged – at least by the writer – by how much of the original vision and feeling is lost or distorted by this transformation. I wished to speak of the salesman most precisely as I felt about him, to give no part of that feeling away for the sake of any effect or any dramatic necessity. What was wanted now was not a mounting line of tension, nor a gradually narrowing cone of intensifying suspense, but a bloc, a single chord presented as such at the outset, within which all the strains and melodies would already be contained. The strategy … was to appear entirely un-strategic.
… If I could, I would have told the story and set forth all the characters in one unbroken speech or even one sentence or a single flash of light. As I look at the play now its form seems the form of a confession, for that is how it is told, now speaking of what happened yesterday, then suddenly following some connection to a time 20 years ago, then leaping even further back and then returning to the present and even speculating about the future.
Arthur Miller, Introduction to Collected Plays, 1957
Willy is foolish and even ridiculous sometimes. He tells the most transparent lies, exaggerates mercilessly, and so on. But I really want you to see that his impulses are not foolish at all. He cannot bear reality, and since he can’t do much to change it, he keeps changing his ideas of it.
Arthur Miller, Salesman in Beijing, 1984