Death of a Salesman and its Movie Adaptation

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Robert Stam, in his essay “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation” has explained the concept of converting a single track medium (book) into a multitrack medium ( movie) and how now must take into consideration the various facts which revolve around such a task. A written work consists of a single material expression, the writer’s contemplations and is able to create depth in the mind of the readers, where every individual is able to create his or her perspective on the work. Whereas film adaptions inhibit moving photographs, sound, music and the written materials of the text which act as the director’s resources for expression. In a film, the audiences witness the happenings through the perspective of the director. The main argument which Stam makes is that while watching film adaptations of literary works, one must not compare his or her personal reading of the work or how much in tone is the film to the novel with the director’s because films exhibit a certain economic value which is determined by the audience and the director’s innovation. A director works on condensing the film to a certain time frame in order to attract the attention of the audience because a majority of people are accustomed to a certain time frame and moreover nobody wants to watch a film which is too lengthy.

Arthur Miller wrote “Death of a Salesman, in the years following the Second World War. The play has been viewed generally as one of America's most acclaimed dramatic works. Willy Loman, the play's hero, is a salesman whose living off commission and is struggling to keep up with his family’s standard of living. As the plot unwinds, what is uncovered is Willy’s false notion of the 'American Dream”, that by being well liked an individual can attain riches, material success and satisfaction. Willy completely ignores the importance of diligence and handwork which are the real stepping stones to achieving success or “The American Dream”. This work was well known on the grounds that it shed light on what numerous Americans felt about the unreasonable weight they had on their shoulders of achieving success. Instead of working to be successful in all spheres of life, the Americans were attempting to be wealthy. The discontent of Willy and his fall into uncertainty, both physical and mental, cover the truth of the American white collar class. Life in American popular culture was sweet to look at but the matter of fact remained that only a few could live up to its expectations.

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The Second film adaptation of Miller’s Death Of A Salesman premiered on 16th August,1985. The first version (black and white) of the film was released in 1951. Directed by Volker Schlondorff , the 1985 version of the film follows the play almost word by word following a runtime of 130 minutes .Its cast comprises of Dustin Hoffman (Willy), John Malkovich (Biff), Stephen Lang (Happy) and Kate Reid (Linda). Schlondorff’s main goal for releasing the film was to highlight the underdeveloped idea of The American Dream by representing the existential crisis of Willy

Loman at face value. By associating the life of Willy Loman with abandonment, idealised notions of the past and family crisis, he offers a chance to the audience to take entry into the mindset of the Protagonist through the screenplay of the film. Reading Miller’s text does not allow the readers to have a deeper insight into the play because there are many occasions in the play where two time frames function simultaneously and there is no specific mention of it in the stage directions . The readers are expected to understand numerous instances on their own by drawing a line between the past and the present. The adapted version, film on the other hand offers a clearer picture to the audiences by focussing on simple editing and sound design.

Quoting the stage direction provided in the play “A melody is heard, played upon a flute”, the following instruction is executed in the film with a melancholy tone and after listening to it the viewers are certain about the sounds being produced by a flute. While reading the play, we as readers know of this sound, but we do not really sense it. Sound cannot function through writings. It requires a medium and a listener. The sound of the flute in the film is representative of the nostalgia and it symbolises Willy’s past memories with his father who was a flute maker. This representation cannot be comprehended completely by the readers while reading the text. It is only through the medium of the film that we are able to fathom the occurrences and importance of the flute’s sound by taking into account the action of the movie related to Willy’s past reminisces and present crisis . Another feature which strikes the viewers of the film is that the beginning and the climax of the movie are precisely similar with their relation to the sound. The sound played during the opening represents old age and existential crisis in Willy’s life whereas the other is representative of his death.

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Death of a Salesman and its Movie Adaptation. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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