Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the motif of remote, far-off locations is recurrent. This offers readers a rather strange dichotomy since so much of the action takes place in a relatively confined physical space while still offering the occasional glimpse of the world outside of the Loman family and the city in general. Before examining this aspect of Death of a Salesman for this essay in more detail, the Loman’s own home must be seen as a remote location since even though it is surrounded by people and other homes, it stands out and is in many ways just as isolated as the barren lands of Alaska or Africa (which are mentioned later) and reflects the personality of its inhabitants.
As is his tendency in Death of a Salesman Willy Loman fails to recognize the truth of his life and surroundings and for him, remote and isolated locations represent true freedom, the place where a man can be a man and fend for himself and escape the tragic conditions of his life. They also seem to symbolize his last reach at understanding that he was not cut out to be a salesman, that he enjoyed working toward visible results far too much for something so unrewarding. His brother Benjamin’s appearance in Death of a Salesman is fodder for this realization and it seems that his two sons have also learned about the hidden possibilities behind remote locations.
Without stretching the meaning of the motif of distant locations in Death of a Salesman too far for this essay, it should be stated immediately that the Loman household, while in the midst of an ever-growing city, is set apart and oddly detached from its setting. For a play such as Death of a Salesman that deals with discussions of remote places such as Alaska, Africa, and the wide open Western plains of America, the reader is forced to consider how the Loman’s house is like one of these strange spots. The home in Death of a Salesman began as an earnest dream by Willy Loman but eventually, the house and the people it housed fell out of step with their surroundings. Like the three men the house is surrounded by reminders of “success" and the attainment of the American Dream although in reality, their house stands apart because it is, as stated in one of the important quotes from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, “small, fragile-seeming home…surrounded by the “hard towers of the apartment buildings rising into sharp focus" (6).
Already at this point in “Death of a Salesman" the reader is developing a keen sense of place and sees how this particular house is out of step and remote in many ways, despite the urban setting. Furthermore, this sense of a remote location within the midst of a metropolis sets the stage for the human events in the story as well as Loman’s understanding of people in his life who abandoned such a setting to find a life in a truly remote place that was more accommodating than this city dwelling. This sense of isolation in Death of a Salesman and living in a remote location despite the surrounding city foregrounds the more explicit cases in which distant, isolated, or remote locations are mentioned. In many ways, it seems that although Willy admires (and even resents his decision not to go to one of these places) the people in his life that have left for distant locales, he does not realize that he lives in the midst of his own remote dwelling.
Instead of seeing himself and his life in terms of remoteness (in terms of spirit and location) Willy instead thinks of his brother, Benjamin, who escaped off to distant places to make his fortune. The descriptions of Benjamin in Death of a Salesman are revealing and are intricately associated with the fact that he did eventually go off somewhere far and open. For instance, he is described in Death of a Salesman as, “a stolid man, in his sixties, with a mustache and authoritative air… utterly certain of his destiny, and there is an aura of far places about him" (42). In a play so interested in images and how they supposedly have an effect or bearing on one’s future success in the world of business, it is important to note that he is an attractive man and thus is “destined" for great things according to the way Willy’s mind works. Furthermore, the fact that he posses a worldly air makes him even more attractive and interesting and the reader sees that he is being set up as a mythological figure.
Benjamin in “Death of a Salesman" is proof that outside of the depressing and unrewarding location of his brother, Willy, a man can live to his potential. By associating faraway travels with success, Willy seems to be finally realizing that perhaps the key to success is not what he surrounded by. Benjamin had the possibility to achieve things because he was able to escape and could tell amazing tales such as when he says in a significant quotation from “Death of a Salesman”, “Why boys, when I seventeen I walked into the jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out…and by God, I was rich" (46). He is a larger-than-life character and this is partly due to his association with distant places. Seeing that he was a “man that started with clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines" (47) not only Willy gains realizations about his stagnant life, but his sons seem to inherent the same fascination with distant places as well.
In Death of a Salesman, Biff has been the most affected by the desire to get away from the isolation of his family and has even tried working on a ranch in the open West, which he was very good at and well-suited for. After learning more about his father he begins to understand that much of what Willy based his life on was “phony" and that his only solution was to take the route of his Uncle Benjamin. Even though he comes back and gets wrapped up with his family again, the urge to find a remote location stays with him. It is significant that his brother, Happy, has the same desires, although he cannot express them because he is unwilling to leave his father’s dream behind. The fact that their joint idea is called “the Florida Plan" is significant because it represents possibility and something remote. Unfortunately, the reader cannot help but associate Florida with Willy since at the beginning of the play he is tired after coming back from there. His father is steadfast in his commitment to location saying, “They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England" (12) and he uses traveling to experience a small bit of the adventure and sense of accomplishment he sees in his brother. In this same way the two brothers are making a local plan sound faraway by invoking the distant name of “Florida" and are thus misleading themselves the same way their father does. Although discussions and allusions to distant locations occur throughout Death of a Salesman, their execution is stunted and almost impossible because all of the male Lomans have an innate commitment to stay put and struggle with themselves and their visions of future success.
In short, as this essay seeks to make clear, distant locations are representative of hope but are also symbolsof an almost unattainable escape in Death of a Salesman. All three of the Loman men have deep connections to the idea of distant locales but because of the teaching of their father (for the boys) and Willy’s abandonment because of more appealing locations by his father and brother while still young, reaching these places is not entirely possible. Remote locations are important to Death of a Salesman because they remind readers of the outside that Willy is constantly comparing his life to and in a sense, the thought of such places makes his concerns seem small, insignificant, and even foolishly selfish. His sons are trapped by a strong desire to live free somewhere distant from the pressures of their lives but in the end, remote locations are truly remote because they are not attainable.