It’s one of my my goals this year to read diversely and one of includes reading a play. It’s a shame that despite the number of plays that I have on my shelf, I have not read any of it yet. So I decided to give it a try and read one of the more famous plays, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. In 1949, the play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Considered as Miller’s masterpiece, the play talks about the vision, dreams and hopes of an American, Willy Loman, during the 1940s in Broklyn, New York, during the time when the the US just came out of World War 2, the rebuilding period, the chase for the American Dream. For all his career life, Willy Loman, who is now in his sixties, is a travelling salesman. He has big dreams, dreams for himself and his family, dreams of epic proportions to the point that he can no longer distinguish reality from his intangible and wild imagination. He still dreams of making it big in the future, despite his age. He believes that the main goal of everyone should be to be well-known and gain material success.
Despite achieving poorly, he make himself and his family believe otherwise. He believes that he’s a successful salesman. He arrogantly boasts as to how people and his clients that he visits trust him and praise him. But despite that, inside, he’s frail. Deep inside, he seeks guidance and support from his father and brother, Ben, who have become successful in their own fields. As the play unravels, it will become clear that he is not what he believes to be. Now deteriorating mentally, he can no longer support himself and his family both emotionally and financially and even to simply drive properly.
“Sometimes…it’s better for a man just to walk away.
But if you can’t walk away?
I guess that’s when it’s tough.”
― Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
The author populated the play with distinct characters. Linda, Willy’s clueless wife. She’s truely believes Willy’s lies. She’s so naive and part of it could be attributed to the fact the she is not aware and turns a blind eye to Willy’s other side. Willy and Linda has two children. There’s Biff, Willy’s eldest son. A person of determination but has no direction. Despite his shortcomings and doubts at the start of the play, later in the story he stood in what he believes in and what his capabilities are. Among all the characters, he showed the most growth and development. He understands that his father has high hopes for him and he failed. He did not succeed in finishing his studies despite having a very promising school life as an athlete. An incident that he witnessed made him decide to stop studying and that decision eventually shaped his future and hold grudge against his father. Majority of the book talks about how Willy showers Biff with expectations and pressures him about how he should be like him and start chasing their dreams that have long been overdue and to stop “finding himself”. Will always alienate Biff for his life choices and failures.
Happy, is Willy’s second and youngest child. The next Willy in the making, he got his father’s arrogance and over confidence. Compared to his elder brother, he is settled and more successful. Quite ironic, he longs for happiness throughout the book. He is very competitive in the business world, living comfortably in his own flat and has a good share of experiences with women but happiness seems very elusive. He feels out of place.
Willy’s mind is starting to spiral downward the time when the play starts. The book is told through Willy’s point of view. Willy’s mind moves from the present to the past giving the readers the background information needed to better understand the story. Readers will be introduced to a much more complicated life of Willy that will explain the other characters actions.
The book starts as Biff, Willy’s eldest come home after working as a farm hand in the West. As Willy’s mind deteriorates, he is also pre-occupied with his eldest son’s aimlessness and his failure to succeed. The wife, Linda, informed his son about how Willy is trying to kill himself and everything lies in Biff’s hand. Biff needs to have a stable job or be blamed for his father’s actions. To make matters worst, Willy got fired from work. He tried to appeal by reminding the company of the number of years that he’s been serving with them but all fell to deaf ears. And on Biff’s part, his plan didn’t went well too. He was intending to borrow money from a co-worker that he worked with previously but failed. Readers will be taken to the climax of the story as Biff tries to make his family realize their real situation.
“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be … when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”
― Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
The play is easy to read and understand. The writing has this perfect balance that will make readers fully internalize the themes presented in it. From lies to truth, failure to success, betrayal to respect, confinement to freedom, pride to humility and expectations to reality. Willy’s inability to accept his fate and to continue to deny himself of the truth is the main cause of his demise. His life has been a life full of unrealized dreams and memories of the past that made him be removed from reality. His late realization and previous denial of what’s really happening to him and his family affected him and his family unknowingly. He tried chasing the American Dream but death got him first. The play is a journey towards a person’s loss of his personal identity and mental stability.
The Death of a Salesman talks physical death and the death of a dream. Willy’s dream of becoming financially stable stayed as a dream. The question is who killed him? Was it himself, for putting a lot of pressure to himself and being too consumed with materialistic things? Or was it the society that set the world to be a place that nurtures capitalism and commercialism? Will there be a chance to redeem himself?
In a world where yuu are being judge by the possessions that you have and the achievements that you had, this book is a great read. The book raises the question as to what’s really important in our lifetime. It raises the question as to how high should our dreams be. The themes of this book and the questions it raises for discussion makes this play a timeless read.
4 stars out of 5.
Author: Arthur Miller
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: August 2011 by (first published 1949)
Publisher: Penguin Classics
No. of Pages: 112 pages
About the Author:
Arthur Asher Miller was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman, which are still studied and performed worldwide. Miller was often in the public eye, most famously for refusing to give evidence against others to the House Un-American Activities Committee, being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama among other awards, and for marrying Marilyn Monroe. At the time of his death, Miller was considered one of the greatest American playwrights.
(Image cortesy of Wikipedia / Text about the author courtesy of Goodreads)