Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller premiered in 1949 at the Morosco Theatre, New York City. The original production was directed by Elia Kazan and ran for 742 performances. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1949.
Death of a Salesman is the story of unreal expectations and shattered dreams. Willy Loman, a salesman, approaching the dusk of his life, starts fearing that his whole life has been one big failure. He also secretly blames himself for the lackluster and unsuccessful lives of his two sons, Biff and Happy. With a blurring sense of reality he begins to slip between the past and the present, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.
I was and still am greatly impressed by how as the state of Willy’s mind deteriorates the line between the past and present fades away. Towards the end the past and present begin to coincide with one another.
Willy Loman, chasing the impossible and unattainable dream of greatness, remains convinced that greatness comes from personal appearance and popularity. To be well liked by everyone is all that matters.
Willy is so caught up with his own ideas of greatness and success that he fails to recognize himself (or his son) for who he truly is. The unrealistic goals he sets for himself and his sons, especially for Biff, ultimately blights everyone’s happiness and destroys their lives.
The way Willy leads Biff towards all the wrong things and all the wrong paths in life is really very unsettling to watch.
Willy’s wife Linda is kind and affectionate but ultimately a weak person. At one point when Willy is having a conversation with his dead brother Ben about the possibility of going to Alaska with him it is indicated that Linda may have held him back from moving forward in his life. Their younger son, Happy, is very determined not to notice the terrible dreariness of his life and tries to drown its futility with a lot of bluster.
Willy’s older son Biff is constantly idealized by his father. Biff was a bright young athlete in high school and was well liked (popular). But since then he has done nothing and that crushed his father more than anything else. He keeps wondering why Biff ended up where he is today. On the other hand, Biff, who once admired his father for being a great man is now disillusioned by him. He is angered by his father’s constant misconceptions about him and tries to show him the reality of their lives but fails. It is interesting how each of them put the other up on a pedestal and how their mutual disillusionment contributes to the other’s failure.
Arthur Miller’s writing is simply great. Saying anything less than that would be an insult.
In the end, it is not just the death of Willy Loman’s dreams that makes me sad but the fact that it could all have been prevented. If only he had focused on what he had and not on what he wanted to have, his whole family could have been saved from their slow descent towards the abyss of discontent and misery.
Death of a Salesman is a beautifully heartbreaking work of art It is possibly the best play I’ve ever read. A true masterpiece!
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