Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman: Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a RequiemDeath of a Salesman: Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem by Arthur Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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The saddest thing one can do is to spend his or her life in a job that is completely counter to the makeup of his existence. Sometimes we may not recognize what we’re bound to do until after life has begun and the responsibilities and reaping of what’s been sowed comes into play and we’re left with dismissing the would’ves and should’ves and simply surviving because that long gone side is now a pipe dream.

So – here we have, the Loman family: Willy and his sons, Biff and Happy, along with wife Linda, in the “Death of a Salesman”, surviving in such a study. Written for the stage in approximately six weeks by Arthur Miller in 1949, it examines adapting, ageism, sexism, and those pipe dreams.

Willy Loman’s father was remembered by him as one larger than life and as was his brother, Ben, now deceased. He figured he was made to follow in their footsteps selling snake oil like the best of ’em and being likable in the process. Of this sales career, he in turn, expected his sons to follow suit, regardless of whether or not it FIT them. FIT – see, that’s the optimum word. Willy was not really a salesman. It was a career he THOUGHT he could do because he saw others succeed at it. Talking big in the field became a role he had to play each day and it was tiresome. Sure, the job was the way of bringing in big commissions, big checks, but all at the expense of soul selling as he eventually realized with the added price of losing his own psyche. Willy was not in his element.

His son, Biff, had fought against him tooth and nail over the years, knowing sales – not even office work – wasn’t for him. Give the younger man the great outdoors, a farm, animals, anything but a damned suit to work under, big pearly teeth of fake smiles thrown into his view each day, and Biff was happy, settled, at peace. But – being a peace was not the general state of life that he was expected to have. His father wanted him toiling against the grain, selling himself and his products for livelihood and the hopes of big money. So, in order to appease his father, Biff gave it consideration ONCE again.

Willy was struggling financially and mentally. The commissions were drying up. Debts were mounting as well as his ego. His friends and neighbors knew he was now out of touch, even tired. One offered him a job and he wouldn’t take it, he just wanted the loan – and with lofty promises as well as the disdain he had for himself for being in such a position, he assured his neighbor he’d pay him back . Willy by this time is in deep conversations with his late brother, Ben. Willy was ready to go. This life didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped and he was ready for it to end. He didn’t realize he had options. Doing anything other than what he’d shown off as a consummate salesman to his family, friends, and coworkers would reveal him as a failure – in his own eyes. His bravado was his downfall.

There was also a secret held between Willy and Biff that was pretty bad, but the depth of going against the grain was a bigger part of the story than that seedy little aside.

Now see, Willy was happy working with his hands. He fixed up the house, he built additions to the house, he added a new ceiling in the living room. BUT, he was going house to house, business to business, selling things. Somehow making a living using the God-given talents he had in carpentry wasn’t something HE saw possible… everyone else saw it though, just when it mattered no more.

Nothing got to me more in this play than this little exchange about Willy between Biff, their neighbor Charley, and Linda… nothing:

Biff: There were a lot of nice days. When he’d come home from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting on the new porch; when he built the extra bathroom; and put up the garage. You know something, Charley, there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made.

Charley: Yeah. He was a happy man with a batch of cement.

Linda: He was so wonderful with his hands.

Biff: He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.

*[Then Happy chimes in pissed – ] Don’t say that! [he says to Biff.]

Biff [comes back with this]: He never knew who he was.

I think he did know. He was a salesman, as Charley later pointed out, and salesman have to dream, just like everyone else. The bigger dream, however, was the American Dream. Not just Willy meeting his expectations and aspirations, but having others see that he did. The Appearances. Little did he know others saw more of him than he saw of himself. He didn’t realize he’d had the extra talents to be happy in his professional life as well as his personal life. The death occurred before he died.

*my parentheticals

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2 thoughts on “Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

  1. I realized, in reading your thoughtful post, that I have never seen this play performed on stage (or in film) and it’s been years since I’ve read it. You’ve prompted me to try to find the 1951 version with Fredric March. Thanks! 🙂

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  2. I still can’t believe it took me this long to read it, now I must see it, too. What a great version to catch. I remember reading years ago that Dustin Hoffman played Willy, so he was in mind’s eye. At the end of the book, the cast of 1949 noted featured Lee J. Cobb as Willy. Oh, how I would have loved to have seen him on stage with this as well. Adore him! (Incidentally, I watched The Best Years of our Lives on my Watch TCM app today! 🙂 ). Thank you, too!!

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