Death of a Salesman

Author: Arthur Miller

Willy has spent his whole adult life as a salesman, telling himself he’s on the road to wealth and stability. He’s told his boys they’re on the way to greatness as well. His self-sacrificing wife Linda has always supported him in his beliefs. . . . But the truth is that he’s never owned up to his own failings, never admitted he might not be as good as he wants to be. He’s even gotten his family convinced that they’re all much more successful than they really are. But when poverty comes knocking, Willy must make some adult decisions–something he’s never really done his entire life. His son Biff is starting to own up to who he really is, who his father really is. Is Willy capable of making the same hard decision?

I’m well aware that Death of a Salesman is considered a classic play; however, it was never taught in the literature classes I took in high school and college, so I’m coming at it strictly based on what I see from reading it. In that light, I would say that this is an excellent story, although rather depressing. It was written in the late 1940’s, and delivers a certain flavor because of that. I think even more so, though, it has a slightly childish feel simply because the characters are so immature. It’s like they never grew up. Probably the most rewarding part of reading this is seeing Biff choosing to acknowledge himself–and at that point, you’re feeling proud of a klepto loser! I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while the characters are unappealing, they are portrayed well. Linda is an interesting character in that you can’t really tell to what extent she believes the lies versus recognizing the truth and willfully choosing the lies . . . nor can you easily tell why she would choose the life she has. Of note, it’s really odd to read a play this old with that much swearing in it; it was probably pretty shocking when it was first performed, but my strongest impression is not shock but a feeling that all the swearing just proves the characters’ immaturity. I’m not sure whether I’d recommend Death of a Salesman or not–it’s certainly a classic, and probably should be read just for that, but I still find it depressing.

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