*This book is part of The Summer Series in which a friend and I read 7 (carefully chosen) classics from June through September. For this reason, I will just include my thoughts on the book without a rating.*
Title: Death of A Salesman
Author: Arthur Miller
Publication Date: 1994 (originally 1949)
Publisher: Heinemann Library
Page Count: 117
1)”In those days there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear- or personality.”
Friend(s) who would enjoy this book: Jane, Belle, Jeanne, Divya
Song(s) in the soundtrack of this book:
1) No Surprises, Radiohead (the most perfect)
2) You’re Dead, Norma Tanega
3) Dazed and Confused, Led Zeppelin
4) Broadripple is Burning, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s
5) Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s
Coincidentally, I read this book right after finishing Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and saw parallels throughout the story. Death of A Salesman is a play about Willy Loman, a tired business man who has been chasing the American Dream throughout his career. As an older man, his jaded figure has outlived its utility. Stuck in his dreams of the past and unable to face reality, Willy Loman will call into question the reality of the American Dream and what it means to live a meaningful life.
Miller’s characterization in this book far exceeded what I expected from such a short play. Each one of the characters was very well developed, and had an important role to play in conveying the themes of the story. The reader was definitely able to see not only what the characters represented, but also their growth throughout the story. Of course Willy’s mental disintegration and his final meeting with the reality of his life remain the focal point of the play, but Happy and Biff’s (Willy Loman’s sons) growth and maturation into the adults they will become, and how they eventually either follow in Willy’s path or renounce the life of a businessman adds a lot to the storyline.
Description of the characters and the setting of the book is beautifully written. For instance, when setting the scene of Loman’s home we not only get a sense of how the home looks, but also how it feels. Miller is very adept at capturing the essence of a character, place, or important theme.
“As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality”
And for Linda (Loman’s wife) the description not only provides insight to the reader about Linda, but also about Loman and his faults and personality.
“..she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end.”
There is a certain sense of humor in this book, or at least a feeling of absurdity mainly in the beginning of the book. It makes the reader smile kind of strangely, but also creates an unsettling feeling in the pit of their stomach, mainly because it is used to highlight Willy Loman’s mental deterioration. Willy’s conversations with himself (which happen often) and others feature interesting dialogue, to say the least. In a conversation with Linda, Willy says
“I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. And them all of a sudden I’m goin’ of the road! I’m, tellin’ ya, I absolutely forgot I was driving.”
The theme of sleeping through life and not truly being conscious is very present in this play. It is very sad to see Willy lie to himself throughout his adult life about his American Dream, accomplishments, and relationship with his wife and children. This separation from reality really ends up harming Willy toward the end of his life, both by creating his mental illness and also by forcing him to come face to face with the fact that his life may not have been meaningful or impactful and that it is too late to change the lessons imparted to the next generation of Loman’s (Biff and Happy). The idea that Willy may be “worth more dead than alive” is equally shocking to the reader and to Willy. And the fact that years of slaving away at a corporate job may come to mean nothing is a truth that Willy will not face until the end of the novel. The disillusionment that Willy feels is passed down to his sons as seen in this quote from Happy:
“My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, godammit, I’m lonely.”
Death of A Salesman imparts a powerful, uniting message to the reader. Miller gives an impression of a generation disillusioned with a world lacking substance and authenticity. The feeling of hopelessness that comes with being coerced into a box of society is a sentiment that is as pervasive today as it was during the time this book was written. By confronting the truth, one of Loman’s sons is able to find happiness away from societal expectations. However, his other son is pushed into the same cycle of working diligently for no worthwhile end result. Death of A Salesman is a call to wake up and not blindly chase someone else’s American dream, but to find happiness in your own.
“It’s dark there but full of diamonds.”