Arthur Miller's 1949 Death of a Salesman has sold 11 million copies, and Willy Loman didn't make all those sales on a smile and a shoeshine. This play is the genuine article--it's got the goods on the human condition, all packed into a day in the life of one self-deluded, self-promoting, self-defeating soul. It's a sturdy bridge between kitchen-sink realism and spectral abstraction, the facts of particular hard times and universal themes. As Christopher Bigsby's mildly interesting afterword in this 50th-anniversary edition points out (as does Miller in his memoir, Timebends), Willy is closely based on the playwright's sad, absurd salesman uncle, Manny. But of course Miller made Manny into Everyman, and gave him the name of the crime commissioner Lohmann in Fritz Lang's angst-ridden 1932 Nazi parable, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
Maybe like me you were forced to read this play in high school and hated it. You just didn't get it. Willy Lomas was like your friend's father, or maybe even your own father. He was just another middle aged loser. Rereading it several year later I was able to understand why this play was taught along with other tragedies. It is well worth another go.
"Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama- a monumentally affecting portrait of an American dreamer that is also an epitaph for the American dream." "So simple, central and terrible that the run of playwrights would neither care nor dare to attempt it."
- From the back cover
I personally loved this play! It overflows with humanity and relevance. Wow!
A review from Amazon.com:
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," while confusing when just read through the text alone, is an awesomely crafted play that takes drama to the next level. Now being interested in plays, I decided it was time to read this one, being that this is considered a classic by many (which I could easily see why). Reading this play makes me want to write plays. Reading something like this makes me believe that I can some up with something great too. I am glad that I finally took the time to read it.
The story is about a broken-hearted salesman, Willy Loman. He is a man no longer living in the real world but is mostly trapped in his own delusional world. He can't let go of the past no matter how hard he tries, and it's eating him up inside. He wants to believe that his family is a shoe-in for greatness, no matter how lonely and sad his wife is, or how much of a player/swinger his youngest son is, or how confused and anti-business his oldest son is. You put all of this together and you get a glimpse of an American tragedy that is so powerful and sad that it makes you think these things happen all the time. From Page 1 you know it's not going to end on a happy note, but you decide to take the path anyways. And a path worth taking it is.
"Death of a Salesman" is more than just simply a stunning play; it is a beautiful portrait of a family dealing with hardships and troubles. As soon as I began the play I was unable to put it down until it was finished. If you want to read a great play and are interested in great works of drama, this is the one for you.
Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for the kind of majestic grandiosity--- and a play that compresses epic extremes of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room.