Friday, February 14, 2014

Death of a Salesman - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 8

For the second book title that begins with "D", I chose Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. I now have read in 2014 two books each with the letters "A", "B", "C", and "D". Next week I'll move onto a book that begins with "E" for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.


The book is the script that was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949; and ran for 742 performances. It was revived on Broadway four times; and won three Tony Awards for Best Revival.

The story centers on Willy Loman who returns home exhausted after a cancelled business trip. His wife, Linda, suggests that he asks his boss (Howard Wagner) to work in his home city so he doesn't have to travel throughout New England. She is very concerned about the impact that traveling has taken on his mind. She is equally as worried about Willy's recent car accidents which are revealed later in the book to be all intentional...not accidental.

Willy and Linda have two sons - Biff and Happy. The sons are temporarily staying with their parents after Biff unexpectedly returns from the West. Biff seems to be wandering through his life unable to secure and hold a meaningful job. This can be traced back to his focus on athletics in high school and lack of commitment to studying and subsequently failing senior-year math. Because of this, Biff never went to college and his career opportunities were limited.

The entire family is aware of Willy's mental instability, and are concerned about his lapses into "another world" where he talks with himself. What the characters aren't able to see, the reader can understand because people from Willy's past make appearances throughout the book on the fore-stage as noted in the script (e.g., Willy's brother, a neighbor's son).

There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction throughout the book. Willy, in particular, seems unhappy with his job and claims he is in a higher position than what he is; he's unhappy with his sons who he believes have never amounted to anything - especially in comparison to a neighbor's son who is a successful lawyer; and he is unhappy with his life and is bored and lonely, especially when he is traveling.

This dissatisfaction ultimately costs Willy things necessary in life to function and/or people who are important to him. Willy is fired from his job because his boss tells him he needs to rest and no longer can represent the company. He loses the respect of his sons at different points in his life because of poor choices he made; and consequently doesn't have a close and loving relationship with them and his wife.

Although Willy is disappointed with his life, he hopes for more for his sons. Yet, given Willy's attitude and motivation, his dreams are more like unrealistic expectations for his sons. The pressure they feel (particularly Biff) ultimately culminates in an argument between Biff and his father. Biff hugs Willy and cries as he tries to get his father to let go of the unattainable hopes that he continues to carry for him and accept him for who he is as a person. He tells his father he loves him.

This is misinterpreted by Willy who believes that his son has forgiven him and thinks Biff now will pursue a career as a businessman. As foreshadowed earlier in the book when Willy said to his neighbor Charley who offered him a job, "After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive" - Willy kills himself, intentionally crashing his car so that Biff can use the life insurance money to start his business.

However, at the funeral Biff retains his belief that he does not want to become a businessman. Happy, on the other hand, chooses to follow in his father's footsteps.

The story is one that is quite sad...focusing on lost dreams; lives built on lies or impossible visions; grief; and a lack of respect - between family members, friends, co-workers as well as different ages and genders.

As the story unfolded and as it progressed, I kept hoping that there would be some "shining light" or that this family's problems would positively resolve themselves, but that never happened.

Although it was certainly not a book that is a mood-lifter by any stretch of the imagination, it is definitely one that is worthy of introspection and reflection about one's own life.
=> Are there aspects of your life that you don't like to and/or are difficult to acknowledge?
=> What are some dreams that you have had that you need to let go of in order to move forward with your life?
=> Do you treat those close to you with respect and love?
=> Do you treat others in your life who are not family members in a way that you would want to be treated?

Death of a Salesman is a book/script that was worthy of my time. It's time, though, for a more uplifting book after the past few that I've read this year as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

1 comment:

cleopatra said...

Thanks for the great review, Ann. I just picked up this play to read with my daughter for school. We're really looking forward to reading it.