Willy Loman is a salesman who is nearing the end of his career. The market is changing, his territory is just too big for him to travel and manage, and he’s hardly making any money at all on commission. He is depressed and his wife is worried that he might do something rash. And rightly so, Willy is going through memories of his life, and seeing all the places he might have made a different choice. All he wanted was the American Dream, and he never quite got there.
This play is very accessible and readable. I still think I’d like to see this on stage though. It isn’t a happy work though – it is a tragedy through and through. Even Willy’s children are sad in how they have followed their father blindly toward his idea of the American Dream. The older son is realizing how ridiculous he has been, believing in the smoke in mirrors as if it were real. The younger son, however, doesn’t want to give up the dream.
I think the saddest part about reading this play now is that I feel like this is still true today. Maybe it isn’t sales jobs exactly, but I think it is a common reality for people right now who work hard and want to get ahead and just can’t get there. I don’t want to turn this into a political thing, but these are the kinds of thoughts going through my head as I was reading this.
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
Penguin, 1998. First published 1949.
Source: Purchased used