Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (3/5)

The Back says: On its New York premiere in 1949, Death of a Salesman was hailed as the first great play to question the American consumer dream, and it remains a classic study of failure. Willy Loman, the sixty-year-old Brooklyn salesman who says 'I still fell – kind of temporary about myself', has become an archetypal image of devouring insecurity, of the human capacity for self-deception and, through the drama of his family quarrels, of the ways in which the flaws of one generation are imprinted on the next. Perhaps Miller's most remarcable achievemnt is to have furnished his shifting and inarticulate hero with an unforgettable individual existence.

I say: I have mixed feelings about this; I like the message Miller was trying to convey, but I’m not particularly fond of the way he went about it. It was too ordinary for me – and yes, I do understand that that was the point, but I don’t like it.

Willy Loman is pathetic. I can’t think of a better word to describe him; and not because he’s a failure, but because of his inability to see things for what they are, which is why he’s a failure.

There’s some sweet irony in there somewhere.

Everything in his life is built on lies; so much that nobody around him dares tell him the truth. They’re all walking on eggshells in fear of him blowing up, and he’s completely incapable of seeing that. So of course he’s going to get stuck in the past, reliving the most pivotal moments of his life, trying desperately to figure out what went wrong so that he can shift the blame on somebody else.

It could be argued that this is due to some latent legacy from his father, as well as an inferiority complex as a reaction/consequence of his brother’s success, but the man is 63 years old. He has managed to pass on (or create) this “legacy” to his ridiculously naive youngest son Happy, but not his oldest, Biff, who is now capable of seeing right through him. Combine this with his passive wife; it’s no wonder that the family is so dysfunctional.

It’s clear quite early on how this is going to end (I mean, look at the title), and I was curious to see how Willy was going to redeem himself.

Spoilers after the jump...
He doesn’t.

His entire plot to kill himself for the insurance money is not for the benefit of his family. He does it so that they will be able to say that he left them something.


I don’t have any problems with people killing themselves (!) for whatever reasons, and I really shouldn’t judge, but come on. One of my favourite literary moments is the end of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (don’t read this if you don’t want to know the end) when Sidney Carton decides to die instead of Charles for reasons far beyond/greater than his own self. But this death was just an old man’s last way of trying to prove to be what he always said he was, but never were.


No comments:

Post a Comment