For my American Classic Research project, I chose Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller. Premiered on February 10, 1949 in New York City, New York as a play in the Morosco Theatre, release in book form the same year, and was converted into a film in 1951. The book was published under Viking Press, now known as the Penguin Group, who also publishes books from authors such as Stephen King, who wrote Men in Black, and T.C. Boyle, who is known for his book World’s End. I also chose this book because of its author, Arthur Miller. I like Miller based off previous work seen in the Crucible and All My Sons. I also enjoy Miller’s socialistic views on life and how he embeds them into his stories. The drama seen in most if not all his pieces has brought his followers to expect Tony Award quality, as seen in Death of a Salesman, which has sold over eleven million copies. Many critics believe Miller’s success is due mainly to his ability to create characters that can relate to people; in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman was a perfect reflection of those who struggled during the Great Depression and failed to rebuild.
Throughout the Great Depression, many families struggled to make ends meet, but made strides after WWII; Arthur Miller used Willy Loman and his family to portray the average household in the period. Willy Loman was a winner, in his own mind. Self-driven as a salesman, Willy Loman’s lived a professional’s, meaning that he always pressed for the extra mile, but that extra mile is what pushed him to his ultimate downfall and suicide; Willy’s understanding of the business was basically his understanding of himself, as seen in the book Willy is always mumbling about the ‘good ol’ days’ when he was a young salesman and everyone knew him no matter where he went. Willy’s lack of self-identification is his most obvious flaw. He always saw himself as the salesman, but after he was laid off he was a lost soul, he had nothing left of him but yet tried to force his dream on Biff, almost trying to live Biff’s life.
The Loman family, Biff and Happy Linda Loman, were the important characters that supported Willy’s character. Biff Loman, the eldest son in the household, had been Willy’s focal point since he and Happy were children. Biff, unlike his father, was bent on finding his true identity; knowing he was not the person that his father intended for him to be, Biff faced internal and external conflicts: the internal conflict was that he knew that his father was not pleased with the result that Biff has presented or the opportunities he missed out on. The internal conflict eventually leads to Biff’s confrontation with Willy in which he basically breaks down and tells his father how he wants to live his own life. Happy Loman, Biff’s younger brother, was nothing but the sidekick. From the time they were little to the time where he and Biff are adults, Happy is always following Biff’s order or directions. In some cases, Happy was quoted as a “happy go lucky type of guy (Miller p.50),” this pessimistic view on life lead Happy to believe the stories that his father had shared with him as a child, believing one day he and his brother would be young millionaires, growing rich and old together. Linda, Willy’s wife, stored the logic and wisdom in the family. At the beginning of Act II, Biff and Willy are seen again arguing, while Linda watches on she confronts them both separately, showing that she is not only a good wife but a good mother who knows how to handle certain situations. Though the Lomans were not perfect, they presented the perfect example of families suffering after the Great Depression.
Death of a Salesman takes place in Brooklyn, New York in the mid 1930’s to the late 1940’s. Coming out of World War II, many families believed that it was their time to cash in for their piece of the American Dream; Willy Loman was just like everyone else. Although Willy Loman once was a great well-known salesman failed to adjust to change in a new generation of sales which lead to his dead. Not being able to adjust cost him much more than his life, the only thing that we are entitled to; he lost his mind. Caused by his own self-ignorance, Willy’s eldest son, Biff, finally confronted Willy about his professional choices this being the turning point of the book. From the confrontation, Willy goes on to the commit suicide leading to his funeral which ends the book a few days later.
Although this is a best seller, I found it hard to understand at times due to the sudden flashbacks. While reading this book, I thought that it took place during the Great Depression, thus all the references, but while working on other aspects of this project I discovered it took place mainly in 1940’s. Even though Miller wrote during the Modernism movement, I felt that there were realist traits to Willy’s downfall. I love Realist stories, so I started to get interested into the book when I sensed that the Loman dream: making it big, started to reveal its failure to success probability. In conclusion, this book was a great read and is recommended to anyone who likes to read stories with a touch of Realism.