Book Review : Death of a Salesman — By Arthur Miller

This play is considered to be a theatrical masterpiece of American literature. The socialist playwright Arthur miller, makes a strong blow in the roots of the capitalist, society. The central theme of this play is the incessant craving of a common man, Willy Loman, to achieve his dreams. The story of the play unfolds the poignant situations resulting from the obsession of man with his dreams. Arthur Miller has also authored other good plays like “all my sons”, “a view from the bridge”, “the crucible” etc. It should be noted that the author had won the Pulitzer prize for “death of a salesman”.

Willy is a salesman by profession. He is so much intoxicated by the wine of capitalist society that he starts living in dreams. His thirst for success and recognition in the society remains unsatisfied till his death as it is highly irrational. Having almost lived a mediocre life Willy is so frustrated that he seeks solace for his failures in his sons’ success. However his sons, Biff and Happy are also not much successful, moreover they are not happy to bear the load of impractical expectations that Willy has from them. At one point of the play Biff gets so disturbed and irritated that he says “ Why must everyone conquer the world?”  This dialogue is an example of ingenuity of the author, the complaint from the youth bearing unbearable load of dreams could not have come in better words.

Willy is willing to go to any extent to see his family as a rich family. As the plot progresses, dreams of Willy loman start getting on his head. He is burning in his own dreams, he does not, CAN NOT, give up attempts to achieve his dreams. He had an insurance of 20000$. Hoping that its maturity will help his family being rich and his sons do good business, The salesman committed suicide.

The play leaves many questions, did Willy’s family get the amount of insurance? Must everyone conquer the world? Are dreams more important than actual reality? Unfortunately answers to these questions are not easy as there is always going to be a thin line between Complacency and Contentment.

This is an extremely well-written play. Directions for staging are also very specific. Miller is well-known for his ability to interweave the incidents of past and present in his plays. The beauty of his writing is that though he exposes some vices of Willy Loman’s character, i.e. his extra marital affair, Willy never generates hatred in the readers’ mind, we only feel sympathetic towards him.
This is a wonderful play also because of the fact that none in it stops to make an objective speech on the issues which the play so directly embodies. Arthur Miller has said,on record, that it was less a play than statement of a fact. It refuses admissions to anybody’s perceptions and open itself to revelation and operations of an ethic, of social laws of actions that have huge effects on individuals. We realize that Willy has broken a law, it is that law of society which says that a failure in a society and in business has no right to live. This law is not administered by a statute or church but it is very nearly as powerful in its grip upon men.

A very important way of looking at the end of this play is to see the powerful assertion in the death of the salesman. His death, the ultimate negative, appears to be an assertion of bravery. An assertion of a heroic commitment to his dreams. It is an expression of the agony of Willy for being in a false position. He is so constantly haunted by the hollowness of all he had placed his faith in, so aware, that he must somehow fly apart, that he staked his very life on the ultimate assertion.

To conclude, I would like to say that Death of a salesman is an enjoyable reading. It is such a work that has many aspects, emotions of Father-Son relationship, infidelity resulting from frustrations of life, omnivorous hunger for success and ironic realities, and much more….

It is a tragic tale of a victorious hero, Willy. Read it.

—- Dhruv Joshi 


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