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Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
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Death of a Salesman (original 1948; edition 1964)

by Arthur Miller

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7,36966477 (3.68)195
Member:jwhenderson
Title:Death of a Salesman
Authors:Arthur Miller
Info:The Viking Press (1964), Paperback, 139 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:american literature, drama, pulitzer prize

Work details

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1948)

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English (62)  Spanish (3)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  All languages (67)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Oh, how awful. To dream so big, it's just...man, the general mood of this story kills (literally). Most people have probably walked out after the play feeling terrible and cheated. Damn, now I want to see it and feel that way. This isn't a horrible book. In fact, it's a realistic eye-opening view at a poor man's life. This is most likely a story of someone else's life and small bits of it apply to countless people living today. Even though there's a death at the end, the salesman doesn't wring any sympathy from the readers. Only his family mourn but barely because half of them are numb in the wake of this tragedy. In the pages winding up towards the death, there was no sense of dread or premonition but it wasn't sudden either. We see loud examples of the craziness and delusions of grandeur interspersed freely between the pages. A psychologically crazed man is hardly someone a reader can relate to or even remotely like and even worse, the rest of the cast barely measure up. I did feel a faint pity for the whole family who has been beaten, worn-down, and embittered by life. Well, judging from the lot of talk and arguments, they weren't silenced though, no, not by far. I liked that author had a knack for word arrangement and semantics because I could vividly imagine how the actors would utter it. Despite all the low ratings, this book delivers in all parts that make this brutally realistic and all the more intense. This unflinching slice of life deviates from the standard fairy tale quality of a story. In other words, Death of a Salesman might just as well be a non-fiction considering the lifelike appeals of all the characters and the palpable anger and 'spite' brimming on the surface. ( )
  Annannean | Jan 6, 2015 |
I hated this when I was forced to read it in high school. In retrospect, that probably had more to do with the teacher than with the book. ( )
  lavaturtle | Dec 31, 2014 |



Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman shows the American Dream in all its tawdry glory, but he does it in the most unsurprising way possible. I'm happy to give Miller his due: as times Death of a Salesman is highly affecting, and the play seems to capture an era of American life, but throughout it felt as though Miller was going after only low-hanging fruit.

The characters of the play seem to be little more than an amalgam of flaws stretched into a family tree. From the first lines of the play the characters showcase their lack of foresight, inability to commit, quick temper, aimlessness, greed, tendency to overspend, selfishness, dishonesty, inflated sense of self-worth, unrealistic expectations, willful blindness, propensity to blame their problems on others, pride, etc. With all of these flaws it’s impossible not to see yourself in the characters at least a bit, as even the best of us has exhibited at least a couple of these flaws ourselves. I found, however, that having characters with so many flaws also limited my sympathy for them. There is only so long you can want to knock some sense into these characters before you just give up on them and watch the inevitable train wreck happen.

And that train wreck is indeed inevitable; something that would become clear early on even if the play had a different title. Willy’s been bamboozled by the material American Dream of the 1940s, though him falling for it is as much his fault for never thinking about his life as it is the fault of the companies that run the biggest ads in the newspaper or the society that puts wealth on a pedestal (I never noted the play substantively addressing the idea that, as a salesman, Willy is complicit in selling this materialistic idea of life that he himself has fallen prey to). Willy seems like he might have been better off in another age (one where he didn’t have time to think as much), but I’m doubtful that a man who believes “connections” and “impressions” are everything and backs get-rich-quick schemes would do very well in any age. Nevertheless, despite his flaws and his complicity in his eventual fate, it's hard not to feel for Willy as he marches to the grave, being kicked by chance and circumstance and his own nature again and again.

Death of a Salesman taps into the fear that your life won’t go the way you want it to, or the realization that it hasn’t gone as planned, which I imagine are almost universal feelings. Nevertheless, despite this universal core, there’s something very period specific about the play. The play is set during the time when apartment buildings are replacing yards, when cities are growing so big that a traveling salesman no longer knows the people he’s selling to, when it’s grown all but impossible to feel special any more instead of a dime a dozen. Loman, and Miller too, seems to look at the recent past with rose-tinted glasses, while criticizing the way in which the post-WWII America had become obsessed with material possessions, where you were stuck in a rat race to keep up your lifestyle instead of doing fulfilling work, where everyone was being reduced to something less than individuals. This disaffection with the age despite participation in it, with the veneer of comfort hiding withered and dissatisfied souls, seems to encapsulate the era (or at least I get the impression that it does, I wasn't around then so I can't say for sure), and that’s no mean feat.

Still, centering the text on a salesman who has seen his life wasted in the rat race seems the most boring way to encapsulate 1940s and 50s America. It’s as if I wrote a book today about a late 20 something-early 30 something working for a tech startup or a large website like Google who is worried about terrorism and big data, and who feels like the world is getting to complicated to even understand, let alone change. Doesn’t that already sound incredibly cliché? The other books that have encapsulated periods of America, like The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick, do so much more than just choose the most obvious archetype of the time and make him live out the most obvious criticism of the zeitgeist. Compared to those works Death of a Salesman seems, well “lazy” is perhaps too strong a word, let’s go with “uninteresting.”

Miller gets the responses he wants out of you with this play, but nevertheless fails to impress. It makes you feel, but more out of knee-jerk emotion than true sympathy. It shows you an era of American history, but it does so with an unimaginative plot and cast. It levels strong criticism against the world of its day, but it’s such a large target that the hit is rather unimpressive. It certainly has its place, but Death of a Salesman isn’t at the top of the pantheon of American literature.
( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
I hate this entire time period of art, I get that they want to portray bleakness and whatever but why would I read a whole book to experience that when I already have depression and get to feel that 90% of my life. So I GUESS it achieves it's goal. But did I like it? F no. Get out of my life Arthur miller. ( )
  locriian | Oct 27, 2014 |
Studied this in the 6th or 7th form, I can't remember which. ( )
  LynleyS | Oct 25, 2014 |
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A melody is heard, played upon a flute.
Quotations
You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life... He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back - that's an earthquake.
He's liked, but he's not well liked.
Biff : Shouldn’t we do anything?

Linda : Oh, my dear, you should do a lot of things, but there’s nothing to do, so go to sleep.
Charley : Howard fired you?

Willy : That snotnose. Imagine that? I named him. I named him Howard.

Charley : Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can’t sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that.

Willy : I’ve always tried to think otherwise, I guess. I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing-

Charley : Why must everybody like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive?...But with his pockets on he was very well liked.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140481346, Paperback)

Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for a kind of majestic grandiosity—and a play that compresses epic extremems of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room.

"By common consent, this is one of the finest dramas in the whole range of the American theater." —Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times

"So simple, central, and terrible that the run of playwrights would neither care nor dare to attempt it." —Time

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:38 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The powerful drama of Willy Loman & his tragic end. Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for a kind of majestic grandiosity-and a play that compresses epic extremems of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room. "By common consent, this is one of the finest dramas in the whole range of the American theater."… (more)

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