Skip to main content

Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller


Well, this was depressing. I get all the iconic status and the associated jazz, but seriously, I was sad once I was done. I was sad even before I was done. It started barely ten pages in. Sometimes, reading classics can be quite a task. 

Death of A Salesman covers the last few days of a travelling salesman Willy Loman and his  struggle to reconcile with his unfulfilled expectations, which, are never-ending. His career is flickering, his family - in his eyes - is strangely out of shape and his rigid, core beliefs seem to be crumbling, and with them, his very soul seems to be ebbing away. He is supported by his painfully loyal wife Linda Loman, and his two sons - Happy, who as the moniker suggests, is barely aware of the consequences in his gaeity, and Biff, who appears to be the only family member with some brains and conscience, but is sadly, between jobs and figuring out life for himself. There is something pathetic about Willy, in his misguided self-assuredness and the debt he owed to his wife, which he masks under a rough and condescending attitude towards the woman. Undoubtedly, it made me sick. I did feel sorry for Mrs. Loman, though her blind dependence on someone as spineless as her husband seemed very perplexing. The play isn't set in my generation - it is a good 65 years old - and it bothers me how little women had within their reach in those days. Perhaps it is still the same, perhaps the fault lies in us, perhaps its easier said than done, who knows. Also, not being an American, I feel this play has a lot more to do with the personal inclinations and outlooks, rather than the great American dream. There is nothing wrong with the dream; its only what you dream about and how you go about it. There is the way of Charlie - Willy's neighbour, a self-made man - who works silently and keeps himself grounded, and then there is Willy, who is so blinkered, that he is happy to deceive himself of his indispensability. 

Thankfully, by the end of the play, Biff was figuring out his own dream. That, at least, was a silver lining. 

The characters are very well laid out, right down to the woman Willy cheated on his wife for. There lies the beauty of reading a play; Miller never really described in detail the features of the mistress, but her lines were more than enough to sketch a frame in our minds. I loved that particular scene, both for its unspoken vividity, and the depth it lent to the life of Loman. The play also flips back and forth, running several years at a time, and while it was difficult at first to keep track of past and present, it gradually got easier, and in fact, seemed a good break from seeing the man blunder continuously and understand why that happened. The most annoying character was that of the Uncle Ben, Willy's distant, show-off, cheap, elder brother (sorry for the adjectives, I really do hate him that much), who Willy idolises, and in my opinion, is the reason for most of the man's sufferings. I guess Ben's dialogue "...when I was seventeen, I walked into a jungle, and when I was twenty-one, I walked out. And by God, I was rich..." will go down as one of the most disgusting things ever said in books. 

Its a short, swift play, and has been staged so often and won so many awards that I don't know of all of them. Death of A Salesman, certainly stands out in a way, by virtue of its look into the very basal emotions of man, the daily treacheries, the successes and failures of family connections and the darkness associated with a futile situation. It brings no cheer, but there is a lesson to be learnt, and a very deep one at that. And that's where, I guess, the iconic status comes about. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5


This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

Top 10 books to read when you are depressed

Books are handy weapons to stave off blues - be it the dregs of the Sunday evening or a nasty bout of flu. When you are depressed, it takes herculean efforts to shake off the feeling. And I'm not even talking about the more severe, clinical form of depression. I can't get myself to pour myself a glass of water the day after Diwali; on Fridays on the other hand, I am the epitome of eternal sunshine. For such moody, dull days, these top 10 books are the surest way to dust a little sparkle in your life.
1) Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog): This is Jerome K. Jerome at his absolute best. It was published some 130 years back and is still capable of eliciting raucous laughter. It is the honest journal of three young, bumbling flatmates and their dog on a river cruise. Look out for some meandering, pedantic pages, but they offer some relief from the relentless humour. 
2) James Herriot'sDog Stories: If you love animals (and dogs, in particular), this is the ultimate…