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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. 

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