Death of a Salesman Death of a Salesman
The play centers on Willy Loman, an aging salesman who is beginning to lose his grip on reality. Willy, who has always placed high value on being well-liked, dreamed of dying the "death of a salesman" - living a life of luxury and closing deals with contractors on the phone. Instead, all of Willy's aspirations seem to have failed: he is fired from his job, none of his old friends remember him, his son Biff has not become the man he hoped he would be, and he is forced to rely on loans from his former rival. His other son, Happy, pretends to be succussfully climbing the corporate ladder but is actually lying to his father about the full measure of his success. In contrast, Charlie, Willy's rival (who he used to criticize for not being well-liked), is a successful businessman and his son, Bernard (whom Willy derided as a child for the same reason), is a brilliant lawyer. Meanwhile, Willy is haunted by memories of his brother, Ben, who at an early age left for Alaska and became rich. Pursued by his dreams of success and the reality of failure, at the end of the play, Willy commits suicide.
Themes and Points of Interest
One central point of the play seems to be the idea of "greatness." Willy longs to achieve great things and to be remembered after his death, and instills that hope in both of his sons. All three fail, while Ben, Charlie, and Bernard succeed. Why? Do the Loman men have a tragic flaw? What could it be?
The American Dream is a major theme throughout the play. Biff and Willy both have very strong (although unspoken) ideas about what it is - Biff dreams of the free and open West, while Willy is trapped in the materialistic East. The two central characters in a way represent the nation pulling itself apart in its search for identity.
Film and Television Versions
1951 - starring Fredric March, Mildred Dunnock, Kevin McCarthy and Cameron Mitchell. It was adapted by Stanley Roberts and directed by László Benedek. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Fredric March), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Kevin McCarthy), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mildred Dunnock), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
1966 - a television production starring Lee J. Cobb, Mildred Dunnock, James Farentino and George Segal. It was directed by Alex Segal.
1985 - a television production starring Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich, Stephen Lang and Charles Durning. It was directed by Volker Schlöndorff.
Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller in 1949. It was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, received a Pulitzer Prize, and turned Miller into a national sensation as a playwright.
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