Death of a Salesman: A Playwrights’ Forum
Fredric March in Death of a Salesman () Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman his Broadway role as Bernard in film version of DEATH OF A SALESMAN . salesman | spirituality | mother son relationship | husband wife relationship do outstanding work as the sons who are disillusioned by their father's failure. Such is the case with ''Death of a Salesman,'' which stars Dustin clear the air in the father-son relationship is what Willy can least bear to hear. It is his resulting infiltrating insight into familial relationship that make Death of a Salesman such capturing representation of the father-child.
Willy worked originally for Howard's father and claims to have suggested the name Howard for the newborn son. However, he sees Willy as a liability for the company and fires him, ignoring all the years that Willy has given to the company.
Howard is extremely proud of his wealth, which is manifested in his new wire recorder, and of his family. A waiter at the restaurant who seems to be friends or acquainted with Happy. A girl whom Happy picks up at the restaurant. She is very pretty and claims she was on several magazine covers.
Happy lies to her, making himself and Biff look like they are important and successful. Happy claims that he attended West Point and that Biff is a star football player. Summary[ edit ] Willy Loman returns home exhausted after a business trip he has cancelled. Worried over Willy's state of mind and recent car accident, his wife Linda suggests that he ask his boss Howard Wagner to allow him to work in his home city so he will not have to travel.
Willy complains to Linda that their son, Biff, has yet to make good on his life. Despite Biff's promising showing as an athlete in high school, he failed in mathematics and was unable to enter a university.
Biff and his brother Happy, who is temporarily staying with Willy and Linda after Biff's unexpected return from the West, reminisce about their childhood together. They discuss their father's mental degeneration, which they have witnessed in the form of his constant indecisiveness and daydreaming about the boys' high school years.
Willy walks in, angry that the two boys have never amounted to anything. In an effort to pacify their father, Biff and Happy tell their father that Biff plans to make a business proposition the next day.
The next day, Willy goes to ask his boss, Howard, for a job in town while Biff goes to make a business proposition, but both fail. Willy gets angry and ends up getting fired when the boss tells him he needs a rest and can no longer represent the company.
Biff waits hours to see a former employer who does not remember him and turns him down. Biff impulsively steals a fountain pen.
Willy then goes to the office of his neighbor Charley, where he runs into Charley's son Bernard now a successful lawyer ; Bernard tells him that Biff originally wanted to do well in summer schoolbut something happened in Boston when Biff went to visit his father that changed his mind. Charley gives the now-unemployed Willy money to pay his life-insurance premium; Willy shocks Charley by remarking that ultimately, a man is "worth more dead than alive.
Happy tries to get Biff to lie to their father. Biff tries to tell him what happened as Willy gets angry and slips into a flashback of what happened in Boston the day Biff came to see him. Willy had been having an affair with a receptionist on one of his sales trips when Biff unexpectedly arrived at Willy's hotel room. A shocked Biff angrily confronted his father, calling him a liar and a fraud. From that moment, Biff's views of his father changed and set Biff adrift.
Biff leaves the restaurant in frustration, followed by Happy and two girls that Happy has picked up. They leave a confused and upset Willy behind in the restaurant. When they later return home, their mother angrily confronts them for abandoning their father while Willy remains outside, talking to himself.
Biff tries unsuccessfully to reconcile with Willy, but the discussion quickly escalates into another argument. Biff conveys plainly to his father that he is not meant for anything great, insisting that both of them are simply ordinary men meant to lead ordinary lives. The feud reaches an apparent climax with Biff hugging Willy and crying as he tries to get Willy to let go of the unrealistic expectations. Rather than listen to what Biff actually says, Willy appears to believe his son has forgiven him and will follow in his footsteps, and after Linda goes upstairs to bed despite her urging him to follow herlapses one final time into a hallucination, thinking he sees his long-dead brother Ben, whom Willy idolized.
I wanted to touch it but I thought its owner might object. The ceremonies ended, and I'd missed my opportunity to make contact with the cradle whence came one of the three postwar pillars—the other two being of course A Streetcar Named Desire and Long Day's Journey Into Night—upon which the stature of serious American playwriting rests.
All the wonderful writers who followed the Triad—realists, naturalists, and experimentalists—have at least these three plays in common. Nothing that American theater can point to with pride since the decade which produced these works was not shaped, in some degree, by their influence, in homage or in opposition or, more frequently, both. A salesman, a streetcar, and a journey: Death, Desire and Night: Bertolt Brecht in his journal wrote that American theater is written "for people on the move by people who are lost.
We think American drama apolitical because the Big Three are family plays. Except of course Streetcar is about a family in which a woman who cannot operate within conventional economies is raped. Journey is about a family of immigrants haunted by poverty and class. And the Lomans are compelled by the tide of history to return East from a paradisaic pioneer frontier past; the motion of Manifest Destiny has reversed itself, an acid reflux which had carried Gatsby from Chicago to Long Island twenty years before, brings the Lomans to a doomed pursuit of happiness in the place whence happiness, in the previous century, had fled—Happiness having Gone West and never returned, drowned perhaps in the grips of some Pacific undertow.
We think American drama mired in naturalism, lacking formal inventiveness and playfulness, but Journey is an extremely artificial play about the theater, full of actors playing actors and the victims of actors.
Death of a Salesman: A Playwrights’ Forum
Streetcar is great verse drama, as close as we'll ever get, close enough, its characters unforgettable because they speak a language that's as "natural" as any great poetry is—which is to say, not in the least. And Salesman has Uncle Ben, whose wealth has made him as alien to the Lomans' struggles and disappointments as the character is, formalistically, to the rest of the play. I didn't, at six, know much about the quotidian. No six year old should know anything about the quotidian.
But I think perhaps watching the Loman family love and wound one another, and love and be wounded by the world without, was the first indelible inkling I'd consciously had lucky child! Salesman is not only a play about death, though its sadness is overwhelming. It is also about resistance, even unto death. I have never believed that the issue of inexorability ought to be resolved in tragedy.
A tragedy in which suffering and death are truly inexorable lacks drama; there needs to be a what if, a possible escape, or else the whole thing becomes grimly mechanical, pathetic, not exhilarating, grotesque rather than cathartic. We are free, and that fact is both insufficient, as freedom in isolation always is which I think is a point of the playbut terribly important and true. Linda Loman's graveside lament, from that Lake Charles, Louisiana, production inis what made the biggest impression on my six-year-old sensibilities.
This is not surprising, given that my mother, Sylvia Kushner, was playing Linda. She was a wonderful actor, a tragedienne. A professional bassoonist, she was drawn to and felt entirely at home in dark, somber tones, in elegy and minor keys, in sorrow.Death of a Salesman - Kate Reid
She was honest on stage, she saved a good deal of her truthfulness, the things she couldn't say in the course of the quotidian, for her music and for the roles she played. She kept the lid on a lot of unhappiness, into which she could tap when she needed to. On stage, grief and rage and pain added years to her looks. As Linda Loman she changed from my beautiful young mother dressed more dowdily than she ever did in real life to an old woman in the course of the evening. It was terrifying and wonderful; I was anxious to see her afterwards, to see what she'd look like, if she'd become my mother again.
She did change back, but I don't think I ever saw her the same way again. Perhaps having spent several weeks being married to Willy Loman, she never was the same. This was the first time Lake Charles had seen theater-in-the-round, a spatial innovation the advocacy of which caused the more progressive members of the local community theater to split off from the more established Little Theater, to form a company committed to producing plays as controversial as Salesman then was.
I remember being amazed that I could watch the action and the audience opposite me, all of us watching my mother play Linda Loman, seeing Brenda Bachrack, one of my mother's best friends, crying at the play's genuinely devastating, lonely, cemetery ending. I was very impressed. The actress who played Willy's floozy in Boston had broken her arm two days before opening and sported a big plaster cast. I thought the cast somehow connected to what made the hotel room scene so sleazy, had something to do with why Biff and Willy were so angry with each other.
I didn't know the meaning of the hose the boys find at the beginning of the play but I knew that it was incredibly ominous, and I certainly knew—had I ever really considered death before?
I saw her play several other parts when I was very young, all of them involving the shedding of tears and the venting of rage, none of them Linda, none of the plays Death of a Salesman. Cobb's beaten titan and Dustin Hoffman's indestructible rat-terrier. But how do I know Salesman is a very great play? Because I knew it when I was six. I didn't know precisely what I'd just seen, but I knew I was in the presence of a great mystery: Reading Salesman today, I'm still in its presence, I know it still.
Karen Malpede "Everybody's Father" The first, and come to think of it, only time I ever saw Death of a Salesman was in a college production at the University of Wisconsin. I remember straining forward in my seat, my knuckles white, gripping the armrests on both sides.
My own father was not a salesman, but a certified public accountant. Not a Loman, but the son of Italian immigrants, who had worked his way out of a reactionary Catholic ghetto, married a Jewish woman, moved to fancy suburbs and died at the age of forty-four. He was, I always thought, like Willy, a victim of the American Dream. He is the direct descendant of a time in American history when theater felt it had both a right and a duty to speak to the citizens of a democracy about our role as the makers and safe-guards of the society in which we live.
Miller wants the middle classes to be responsible. He knew that upward mobility and assimilation might sap something finer in the nature of a people of immigrants who suddenly, because they had defeated fascism, could become globally rich and powerful. Rightly so, in All My Sons he critiqued the isolationism of the nuclear family. I like the fact that he intertwines personal sexual longings with public ethical dilemmas.
I appreciate Miller's honesty, his courage, and his sense of citizenship; his secular Jewish belief that through human action the social world might become a better place, and his conviction that dramatic fiction has a role to play in this worthwhile endeavor.
If, as a playwright, I claim Susan Glaspell and Gertrude Stein as mothers, I also lay claim to Miller as one of the great and good fathers of us all. Emily Mann I heard about Death of a Salesman when I was a child, eight or nine years old, before I had ever seen a play. My Uncle Phil, my father's oldest brother, was a businessman in what we used to call the "shmatte business," in New York City. He manufactured knit shirts.
He was a gruff, perpetually angry man educated only through high school, a man who grew up tough on the streets of Brooklyn. We children were often scared of him. One night at dinner he told the family about a play he'd seen. This play was called Death of a Salesman and he told us it had hit him so hard he couldn't drive home that night to Long Island.
He and his wife, Claire, had to take a room in a hotel. I asked my aunt about this years later, and she said, "Oh, yes. Phillie could barely walk out of the theater, so we had to stay over in New York.
Mark Medoff Reading Death of a Salesman in my Introduction to Theater class, freshman year, University of Miami,ranks as a seminal moment in my life.
In terms of what the aspiring eighteen-year-old writer learned about the possibilities of structure, it ranks with The Sound and the Fury, Wuthering Heights, "The Waste Land," and Waiting for Godot.
In terms of the emotional impact of Mr. Jason Milligan Arthur Miller's plays have been a major influence on me since the first moment I discovered them.
Not just his most famous works, but also his newer, lesser-known plays continue to amaze, fascinate, and challenge me both as an individual and as an artist. The first Miller play I ever saw was a college production of Death of a Salesman, and even though the play was glaringly miscast a strapping young Hispanic graduate student as Willy Lomanthe poetry, power, and passion of Miller's work still shone through, hit me hard, and have stayed with me ever since.
Thankfully, I was later able to see Broadway revivals of Salesman and many other Miller plays—and I continue to be astounded by the depth of humanity in his writing.
Personally, I have always been fascinated by The Big Moral Questions in life and drama—and that, I believe, is one reason Miller's plays have always resonated so strongly for me.
So few writers bother to contemplate the nation's or world's moral barometer in their plays anymore, and I believe one reason Miller's plays continue to remain so timely is because they serve a primal function of the theater: On top of that, Miller has crafted some of the most original, fully-developed characters in American drama.
What more could one ask for in a play? Arthur Miller has already given you everything. Fifty years and still going strong.
Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' is reborn on Broadway
And thank you for inspiring several generations of playwrights with your vision. Joyce Carol Oates 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. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream. It comes with the territory. That Death of aSalesman was about—well, an American salesman? And not about all of us?
It's probable that, when I first read this haunting and mysterious play at the age of fourteen or fifteen, I may have thought that Willy Loman was sufficiently "other"—"old. Or, rather, we are Willy Loman, particularly those of us who are writers, poets, dreamers; the yearning soul "way out there in the blue.
And we recognize our desperate child's voice assuring us, like Willy Loman pep-talking himself at the edge of a lighted stage as at the edge of eternity— "God Almighty, [I'll] be great yet! A star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away! It would have been in the early s that I first read Death of a Salesman, only a few years after its Broadway premiere and enormous critical and popular success. I would have read it in an anthology of Best Plays of the Year.
As a young teenager I'd begun avidly devouring drama; apart from Shakespeare, no plays were taught in the schools I attended in upstate New York in the small city of Lockport and the village of Williamsville, a suburb of Buffaloand so I read plays with no sense of chronology, in no historic context, no doubt often without much comprehension. Reading late at night when the rest of the household was asleep was an intense activity for me, imbued with mystery, and reading drama was far more enigmatic than reading prose fiction.
It seemed to me a challenge that so little was explained in the stage directions; there was no helpful narrative voice; you were obliged to visualize, to "see" the stage in your imagination, the play's characters always in present tense, vividly alive.
In drama, people presented themselves primarily in speech, as they do in life. Yet there was an eerie, dreamlike melding of past and present in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman's "present-action" dialogue and his conversations with the ghosts of his past like his revered brother Ben; there was a melting of the barriers between inner and outer worlds that gave to the play its disturbing, poetic quality.
Years later I would learn that Arthur Miller had originally conceived of the play as a monodrama with the title The Inside of His Head. In the intervening years, Willy Loman has become our quintessential American tragic hero, our domestic Lear, spiraling toward suicide as toward an act of selfless grace, his mad scene on the heath a frantic seed-planting episode by flashlight in the midst of which the once-proud, now disintegrating man confesses, "I've got nobody to talk to. Perhaps the most memorable single remark in the play is the quiet observation that Willy Loman is "liked.
It will not be enough. Nearly fifty years after its composition, Death of a Salesman strikes us as the most achingly contemporary of our classic American plays. It has proved to have been a brilliant strategy on the part of the thirty-four-year-old playwright to temper his gifts for social realism with the Expressionistic techniques of experimental drama like Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude and The Hairy Ape, Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine, Thornton Wilder's Our Town, work by Chekhov, the later Ibsen, Strindberg and Pirandello, for by these methods Willy Loman is raised from the parameters of regionalism and ethnic specificity to the level of the more purely, symbolically "American.
As we near the twenty-first century, it seems evident that America has become an ever more frantic, self-mesmerized world of salesmanship, image without substance, empty advertising rhetoric and that peculiar product of our consumer culture, "public relations"—a synonym for hypocrisy, deceit, fraud.
Where Willy Loman is a salesman, his son Biff is a thief. Yet these are fellow Americans to whom attention must be paid. Arthur Miller has written the tragedy that illuminates the dark side of American success—which is to say, the dark side of us. Salesman means that American theater intellectuals and their scholarly counterparts should rid themselves of their insufferable inferiority complex toward European theater. Enough of this subliminal colonialism!
Enough of this snide, elitist derision and aesthetic conformism that attends discussions of American Theater! Had it been left to those blustery, nattering organizers of aesthetic bureaucracies that are clogged with semantic semiotics, we Americans never would have invented jazz. Miller teaches me that the American "Revolution" is not over yet; we won only the military victory; otherwise we are yet colonized.
Miller makes me remember that being "black" in America is to be in a state of constant rebellion, and, as such, I exempt myself from the notion of American cultural inferiority.
Salesman is a great 20th century play about universal human suffering which is caused by the pervasive malady of "moral ignorance. In Salesman he gave us an in-depth glimpse at the highly infectious "disease of unrelatedness," American-style alienation and despair in the common man, the Everyman who faces the limitless possibilities of America and dares to dream and fail.
Willy Loman finally failed because he couldn't escape the self-invented myths of his idealized past. Miller purposefully blurred the lines between expressionism, as he learned it from the Germans, and realism. He did this because he wanted us to see the confused "process" of Willy's mind and to reflect perhaps on the confusion of moral values in the modern industrialized Western world.
Nations also invent myths about their pasts. Miller is inventing the American Theater.
Death of a Salesman () - IMDb
Salesman is an exceptionally strong foundation stone. We can be proud to call him our own. We needn't look overseas for approval of what we do in our American Theater. We needn't aesthetically measure ourselves by years of someone else's history. Why shoulder Europe's calamity-ridden baggage?
America is the world now. Everyone in the world comes here to settle, and they export our culture to their homelands. I think those Europeans who condescend toward us are fearful that we Americans will culturally obliterate them. Well, that may be a justifiable fear, but that's their problem, not ours.
I lost it at Arthur Miller's alma mater which, as it so happens, is my alma mater too. It was a modern-day mugging—no police reports to be filed—a paper decision; a corporate farewell. Following nine years of service, the pro forma phone call—"Thanks for the labor; we've completed our search; you came in second; we'll keep your program; oh, we can help pack your office.
I'd planned to talk about Miller anyway. For the confluence of an awards ceremony with a 50th anniversary had recalled an earlier commemoration—this one marking the half-century birthday of the University of Michigan's Avery Hopwood Awards, when I received my first literary prize from Mr.
Miller himself back in My dad had taken the Amtrak up from Chicago to watch the ceremony, to bear witness to the leave-taking; this Oedipal movement from one influence to another.
And so a connection had been forged; a connection born of common heritage and total coincidence. I embraced and imbibed Miller's influence, bought The Price for my mother on her birthday and announced that I was no longer going to be a lawyer but a playwright.
I mythologized Miller way out of proportion, perhaps due to the uniqueness of the man himself: For here was a man whose face, as etched in that 50th Anniversary Hopwood poster lithograph, half-turned, half obscured by shadow, with stern jaw, craggy frown and endlessly sloping forehead, summoned images of a literary Mt. As he strode to the Rackham Auditorium podium that afternoon, I was reminded of his carriage—a tall Jewish man—and how often did one see a tall Jewish man in the Midwest?
A lanky Yankee Bronx Jew with the wing span of a Phil Jackson and the rough-hewn hands of a working stiff—the kind of laborer he once had been and would always remain—a maker of things—a builder of furniture; of houses in which actors could live. The texture of work seemed to permeate his being and was one he would lovingly celebrate in A Memory of Two Mondays—his tenure as a shipping clerk, where he spent two summers as a teenager during the Depression before taking off in the fall for the University of Michigan.
Inspired and in a hurry to emulate, I too found work as a shipping clerk in a steel pipe manufacturing plant that very same summer, and then wrote about it, and then submitted it to "the Hopwoods" my senior year. Miller's work—with its fierce critique of the ravages of a brutally competitive, market-driven economy, his call for a more expansive consciousness imploring that we be responsible not just to ourselves and our families but to our community, to our nation, to the soldiers who fight overseas to defend us and who are just as much blood relation as our own sons—moved me to see him as a kind of theatrical rabbi albeit, Reform, in the classical sense.
Or better yet, a fusion figure, uniting the pulpit, the bench, the lectern, and the spotlight.
He had been married to Marilyn after all. And John Proctor had had an affair. A hero could have sin on his hands, lust in his heart, and still wage a moral war.
One could indict and not be above the fray but part of the muck. It was, and remains, a populist critique, never a priest's sanctimony. And so I rally defensively, perhaps? And there are plenty of snipers out there, make no mistake. When our most ambitious playwrights of the moment rush to dismiss, in print, any suggestions of influence that Salesman might have on their own grandiose structural designs, I take it as a personal affront. Does Miller even care? Yet still I scold, "Attention.
The personal downfall as social indictment; the elegant movement from objective to subjective; from present to past. Only the cold, ideologically driven could turn his back on the pain of a father and son separated by disappointment. What I know to be true is this: That Salesman was the first play to ever move me to tears.
That it was the only show that's caused me to touch a perfect stranger on the arm during intermission. And that it's still the play that comes most readily to mind—to the heart—whenever one fears for one's place; when one loses one's way, or one's job. Salesman is there for us in manifold moments. Whenever we falter, when we feel the earthquake, when we bluster or pose or plant seeds in the moonlight.
The achievement of Salesman is one of exposing vulnerability at every stage of life. Even as a twelve year old, I knew this in my bones. I wasn't much of a reader growing up, but I bawled when I read my homework assignment in seventh grade.
I went out in a rowboat and began to read the gray and yellow covered paper-back with the picture of a man in a raincoat and a suitcase full of samples under a streetlamp. Floating in a lily-pad covered lagoon, I cried for a man who said to his Uncle Ben, "I have a fine position here, but—well, Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel kind of temporary about myself.
This unfillable void that Willy seeks to stuff with ephemera—this son who can't reach his father, his unutterable longing, expressing love through car wax, despair in a broken fan belt, guilt in a flute that leads a man backwards, forever backwards, to the point of his undoing—to the moment where son unmasks the father and is not made free by the discovery. Somehow I understood all that, floating in a pond in Wisconsin all those years ago.
Even though my dad's not in retail, I still saw tons of him in Willy. And now I see much more that is me. With a spot on my hat, I've felt alone in the blue riding on little more than a wing and a prayer, the people not always smiling back. Remarkable how Miller's lines keep coming back. I told the students of Miller's cautionary words; and of the caution in his example.
When Willy makes his first entrance - unexpectedly returning home from the aborted New England sales trip - there is something especially poignant as the little man lugs his two enormous sample cases across the stage and into the Loman home.
Miller reportedly has restored the word ''shrimp'' and certain other allusions that designated Willy's stature. The changed emphasis creates an unmistakably new perspective. In his best days, this Willie was a jaunty little barker. His sales trips were great adventures in his shiny red Chevrolet as he conquered territory for his firm.
Willie strove to be not merely liked, but ''well liked. At this week's Wednesday matinee press preview, the Broadhurst Theatre audience was well-represented by school-age young people. It is a measure of the power of this modern American classic over a new generation of playgoers that ''Death of a Salesman'' held them enrapt for its two long acts.
Much of the credit for this achievement goes, of course, to Mr. Hoffman's extraordinary performance as Willy. It is a revelation. The actor preserves Willy's facade so resolutely and with so few outward signs of cracking that the breakdowns, when they do occur, are the more devastating.