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Death of a Salesman (Penguin Plays) Paperback – October 28, 1976

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Editorial Reviews Review

Arthur Miller's 1949 Death of a Salesman has sold 11 million copies, and Willy Loman didn't make all those sales on a smile and a shoeshine. This play is the genuine article--it's got the goods on the human condition, all packed into a day in the life of one self-deluded, self-promoting, self-defeating soul. It's a sturdy bridge between kitchen-sink realism and spectral abstraction, the facts of particular hard times and universal themes. As Christopher Bigsby's mildly interesting afterword in this 50th-anniversary edition points out (as does Miller in his memoir, Timebends), Willy is closely based on the playwright's sad, absurd salesman uncle, Manny. But of course Miller made Manny into Everyman, and gave him the name of the crime commissioner Lohmann in Fritz Lang's angst-ridden 1932 Nazi parable, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

The tragedy of Loman the all-American dreamer and loser works eternally, on the page as on the stage. A lot of plays made history around 1949, but none have stepped out of history into the classic canon as Salesman has. Great as it was, Tennessee Williams's work can't be revived as vividly as this play still is, all over the world. (This edition has edifying pictures of Lee J. Cobb's 1949 and Brian Dennehy's 1999 performances.) It connects Aristotle, The Great Gatsby, On the Waterfront, David Mamet, and the archetypal American movie antihero. It even transcends its author's tragic flaw of pious preachiness (which undoes his snoozy The Crucible, unfortunately his most-produced play).

No doubt you've seen Willy Loman's story at least once. It's still worth reading. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This 50th-anniversary edition of Miller's masterpiece, which certainly is a contender for the finest American drama of the 20th century, includes the full text of the play, a chronology of its productions, photos from various stagings including the current Broadway revival, and a new preface by Miller himself, all in a quality hardcover for a reasonable price. Bravo, Penguin.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140481346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140481341
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.2 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (358 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful By C. Middleton on March 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
On ~Salesman's~ first opening night, when the curtain dropped at the end of the performance, something strange occurred, something that had never been seen before in American theatre: the audience, a full house, did not applaud, but sat motionlesss in their seats in silence. As minutes passed, a few people stood up to put on their coats, but sat down again, turning and discussing their lives. This strange behaviour continued on for some hours. Miller sat backstage, his head in his hands, not wanting to confront the possibility that his play had been a flop - this was far from the case, ~Salesman~ was a runnaway hit, and continues to be the emblematic portrayal of personal tragedy combined with cultural crises.
~Salesman~ is about many things. It is a tragedy about the collapse of the notion that personal success is measured by one's financial prosperity. Willy Loman's tragedy is really two-fold: the need of most people to make a 'mark' in their lives either through financial success or merely being loved by one's friends and family. In the end, Loman comes to realize his son Biff loves him; however, ironically, this realization only propounds his material failure which consequently, leads to his final attempt at 'success', ending in his tragic suicide.
This superlative play is a dramatic lesson in the individual tragedy of a man pursuing materialistic success at the expense of the higher values of personal, emotional growth and fulfillment that can only be achieved by truly knowing oneself.
~Salesman~ is a moralistic play. It teaches us that Willy Loman is Everyman. We're all part of a system that pushes the lie that materialism measures the worth of people, but to exclude basic human values, knowledge, community, and love, is to court disaster, and in poor Willy Loman's case, self destruction.
This play is the great American tragedy and a valuable lesson for us all.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Hopeless fathers & sons were a favorite theme of Miller. The pressure of failing aspirations. The horror of failure. Drawn between overconfidence and self-doubt. Flashbacks on scenes from a dreary life. Lies to others and oneself. Failures in job and family.
The play is one of the quintessential pieces of modern American theater. Its themes are known and have been expounded endlessly. Why is it still fresh? I have never watched it on stage nor screen. I have known it for ages, but could not find enough interest to look for a performance, nor to read it. Now LoA does it.
Looking at the reviews here on the Penguin modern classic page, I am wondering about the spread in reviews. From 5 to 1 stars all is there, with a downward slope towards the negative votes. The play has more friends than foes, but on an absolute level, the nays would sink an ordinary ship. Of course quality questions are not decided by democracy. One particularly daft observer produced a perfect inverted version of cultural Stalinism. With perfect perverted logic, he tells us that only positive depictions of the American dream are acceptable. That is completely in line with 'socialist realism': if the artist fails to enthuse about the reigning system, he is condemned.
Thanks to LoA for making me get to know the man Miller. I will definitely look for a movie version or go to a play if I find an opportunity.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Michael Crane on February 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," while confusing when just read through the text alone, is an awesomely crafted play that takes drama to the next level. Now being interested in plays, I decided it was time to read this one, being that this is considered a classic by many (which I could easily see why). Reading this play makes me want to write plays. Reading something like this makes me believe that I can some up with something great too. I am glad that I finally took the time to read it.
The story is about a broken-hearted salesman, Willy Loman. He is a man no longer living in the real world but is mostly trapped in his own delusional world. He can't let go of the past no matter how hard he tries, and it's eating him up inside. He wants to believe that his family is a shoe-in for greatness, no matter how lonely and sad his wife is, or how much of a player/swinger his youngest son is, or how confused and anti-business his oldest son is. You put all of this together and you get a glimpse of an American tragedy that is so powerful and sad that it makes you think these things happen all the time. From Page 1 you know it's not going to end on a happy note, but you decide to take the path anyways. And a path worth taking it is.
I admit that I was confused at certain points, because through the text alone it is very hard to separate Willy's reality from his imagination. There are places where Willy departs from reality and goes back to the past and it makes it very hard for us to figure out what is going on if we're only reading it. When I saw the movie version after reading this, I was able to appreciate the play more. I understood what confused me and I was able to figure out what was happening.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lucy Yu on June 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
Having read both The Crucible and The Death of a Salesman, I would have to say that The Crucible is Miller's better work, simply because I enjoyed the storyline a lot more, but maybe that's just my personal bias.

Now, don't get me wrong, this play is by no means bad, but it may not be for everyone. The story follows the Loman family, a typical American middle-class family struggling to stay afloat. Willy Loman, a failed salesman, has his own version of the American Dream: to be a successful and respected salesman. What he refuses to accept is the fact that his career is a faliure, and instead dwells in his own memories and fantasies, stubbornly declaring himself as a successful salesman. Willy's mental and psychological disorders puts a strain on the Loman family, especially for the sons, Biff and Happy, who, following their fathers' philosophy, ended up as failures themselves.

The story in itself is sad and moving, but at times uninspiring. It doesn't hit the right note and doesn't move me as a story of such contect probably should. Miller's writing style in this story is straighforward and comprehendable, if even at times plain and bland. However, what I do like about the play is the fact that Miller employs engaging imagery, and really puts everything into historical context. The Loman family isn't special or significant in any way, but could be any American family in real life.
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