61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2003
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.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2008
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.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2003
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. Despite some confusing moments it is still a tremendous play that is very involving from start to finish. You are able to sympathize with the main character, and with the rest of the characters as well. You know a writer has done the job right when you are able to feel or care for every single character (or at least almost all of them, being there will be a few minor characters you're really not supposed to care for that much. This is something that always happens in the world of fiction and is to be expected). Arthur Miller did an amazing job of writing such a realistic and emotionally driven play. The characters were realistic as well as the dialogue.
"Death of a Salesman" is more than just simply a stunning play; it is a beautiful portrait of a family dealing with hardships and troubles. As soon as I began the play I was unable to put it down until it was finished. If you want to read a great play and are interested in great works of drama, this is the one for you.
(Note: If you are confused by the play, see the movie afterwards. It really helps.)
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2007
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.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2000
Death of a salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller (1915- ). The play focuses on how Willy Loman, the main character always thinks and talks about being successful. Being successful is Willy's great dream. Just like the American dream. Willy strives to bring happiness to himself and his family, but does not succeed. He is too prideful to accept the fact that his dream of being a successful salesman never will become true, and he is too prideful to accept where he fits in society. People like Willy are very common in today's society. They are caught up in the American dream; everybody wants to be successful, but only a few make it to the top. But is this really the most important values in life? Willy looks at himself as a failure, just because he didn't make it to the top in business life, well, that is how business is; not everybody can make it to the top. That doesn't necessarily mean that your whole life is over. That is what happened to Willy; when he felt like a failure because of his broken dream, he let it out on his wife, and his two sons, Biff and Happy. Then he killed himself. This shows that Willy's only values in life were to become wee-liked and successful and if he didn't, it wasn't worth living. I think the book was a bit difficult to read, because the play shifts between present and past, which makes it a bit confusing. All over, I liked the book, not because the story was so good, but because after finishing it, it made me think about how much people think about their career, and how often the career becomes a first priority, no matter what. Is it the career that makes a man successful?
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2001
"Death of a Salesman" is a sad, but wonderful play written by Arthur Miller. This play, together with "The Catcher in the Rye", was my introduction to real reading. Previous to reading this book, I had kept to what I will call "easier" reading.
"Death of a Salesman" was assigned to us by our English teacher, as part of our undergraduate English class. Our teacher, Mrs. Syring, knew this play by heart. She pointed out the subtleties in this play for us (you can't expect too much from a bunch of accounting students..) and she made us understand what kind of outstanding literary attack on the American society and the American dream this play really is.
The protagonist, Willy Loman, is a committed, hard working, aging, middle class man, with a dream to be rich and successful. Making it "big"- just like the American dream. Unfortunately, Loman is neither rich nor very successful. And in the end, Loman commits suicide, (wrongfully) thinking that his family will be just as happy without him, living well off the insurance money.
This play is a classic portrayal of what kind of tragedy the pursuit of the American dream can bring to a man and his family.
The play is written some sixty years ago (written in 1949), but I don't think this play will ever be outdated. Wonderfully written, with an important moral lesson for all of us to remember.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2002
Death of a Salesman is one of those rare plays that are equally riveting whether you see it in a theater or read the script in a book. The book tells the story of Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, and his wife and two children. The "present day" in the story is about Willy near the end of his career. He is getting too old to travel around and to hustle to sell products. He also appears to be not quite right in the head any more. His oldest son has returned from the West where he has been doing odd jobs but not making much out of his life. Everyone is worried about Willy, including his neighbor and his boss. Unfortunately, Willy's boss is more concerned with the profits of the company.
The story flashes back to earlier times in several scenes. These stories mainly tell the story of more triumphant times for Willy. He is a good salesman and he's adored by his wife and children. One gets the sense that he is ready to hit it big. He rejects his brother's plan for a get rich quick scheme because he is doing so well in sales.
We are never quite sure how much of Willy's past is accurate. Like many good salesmen, Willy is used to promoting his products with little exaggerations. It seems that Willy's talent in sales bleeds over to his personal life, so that he is always doing a little worse than he says he is. It is unclear how much worse in these earlier days. However Willy is doing, it seems that his life has taken a turn for the worse. His oldest son is also doing much worse. He was the star quarterback in high school and is headed for great things with a scholarship to college. But he has lost his way at least as much as Willy.
The play answers some of these questions. Many of them are answered by the fact that life is hard sometimes and we make bad choices. Others seem to be answered by nothing besides fate. Also, as you can see by some of these reviews, the answers are different for different people. It is easy to pull some things out of this play when you are done, but it is almost impossible to figure out everything.
In any event, I strongly recommend you read this book and see the play live or on video. You will love them both.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2006
Although I'm an avid reader, I usually don't read plays, but decided to give Death of a Salesman a try because it was supposed to be one of the best pieces of American literature. After reading it, I have to say that it is quite deserving of that title.
To sum up the storyline without giving too much away, it is about a man who is dealing with his own pride in the face of failure, and his relationship with his son (who he deeply loves), who is also a failure. More importantly, Death of a Salesman takes a hard look at the American Dream and asks: Is it worth it?
The thing that this play so great to me was the characters. Willy and Biff Loman are two characters you won't soon forget (Willy especially). As I really enjoyed this play (and as it only took about three hours to read), I'm going to have to scan Amazon for a couple of other plays to read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 1999
The play, "Death of a Salesman", by Arthur Miller, is a classic representation of the strife that the so-called pursuit of the American Dream can bring. The main character of the play is Willy Loman, who is found trapped by his old fashioned beliefs of how the business world should operate. It is found in the play that often times a smile and good appearance is not enough to get the job done. Willy was never successful in fufilling his ultimate dream of becoming a successful salesman. While he tried to attain his dream, he began to realize that his family life was unraveling. He was a victim of the "Heratio Alger" mentality, which stated that success would come to those who pursued their goals diligently. As high school students, we found the issues brought up in the play to be extremely relevant to everyday life. People like Willy are very common in today's society, in which people try so hard and still have troubles taking care of their family and fufilling their responsibilities. For a man that places so much importance on being successful it is hard for Willy to deal with the consequences he is faced with when his dreams fail to come true. The American Dream for some people is not easy to attain. This play is a good example of the everyday struggle that people face when trying to live up to something that they are not. Whether Willy liked it or not, he could not achieve the level of success and recognition he would've wanted for himself and his family. The true tragedy of the play is the gradual decline of which the Loman family is faced with. Some people have touble surviving in today's society becuase they just don't have what it takes to stay in the game. This play makes you think about the value that our society places on something we know we cannot attain. We felt that this play was informative and offered an in-depth look at the obstacles that people face when trying to attain something that is important for themselves to achieve. We would recommend this play to people who want to pursue a certain goal in life. It shows the struggle of a man with a good heart, who in the end has nothing but his life insurance to show for it. We must ask ourselves then, what it is that makes a man successful. Perhaps after reading this play the reader will begin to realize that there is more to life than the American Dream.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2006
It is about 1:40 a.m., and I just finished Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN. I am writing because I sincerely hope that the reader of this review will take the time to read this work of art. I wish I would have read this play earlier, and I hope to see it performed, as the many issues covered are so important for families, professionals, and so-forth. I would encourage the reader of this not to "put off" reading this play, and I also encourage the reader to NOT take my word for it; this seemingly simple, modern play has profound depth and covers, I believe, many of the themes and challenges we encounter in our lives.
I would like to just touch on a few aspects of the play:
The characters in the play have such depth and complexity. I believe, although I have not conducted advance research, the playwright created characters that represented certain personalities. Furthermore, I think each person can see something of one's self in each character, and that is one reason (among many) the playwright was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
I particularly enjoyed the characters of Willy Loman and Biff. I think Willy Loman represents the aspiring, ambitious us; we in many senses do not live in reality. Biff, however, respresents another side insofar that he does not want to dream.
Theme: Love, Success
How do we define love and success? I think a question the play raises is, what is love among family members and acceptance? Will our family members love just for who we are? Will we love our family members for who they are? In today's world, perhaps, do we prefer to love those that are successful? Does a family member have to become successful before we love, admire them?
In closing, I would like to shout out in stating that this play is very relevant. Many of us are obsessed with our careers, our success, financial goals, and so-forth. Will that make us happy? Will that make us loved? Will that make us better able to love? I sometimes think one must first love and be happy with one's self before one can be a success. In fact, isn't that success?