Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: 'Death of a Salesman' by Arthur Miller

I had to study this play for my English exam, which made me throw it in a corner once the exam was done. I fished it out of the corner yesterday and realized that it is actually not that bad. I really liked some of the characters and I agreed with Miller's message about capitalism.'Death of a Salesman' is the story of Willy Loman who refuses to come to terms with the fact that he has failed at achieving the American Dream. As he slowly loses touch with reality, we see how his family has to suffer under his expectations. 

The play is structured in a very interesting way. It is mostly told through the perspective of Willy and takes place during one night and the following day, yet there are flashbacks in the middle of the scenes. This means that a scene could start with Willy and his sons and then be continued as one of Willy's memories. Although this can be confusing at times, it perfectly represents Willy Loman's mind. Also, Miller personally felt that the past is never behind us and constantly influences our decisions and actions. This is perhaps clearest in Biff Loman, his oldest son. 

Biff has not been able to fulfill his father's expectations in life and therefore feels he is a failure. He has also been disillusioned by his father's affair and starts to realize how empty the American Dream is. Willy's belief in capitalism was completely transferred to his younger son, Happy, who fails equally. He doesn't understand how empty his dreams are, unlike Biff who seems to realize his future lies outside of the city. 

Overall, I think the play has a very tragic tone. Linda, Willy's wife, especially is just such a sad character. She is extremely loyal and for her Willy's deterioration is the worst. At the beginning I thought she was silly for believing in him so much, but I started to realize that she is actually very strong. She bares the entire brunt of Willy's illusion and her life is shattered when Willy dies.

The suspense in the play is created by the fact that all the characters are troubled and are unable to communicate with each other or break free from what is restricting them. For a day and a half, all their lives come together again and they are faced with each others problems. I realized towards the end I was happy for Willy that his suffering had ended and I even believed that Linda might find a way forward. But the devastating impact made by a system that continually pushes you to be better without offering any kind of alternative are made very clear.

I give this play...


As I said, it's not my favourite play. I couldn't really relate to any of the characters, but I found it interesting. Miller really achieved mixing past and present and thereby recreate Willy's minscape.


  1. I wanted to read this ever since I read The Crucible (which I really liked). I was going to buy it, but now I'm just going to keep looking for it in my library! Thanks for the review :)

  2. I had to read this back in high school too, and I didn't have a very good time with it. Perhaps now that I'm older it would be worth revisiting. That and The Crucible, as Priya mentions.

    1. I definitely enjoyed it more the second time round, perhaps because there is not the same pressure a sin high school.

  3. I always find plays a bit difficult to follow. A play with flashbacks inside the scenes? It should be a challenge. May be I should give it a try.

  4. I read this in high school as well and it was difficult to follow. This review did a great job at explaining this book.