For a long long time I had a shortlist of books my eyes have always wanted to devour.
And towards the top of that list was Death of a Salesman.
The play by Arthur Miller premiered in 1949 and became an immediate sensation, winning a Pulitzer and a Tony. It has been revived multiple times all over, adapted into movies, and staged as live television. Quite often done by big name stars of great caliber. Critics have hailed it as a masterpiece and a play that transformed theatre.
With this really impressive resume behind Death of a Salesman, my want to finally read this classic became a goal this 2015.
And the result for me was a large meh. Unfortunately.
Death of a Salesman tells the tale of one Willy Loman. He is an older man, beaten down by life and hating it all. His wife is devoted but his two grown sons are going nowhere very quickly and back to living at home. Even the slight saving grace of having the mortgage almost paid off barely quells Willy.
The man hates his long time sales job and how things have not been going well for awhile now. He continuously hallucinates, much to his family’s dismay, of the greater time when the boys were younger and everything felt perfect.
Willy keeps wondering when it all went wrong, why others are more successful, and how to fix, to his mind, his ungrateful kids. Make them launch into the world and do things Papa can be proud of.
But of course things just keep going wrong. And wrong some more.
So with a spoiler for 1949, yes Willy Loman does die in the end.
I had many problems with Death of a Salesman that made it difficult for me to even finish.
The almost unrelenting despair of what seems like every main character having just a terrible terrible life weighs down the story and makes you wonder why nothing goes right for any member of the Loman clan at all. I know drama requires conflict and pain not sunshine and rainbows, but Miller just makes dire his only colour. Even the shocking revelation at the end just adds to the pain, but hardly explains one characters actions. Nor was the reveal that surprising either.
My other issue with this play is the flashback/hallucinations that Willy gleefully enters into. On stage I am sure they are almost always masterfully performed and flow wonderfully to make the dramatic points, but in reading it mostly becomes a bit of narrative mush. Those scenes were tiresome to read and I very quickly got the point. Willy really wants to turn back the clock because everything sucks.
My sense of history knows that at the time Death of a Salesman was very shocking and groundbreaking on multiple levels, mostly I believe because of the depressing everyman hopelessness it starkly portrayed. That aspect is appreciated by me, and if did smash barriers, than I applaud it.
Noble accomplishments aside, for me Death of a Salesman, one of my long awaited reads, just trudged along to a whatever ending.
…is currently reading Watership Down by Richard Adams. And clutching my copy of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee very very close.