Sunday, October 5, 2008

Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller

Title: Death of a Salesman
Author: Arthur Miller
Date Finished: October 5, 2008 #57
Pages: 139
Published: 1949
Rating: 3/5

Is it bad that I'm currently hating my F2F book club read? Yes, hate (Ride the Wind). So in an effort to procrastinate I thought I would sneak in this short play and cross a book of my classics list! That's much more fun than reading about stuff that, well, I don't want to read about. :)

I have heard so much about this play but really knew nothing about it before I picked up my copy. Death of a Salesman is the story of Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman who is trying to keep up with the battles that face him once he has arrived home from his latest business trip. He is behind in his finances, his wife fears for his sanity, and his children have lost respect for him through the years--and to top it all off he just been in another car "accident." Willy, though, is trying to live the dream that anyone can control his own fate. Has the dream, though, gotten out of hand and consumed him?

I feel pretty ambivalent toward this play. I didn't love it or hate it and it was a really quick read (2 Acts and 1 short finale). I think there are a lot of things in the play that many of us could relate to--especially at times when it seems we are working our tails off for...what? At one point in the play, Willy's son Biff tells his brother:

"Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it's a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still--that's how you build a future" (22).

And over fifty years later this still rings true.

The play isn't very flashy or fancy. There aren't necessarily different scenes in the two acts, but there are a number of flashbacks of different conversations Willy has had over the years regarding prospecting with his brother Ben in Alaska, different people Willy has come into contact along the way--especially in relationship his children. I would love to see the play acted to see how all of these different parts are transitioned--especially as at times the flashbacks seemed more like delusions that Willy was having while still in the present.

Bottom line: Like I said before, I'm pretty ambivalent about this book but I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking to fit something short in between books or really wants to experience this classic American play first hand. I don't think you'll be sorry you did.

32 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I have ambivalent feelings for this book, too, but I'm sure mine are because it was assigned reading in high school.

Amanda said...

The problem with reading plays is that they are written for performance. I don't remember particularly enjoying (or not enjoying) this play when read, but I've seen several performances of it, and when done by good actors, it is very powerful.

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this play the two times I've read it. I like the story of the everyman and what it tells us about our own lives and decisions. I've only seen a depiction of this play on video, not live.

Literary Feline said...

I haven't thought of his play since I had to read it in school. That was eons ago! I don't really remember how I felt about it, which I guess says something in and of itself. I may have to see it performed if I ever get the chance.

Trish said...

*Bermuda - I think in high school we read The Crucible in lieu of this one. I liked it OK--just don't have any strong feelings for it either way.

*Amanda - Some plays I really enjoy reading--mostly comedies, though. I'd love to see this one acted live, though!

*Serena - I think that's what makes this one a timeless play--it contains the stuff we can still relate to today. I'll have to see if I can find the movie version.

*Lit Feline - I'd really like it see if acted after reading it this weekend. Haha--I remember very little of what I read in high school as well. I think I just had other things on my mind back then. :)

Jeane said...

I know I read this in high school, but I hardly remember a thing about it. Even your description did not jog my memory much. It must have been pretty un-memorable for me.

Kim L said...

Ha, I read this one twice and I've seen the play a few times. Not something I would choose, but I can feel all educmacated now :-)

gautami tripathy said...

I re-read it last year. I liked it. It was really relevant at the time it was written. I also liked All My Sons by Miller. His writing is stark and that creates the maximum impact.

Here is my review for The Death of a Salesman. I am linking this with mine.

Stephanie said...

I have a real problem reading plays in general. They just don't flow very well. That said, I've never even tried to read this one! Good for you for reading it!

Bookfool said...

Yeesh, I have this sneaking suspicion that I've read Death of a Salesman, but I'm not sure! That seems to jibe with what everyone else is saying.

As to the F2F question -- I've never been in a F2F book group, but I have a feeling I'd end up getting kicked out. I never want to read what anyone else is reading. I've given up group reads with my listserv buddies (most of the time). I wouldn't feel bad if you can't get into a book, now and then.

cj said...

Okay, I feel like a dolt - what's an F2F book club?

And I enjoyed your review. I can't remember the last time I read a play. Maybe I should give this one a go.

cjh

Trish said...

*Jeane - Sounds like you're not the only one! I can see this one being very unmemorable for a high schooler.

*Kim - Hmmm--so I'm guessing you read it for school as well? I picked this one up at a book sale years ago thinking--this is something that everyone should read. Don't know if that's true but seems like it was required reading for a lot.

*Gautami - I think it is still relevant--which makes it all that more interesting. I haven't heard of All My Sons.

*Stephanie - I like reading plays, but like short stories and poetry I just never seem to get around to them. I do better with comedies, though. And this wasn't difficult reading... ;)

*Bookfool - Well, the bookclub is really small and it is comprised of work people so if I bail everyone will know where to hunt me down. And I'm generally one of the more loyal participants. And I'm afraid the chooser of the book will kick my butt (haha!!). It's just soooo painful, though, that I don't think I can finish it. :D

Trish said...

*CJ - F2F = face to face. I was using the terminology "IRL book club" but then I got questions on that as well (In Real Life). :) Basically just some friends from work. And this one is pretty short and easy--would take you an afternoon to read.

Corinne said...

I also read The Crucible instead. I don't usually mind reading plays (I sorta act it out in my brain as I read) but usually if they are a bit dull when I read them, I just assume they're better performed :)

Lisa said...

First, I hate to read plays. My Shakespeare is woefully inadequate because of this.

Second, I always think I want a F2F bookclub, but really what I want is a regular women's group that drinks coffee and gets all close like they do in books.

bookchronicle said...

I have read this play quite a few times and "ambivalence" may be the best word for it. It's okay and I've had fun discussions with it, but I can't say it has any big attraction for me.

Debi said...

I read this in high school, and while I didn't dislike it at the time, it was hard to relate to. I think when you're still a kid, it's sort hard to "get" that whole "what I am doing all this for?" idea. I'd like to read it again now that I've got a lot more life experience under my belt.

We also read The Crucible. And that one I absolutely adored! In fact, Annie and I going to read that early next year when we do a unit on plays, and I'm super excited about it!

Trish said...

*Corinne - I usually imagined how they would be acted out as well--but I tend to do that with books, too--especially really engaging ones.

*Lisa - Ohhhh...Shakespeare isn't all bad! He does take more work, though--at least for me. I would not describe our book club that way--but it may be because we work together and have only met 3 times. :) I'm not even sure book clubs are like that in real life! Like Jane Austen Book Club...please! :)

*Bookchronicle - That's about how I feel. I don't have any strong feeling either way, not really a whole lot to discuss (on my own), and I'll probably stop thinking about it---oh, five minutes ago. :) I didn't feel like I wasted my time, though.

*Debi - I don't know why they would make this high school reading--I can't imagine any 17 or 18 year old relating!! I'm 27 and I barely relate. :) I loved The Crucible, too. Wouldn't that be cool if you could find a live version of it this fall to go see (or next fall). My husband are going to New England next weekend and I'm hoping we can make it over to Salem for a little fun. :)

Nymeth said...

I've heard a lot about this play, but for some reason I never thought of picking it up...maybe because it's only rarely that I really enjoy drama. I really like that passage you posted, though. Maybe I should read this someday, and The Crucible too. I remember enjoying the movie version of that when I watched it, but that was so many years ago.

Dar said...

We read this play way back in high school which was many years ago for me. I remember feeling the same as you about it. I saw it at the theatre here about 5 yrs back and again it was ok but nothing spectacular.

Trish said...

*Nymeth - I picked it up at a booksale several years back--not something I would normally pick up at the store. I do remember The Crucible being pretty good.

*Dar - I'd like to see a theatre version of the play--I really liked how the play dips in and out of the past/present and think it would be interesting to see it acted.

Veens said...

Hello Trish, first time here!~!

I have never read a classical AMerican play :) I guess this one I should read. Thanks!

valentina said...

You know how I ever heard of this play? hihi...because it was mentioned on was episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:P So it's nice to know what it is really about!
but I doubt I will read it, don't like plays very much and all the ones I've read it's because of school!

Amanda said...

I remember reading this in high school and I just didn't like it. I totally got the "American Dream" thing and liked the concept...just the characters bugged me a lot. And I did see the movie/play with Dustin Hoffman but still...not my favorite.

Trish said...

*Veens - Thanks for coming by! Hope you can make it back. :) I haven't really read that many American plays either...The Crucible by this author is a better one, I think. About the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s.

*Valentina - Too funny!! Most of the plays I've read have been for school as well.

*Amanda - I felt pretty neutral to just about everything in this play. :) I didn't know Dustin Hoffman was in the film version--I'm really interested now!

C. B. James said...

Did you know that this play has been performed in China in Chinese? That says a lot for it.

But I think I'm as ambivalent about it as you are.

I was thinking about setting up a play reading challenge for 2009. But from the comments here, I'm not so sure.

What do you think?

Trish said...

*CB - I would definitely join. When I was thinking of what type of challenge to do earlier this year I seriously thought about doing some type of drama (in the broad term) challenge. Instead I stuck with classics but made it open to different genres, including drama. Not sure what type of reception you'd get from others but I'm down. :)

C. B. James said...

I'm gonna do it. Look for notices about it in late November.

Laura said...

Wow! I don't think I've ever heard you use the "h" word for any book before--not even A Million Little Pieces! You don't have to read a book if you don't like it-- even if it is for a F2F book club.

Reading anything in play form scares me. I haven't tried to read one since I was in college. I know people say that you get used to the format, but thus far, I just haven't been willing to try!

Anna said...

I've never read this play. I probably never will. But I will say that the quote you posted is so true!

--Anna
http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com

samantha.1020 said...

I know I've read this but I don't remember a lot about it. I'm guessing that means that I felt the same way that you did :P

Trish said...

*CB - What happened? I haven't seen any notices! :P

*Laura - I ended up not hating the book--just hated reading it periodically. You should try some plays. I really like Oscar Wilde's stuff.

*Anna - LOL--you're probably not missing much by not reading this play.

*Sam - Haha, forgettable, huh? Yup, I'm guessing in a few months I won't remember much about it either.