Death of a Salesman
a play by Arthur Miller, published and performed in 1949
Described by Miller himself as ‘Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem’, it makes use of Expressionist devices to present the life of Willy Loman and his relationship with his family up to the point at which he commits suicide. The action of the play proceeds both forwards and backwards and is remarkable both for its realistic portrayal of an American family and for its dramatic presentation of memory, fantasy, and trauma. It is also amongst the most powerful assaults on American materialism ever made and attacks the institutionalized expectations and behaviour patterns which sustain it: the cult of sport, the ambivalent relationship to honesty, the predatory attitude of men to women, and the corrosive consumerism of American society. Loman's enthusiastic acceptance of all this has tragic repercussions for his two sons, who stand very much at the centre of the drama. It is Biff, the sportsman turned kleptomaniac, who speaks the most appropriate epitaph for his father: ‘He had the wrong dreams.’ In the play, Miller counterpoints the materialistic fantasies of modern America with the pioneering ones of an older generation, to the detriment of the former.