‘Death of a Salesman’ – Book of the week

“Wait a second, Evie,” I hear you cry, “this is not a book, it’s a play!” Yes reader, it is. However, I thought perhaps instead of sticking only to prose I can branch out into plays and poems to mix it up a bit. ‘Death of a Salesman’ was on my mind as the book to review this week as it is set in the same time period of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (last weeks BOTW), the Great Depression. This 1920s economic Depression plays a large role in the play. Lets jump right in!

Plot:

Willy Lowman return early from work as a Salesman after crashing his car again. He realises that he probably should not be driving anymore. Linda, his wife, suggests that Willy should ask his boss for a local job as he can no longer work as a travelling salesman.

We learn about Willy and Linda’s two grown sons, Biff and Happy. Biff is a farmhand, and Willy thinks Biff purposefully is working a bad job to spite him. He thinks Biff should have been a salesman, too.

Linda opens up to her sons that Willy is struggling financially as he is a bad salesman. He has attempted suicide a few times and is starting to suffer from hyper-realistic flashbacks. Linda blames Biff for Willy’s depression as Biff was never as successful as he should have been. Willy joins the conversation and argues with Biff. Happy interjects and tells Willy that Biff has a job interview in the morning to be a salesman, this makes Willy and Linda very happy.

The next day goes very badly. Instead of being able to get a local job as a salesman, Willy gets fired by his boss. Biff’s interview did not go well either. He panics and steals his interviewer’s pen, and then runs away. Biff tries to explain to his father in a restaurant as to what happened, but Willy is delusional and refuses to believe that Biff did not get the job. It is here that the audience sees a flashback of Biff catching Willy cheating on his wife with another woman. This is why Biff did not want to become a salesman, because he lost respect for his father.

Willy reflects on himself and Biff being “failures”, and so he decides that the only way to make his family’s lives better is to commit suicide so that they can claim life insurance money. Willy gets into is car and a loud crash is heard.

At the funeral Biff realises that he wants to be a better man than his father and strives to get a good job. Happy wants to be just like his father. Linda is sobbing as the life insurance money was enough to pay off the mortgage that had loomed over the family throughout the play, and she says “I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. We’re free. We’re free… we’re free…”

Quotes:

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be… when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am”

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”

“After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”

Review:

‘Death of a Salesman’ is often viewed as semi-autobiographical, and this is clear when you watch it from the raw emotion in the play. Feelings such as failure, guilt and entrapment are explored throughout the story. Like real life, there is no real clear solution for these problems. Willy represents every working father in the 20th Century, feeling the pressures of providing for a family. When he is fired from his job, Willy deems himself as worth more dead than alive (because of his life insurance) and commits the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep his family afloat. The credit crunch last decade would have made this text even more relevant to some families. Miller is exploring the impact of capitalism and what happens if it goes wrong for the average family. How money and status can deeply impact a family relationship, and drive people to do crazy things to protect the people they love. Biff represents a rejection of capitalist ideologies. He is seen as a “failure” by others, as the system is not designed for people to simply not follow it. Happy is called ‘Happy’ as he is, you guessed it, happy as things are. He has accepted and embraced the capitalist system, and hopes to one day be like his father. He has not yet felt the pressures of capitalist society, and refuses to acknowledge his father’s suffering, and so is ready to jump head first into the workforce. Linda is a representation of 20th Century women, unable to get a decent payroll and has to watch helplessly as her sons and husband struggle to put bread on the table. She can see how the Depression is damaging her husband’s mental health, but all she can do is ignore it. Linda is probably well aware of her husband’s cheating in the old days, but remains in her role as the timid housewife and keeps it to herself. This is not a play for the faint-hearted, but is fantastic if you have an interest in raw human emotion and the role finance plays on family life.

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