Death Of A Salesman And Death Of A Salesman The Swollen Legacy Of Arthur Miller Bert Cardullo

3212 words - 13 pages

Death of a Salesman and Death of a Salesman: The Swollen Legacy of Arthur MillerBert CardulloIntroduction: Death in Two SensesThe immense international success of Death of a Salesman comes from the intellectual force of the play's central idea prevailing over the glaring defects of Arthur Miller's execution. But the relevance of this central idea, connected with door-to-door salesmen and the Darwinian nature of rampant capitalism, has withered with time and changing technology, and even if it hadn't, Miller still failed to craft a play befitting Salesman's exalted reputation.While it's impossible to know his psychology enough to be sure, the shape of Salesman's flaws seem to suggest that Miller's artistic trouble stemmed from a divided personal impulse between making his play and his protagonist Jewish, and making them universal or representatively American. But whatever the case, the legacy questions inevitably following the playwright's recent death, make it time to take another look at his vaunted reputation, and pare it down to its rightful size: medium.Section I: ComplimentsLet's begin, however, with some of the reasons why the play continues to occupy the place it does in American drama and our national imagination. The very title Death of a Salesman both declares the significance of a salesman's death and finds value in its ordinary anonymity. This evocation is amplified by the opening sight of Willy Loman coming in the door. It's a superb image, an entrance as unforgettable and instantly iconic as Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and her wagon (another traveling salesman!). The salesman Willy is home. He is "tired to the death," lugging his two heavy sample cases, after having been rejected by the milk-filled bosom of the nation from which he had expected so much nourishment. The commodity he expected to sell is never identified because Willy is in a sense selling himself. He's a survivor of the early tradition of drummers in this country: men who viewed not their product but their personality as their chief ware, and still claimed they could sell anything.Beyond the title and the entrance sequence, Miller's organizing idea keeps a fitful hold. It's the idea of the mid-century man, who has sold things without making them and paid for things without owning them. He exists as an insulted extrusion of commercial society battling for some sliver of authenticity before he slips into the great dark. And remarkably, he is battling without a real villain.To his credit, Miller was one of the first writers to comprehend a seismic change in the American economy of the late 1940s that saw corporations expand into large, confusing bureaucracies. He depicts late capitalism in his play as having become impersonal and hierarchical; instead of class struggle, there is simple anomie.Section II: DetrimentsBut to read or see Death of a Salesman again is to perceive how Arthur Miller lacked the control and vision to fulfill his own idea. First, consider the...

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