Death of a Salesman (Penguin Plays)

by Arthur Miller

Paperback, 1976





Penguin Books (1976), 139 pages


The Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy of a salesman's deferred American dream   Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for a kind of majestic grandiosity--and a play that compresses epic extremes of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room. "By common consent, this is one of the finest dramas in the whole range of the American theater." --Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times "So simple, central, and terrible that the run of playwrights would neither care nor dare to attempt it." --Time… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member GaryPatella
This play receives a lot of praise. I'm still struggling to see why. A play about a senile old man where nothing happens, there is no great dialogue, and there is nothing even slightly thought-provoking.

Praise it if you must. But honestly, this play is one of the worst ever.
LibraryThing member Devil_llama
Willy Loman, the everyman antihero, goes crazy while everyone around him just sort of watches helplessly. Trapped in a world of his own mediocrity, forced to face the reality that he will never be anyone, even though he is sure he is a superior salesman to all those around him, he put all his dreams into his eldest son, Biff, and watched them turn to dust before his eyes. Now he is nearing the end of his career, and has no where left to go. Miller deftly crafts a tale of the ordinary and the familiar that is nevertheless able to hold interest. He creates characters so far from perfect you know they just must be real, and invites us to look closely into their ordinary life to see the seething disillusionment underneath. Truly a classic for the ages, it manages to speak to modern audiences in spite of being set in the trappings of its time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Carmenere
Mini-Review:In Arthur Millers play [Death of a Salesman], Willy Loman is portrayed as a pathetic braggart, transparent, insecure, delusional, lying philanderer who believes that to get ahead in life one only needs to be “well-liked”. He drives all along the Eastern corridor of the United States selling his product to buyers who he believes like him but only seem to tolerate him. It is the 1940’s yet he has not had any professional achievements since his great sales record of 1928. He is no longer on salary, only commission. He is painfully in debt and he and his wife Linda live paycheck to paycheck. Yet he continues on with his false belief that he’s achieved his American Dream or ….is it a nightmare?
It appears that either through genetics or learned behavior his sons, Hap and Biff, have become……..nothing! Perhaps it is because their father/son relationship resembles more frat house brothers misbehaving rather than a father teaching his sons the truth about life, about honesty and sincerity. But these boys…er…men in their mid-thirties, are adrift with no direction and no idea what they want from life. Biff knows he wants to work out west but the payback is small, Hap is making a decent living but he is unfulfilled and lonely.
Mr. Miller does a splendid job creating conflict and tension. His Willy Loman may play your heartstrings or he may repulse you as he did me. Miller also invites discussion as to what is of utmost importance in one’s own American Dream. I see why so many young adults read this in high school, it asks the big questions and introduces thoughts for reflection. No need to hard sell me on this one.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2003
This is my second experience of reading Arthur Miller (I've never seen him in performance, alas), and though Death of a Salesman lacks the emotional punch of The Crucible, it's still pretty dang good. Willie Loman is one of those people I can't help but empathize with, as he throws himself into his work to the utmost extent. Shame he's got two lackadaisical sons, and shame even more that it appears to be his fault. The flashbacks are confusing on the written page, but I'd imagine they'd look pretty good on stage. A damning indictment of the principles by which I sometimes feel I live my own life.

I was struck by the closeness of the ending to some aspects of It's a Wonderful Life, which came out only three years before this, and though the two very obviously have different tones, I can't help but think there's something in that. Death of a Salesman attacks the very principles upon which that film rests; furthermore, it attacks the entire 1950s before they even happened, which is both clever and depressing.
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LibraryThing member ithilwyn
I hate to sound juvenile, but this play is just plain depressing.
LibraryThing member rain.e.drew
I have read this play twice: once when I was thirteen and again when I was a junior in high school as part of the required reading. As with most classic books, I didn't really like it the first time around. When I listened to the reactions and opinions of my classmates in high school, I realized that this was the common case. The biggest reason is that it is depressing. Teenagers already battle against hormones. They don't need to read tragic stories of suicide to top it.
Honestly, Death of a Salesman should not be a mandatory reading for high school students, and parents, please do not force your children to read this simply for the sake of its literary value. Instead, have them watch it as a performance when they are old enough to really understand the meaning behind the tragedy. I will say that I saw the 1985 movie with Dustin Hoffman in class, and it was very well done.
For students and simply anyone who wants to read this, I say go for it. If you like it, you do, if you don't like it, you don't. I'm just saying that I can't guarantee that everyone will enjoy it. It is, however, a very enduring story of the shadows cast by the American Dream and what it means to be successful.
For anyone interested in theatre, this is a must read.
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LibraryThing member BayardUS

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman shows the American Dream in all its tawdry glory, but he does it in the most unsurprising way possible. I'm happy to give Miller his due: as times Death of a Salesman is highly affecting, and the play seems to capture an era of American life, but throughout it felt as though Miller was going after only low-hanging fruit.

The characters of the play seem to be little more than an amalgam of flaws stretched into a family tree. From the first lines of the play the characters showcase their lack of foresight, inability to commit, quick temper, aimlessness, greed, tendency to overspend, selfishness, dishonesty, inflated sense of self-worth, unrealistic expectations, willful blindness, propensity to blame their problems on others, pride, etc. With all of these flaws it’s impossible not to see yourself in the characters at least a bit, as even the best of us has exhibited at least a couple of these flaws ourselves. I found, however, that having characters with so many flaws also limited my sympathy for them. There is only so long you can want to knock some sense into these characters before you just give up on them and watch the inevitable train wreck happen.

And that train wreck is indeed inevitable; something that would become clear early on even if the play had a different title. Willy’s been bamboozled by the material American Dream of the 1940s, though him falling for it is as much his fault for never thinking about his life as it is the fault of the companies that run the biggest ads in the newspaper or the society that puts wealth on a pedestal (I never noted the play substantively addressing the idea that, as a salesman, Willy is complicit in selling this materialistic idea of life that he himself has fallen prey to). Willy seems like he might have been better off in another age (one where he didn’t have time to think as much), but I’m doubtful that a man who believes “connections” and “impressions” are everything and backs get-rich-quick schemes would do very well in any age. Nevertheless, despite his flaws and his complicity in his eventual fate, it's hard not to feel for Willy as he marches to the grave, being kicked by chance and circumstance and his own nature again and again.

Death of a Salesman taps into the fear that your life won’t go the way you want it to, or the realization that it hasn’t gone as planned, which I imagine are almost universal feelings. Nevertheless, despite this universal core, there’s something very period specific about the play. The play is set during the time when apartment buildings are replacing yards, when cities are growing so big that a traveling salesman no longer knows the people he’s selling to, when it’s grown all but impossible to feel special any more instead of a dime a dozen. Loman, and Miller too, seems to look at the recent past with rose-tinted glasses, while criticizing the way in which the post-WWII America had become obsessed with material possessions, where you were stuck in a rat race to keep up your lifestyle instead of doing fulfilling work, where everyone was being reduced to something less than individuals. This disaffection with the age despite participation in it, with the veneer of comfort hiding withered and dissatisfied souls, seems to encapsulate the era (or at least I get the impression that it does, I wasn't around then so I can't say for sure), and that’s no mean feat.

Still, centering the text on a salesman who has seen his life wasted in the rat race seems the most boring way to encapsulate 1940s and 50s America. It’s as if I wrote a book today about a late 20 something-early 30 something working for a tech startup or a large website like Google who is worried about terrorism and big data, and who feels like the world is getting to complicated to even understand, let alone change. Doesn’t that already sound incredibly cliché? The other books that have encapsulated periods of America, like The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick, do so much more than just choose the most obvious archetype of the time and make him live out the most obvious criticism of the zeitgeist. Compared to those works Death of a Salesman seems, well “lazy” is perhaps too strong a word, let’s go with “uninteresting.”

Miller gets the responses he wants out of you with this play, but nevertheless fails to impress. It makes you feel, but more out of knee-jerk emotion than true sympathy. It shows you an era of American history, but it does so with an unimaginative plot and cast. It levels strong criticism against the world of its day, but it’s such a large target that the hit is rather unimpressive. It certainly has its place, but Death of a Salesman isn’t at the top of the pantheon of American literature.
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LibraryThing member Joshette
One of the sadest plays i've ever read.
Well, we're not here to speak about movies I suppose, but the movie "death of a salesman" with Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovitch, is really satisfying.
Sometimes, faith and hope are just not enough...
LibraryThing member NativeRoses
See Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross for a modern update to this classic.
LibraryThing member justmeRosalie
Although I didn't really enjoy the play because it was so depressing, it has a lot of strength. To see Dustin Hoffman play Willy Lomax is a great experience. This was written for Hoffman. He makes the story a real, personal, experience for the audience. It is so very, very excellent.
LibraryThing member stipe168
one of my favorite plays, which secures my place as an 18-25 english major non-pretentious male. one of my favorite english professors in college always pointed out the flaws of this story, and how it doesn't work as a play. it wasn't even a class on plays, or american lit! he just wanted to bash it, probably because he knew so many of us liked it. i love it. the story of willy loman's sad descenet into life.… (more)
LibraryThing member simply_squamous
The best tragedy ever written because it's raised to the level of the common man, which I think is harder to do.
LibraryThing member kthatch7
I have recently read this book in school, but I really feel the need to review some aspects of it, for it is now my absolute favorite book.
A tragedy of broken dreams coated with lies, Death of a Salesman is able to portray the American Dream, as Willy Loeman slowly begins to slip away from reality. I found one of the most intriguing aspects of this play to be, although many may argue, the solo flute. Playing alone on a higher range, the lone flute echos the play's happenings. Just to observe the timings of flute enterances is enough to satsify me for the rest of the play!… (more)
LibraryThing member janemarieprice
This is one of the best plays ever written. It is just as relevant today as it was when it first came out and will speak to people of many different backgrounds and situations.
LibraryThing member reddragon3668
There are some Pulitzer Prize winning novels or plays that are difficult to understand how they garnered such attention and acclaim. Not so, with this drama by Arthur Miller. There are great depths of meaning composed within this drama. While often interpreted as speaking to the myth and oftentimes futility of the American dream, I think the drama speaks to so much more.

The ghetto of one's own mind and thinking can become a very dark place. In the main character of Willy Loman, MIller illustrates how retreating into one's own mind can be a very limiting and treacherous existence. Loman has created for himself a world and an opinion of himself that does not exist. He is also stuck in the past, governed by illusions of the past that were inconsistent with reality.

The whole of this family's existence was based upon the refusal to see life as it really was. They were content to live in deception, unwilling to face the world honestly. This unwillingness to embrace reality eventually led to Loman's demise, not able to see and be content with life as it really was.

There are so many points that are borne out in this drama that one could concentrate upon. Since this is a short review, I do not have the time to dwell upon all of them. Two things, however, do come to mind and I will briefly point them out.

One, as seen in the relationship between Loman and his son Biff, it is plainly obvious that one can not always live up to the expectations of others. By all accounts, Loman was a good father; Biff was a good son. Both had a respect and love for the other that fueled admiration, which, unfortunately, led to unrealistic expectations. Due to this, Biff was forever changed by the confrontation of his father's humanity. This destroyed Biff's belief in the goodness and immutability of his father, which ultimately colored Biff's world. Putting people on pedal-stools never ends well. Realizing that the people around us are human and capable of moral turpitude will go a long way towards warding off disillusionment.

Second, the only successful character in the story is Uncle Ben. His "...when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich." indicated that life requires risk. Being unwilling of taking such risk in life can be stifling. Loman remained in the confines of what he considered safe, and in the end, he led a very unfulfilling life. Not going with Ben, or taking the many chances he was offered to go to Alaska, was something Loman regretted his entire life.

Lastly, Death of a Salesman possesses the quality that makes literature and the classics live. The ability to speak to multiple layers of life, remaining relevant in any age or climate, will sustain these as priceless treasures. This is a drama that I will read again and again. I can only hope that by listening to its message, I can avoid some of the pitfalls that made this drama tragic.
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LibraryThing member jaystew
The fictional play about the Loman family who live in a house in Brooklyn. Willy and Linda have two sons named Biff and his younger brother Happy. Neither son is a real success in life yet, and Biff especially is not satisfied with his life. The play deals with Willy, a salesman, trying to achieve happiness and wanting his sons to make him proud and be successful. This slowly leads him to go crazy and end his own life. The story looks into the idea of the American dream and what it really is that brings happiness. Very good story and a very important play.… (more)
LibraryThing member jacketscoversread
I think I would’ve enjoyed seeing Death of a Salesman performed in person, rather than reading the script. This is supposed to be one of the best American plays ever written and my friend, Helen, assures me that seeing it onstage is a very different experience. {And, hopefully, one better than watching the movie.}

My English class read the script aloud and I was disappointed. Helen and two other friends of mine cried at the end of the script, so I know I was supposed to sympathize with the characters. Yet, in order to sympathize with them I’d have to like them and that didn’t really happen. Willy refused to admit the truth, his sons were morons, and Linda was so utterly useless that I described her as “little more than a talking prop” to my English class. My teacher, and my friends, were not pleased with my declaration.

“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” {pg. 40}

I understand the point of the play. I understand it’s supposed to make you feel sympathetic for the characters when they painfully become victims of the American Dreams. But I liked the idea more than the actual execution.

Still, Death of a Salesman did make me feel as though I understand others better. I understood the family even when I didn’t like them or agree with them.

“After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” {pg. 76}
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LibraryThing member wfzimmerman
A handsome edition, but I can think of many other single play volumes that I'd rather have. SALESMAN has never really grabbed me...
LibraryThing member mercmuscle73
Never before had I listed to a play on cassette tapes, now I have. After reading the play itself, I could see just how intense everything was and I just had to hear it myself. It's an incredible play, if you ever get to see it in person, I envy you greatly!
LibraryThing member Smiley
Read alone, over time. Have seen performed by a good, community theater.
LibraryThing member verenka
I picked this book up at the OBCZ Schwammerl and just finished reading it. I must say I was a bit confused when reading it and kept having to go back and check who said what, but that's not surprising. It just makes me want to see it staged as well. I understand why it has become a classic and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone.

What I found most remarkable was Happy's constant lies. He was so intent on keeping everyone happy and keeping the peace that in the end he believed in his own lies and made the conflict between his brother and father even worse.
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LibraryThing member aethercowboy
Willie Loman is a salesman. He travels more than he'd like. He doesn't do as well as he'd wish. He's generally disappointed with his life. When his sons visit for a few days, Willie slips into a reminiscent mode, in which he relives past events, and spends a lot of time talking with his recently deceased older brother.

This concerns the Lomans, and they try to help. But at the same time, Willy's two sons learn a lot about their father from his flashbacks. Some things good, but other things bad.

The play itself is masterfully written by Arthur Miller, playwright of other notable works, including The Crucible and All My Sons. Miller masterfully paints a picture of a salesman, down on his luck, dissatisfied with life, and at the end of his rope, resorting to crazy (both highly irrational and legitimately insane) means to cope with his wasted life.

The play is both beautiful and tragic, wonderful and horrible, showing the dichotomy of visceral real life. Showing you a world that's too real, and too sad. Showing you a world that makes you glad it's not happening to you.

If you enjoy dramatic writings, then you must read Death of a Salesman. If you read it in school and HATED it, then you MUST reread it. Don't worry about extracting and dissecting during your reading. Enjoy, let yourself get wrapped up in its words. But don't get in too deep. Be careful not to get in too deep.
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LibraryThing member reedchr3
I learned "The Crucible" in high school, and while I loved that play, I fell in love with Salesman for the same reason that I loved Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Crucible saw an entire society break down, but in this play, we see that the same thing can happen within one family and even within one person. Poor old Willy is a great tragic character. The American Dream is a huge theme in a lot of English classrooms, and he's an unfortunate example of the end result. Proceed with caution.… (more)
LibraryThing member ikbodd
This book appeared in my wifes' library many years ago in school.

It appeared in mine shortly before I was to be time in abundance when being run over by car.

I work in retail and do more than my share. It has won me admirers and has been at the sacrifice of my marriage to some extent: mostly time!

This was the easiest and hardest book to put down for me as it spoke to me personally about where my life could end up if I don't make better choices as to wher to spread the butter of my life.

Thankyou Arthur=)
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
When I was in high school, we were told the great American playwrights were Eugene O'Neil, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and Death of a Salesman Miller's greatest play. Well, I'd give my teacher two out of that three. I've always found Miller both preachy and underwhelming. All His Sons, the other play by Miller taught me in high school always seemed rather crude in its moral message, and rather a so what. I admit I do have a soft spot for Miller's one historic play, The Crucible, even if it's metaphor for McCarthyism is rather transparent. But I just can't reading Miller compare his turgid lines to the beauty and piercing intensity of O'Neil and Williams and put him into the same category. Their language soars--Miller is definitely pedestrian. One could say that suits the subject of this, his most famous play, the iconic Willy Loman. The bottom line of the play can be expressed in a line by his wife: "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person." Willy is supposed to be an American everyman--a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman. The play is supposed to direct our attention to the dark side and shallowness of the American dream. I admit that might be a lot of why I do feel such antipathy for the play--I feel so resistant and resentful of its message (and that I was forced to read it.) I admit this might play better on the stage and film than on the page. And I do recommend reading it--for reasons of cultural literacy alone.… (more)


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