Death of a Salesman

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Play by Arthur Miller, produced and published in 1949, won a Pulitzer Prize.

Willy Loman, a bewildered, well-intentioned, unsuccessful traveling salesman aged 63, is pleased by the return home for a visit of his sons Biff and Happy, but they are upset by his peculiar behavior and hallucinatory conversations with figures of a happier past, and they worry about the effect on Linda, their compassionate mother, who loves her husband and recognizes that his actions stem from the disparity of his “massive dreams” and a disappointing reality. Wanting desperately to be successful and well liked, Willy had fallen victim to the false values of society and cannot cope with his failure or that of Biff, once a high-school football hero, now moody and jobless. Linda persuades Biff to try for a good job to make his father proud, but when, with Happy, he meets his father in the restaurant where they intend to treat him to a celebration dinner, Biff tells the truth about his ill-fated appointment and destroys Willy's hopes. In confusion Willy goes to the washroom and relives the awful time when Biff, desperately needing his help, traveled to Boston, where he discovered him with his mistress. Realizing his responsibility for Biff's aimlessness and disillusionment, Willy stumbles back to the table, only to find that the boys have deserted him for two chippies. Humiliated and stunned, he returns home, fights with Biff, and then is touched by Biff's tears of concern and love. In a final hallucinatory talk with his brother Ben, a successful self-made man, Willy decides on suicide to provide Biff with insurance money. At the funeral, which none of his business acquaintances attend, a friend points out “Willy was a salesman … a man … riding on a smile and a shoeshine.… Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”

Subjects: Literature.

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Arthur Miller (1915—2005) American dramatist