Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller Aesthetic Response

The reason I chose Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller to read was because when I went to visit my friend Joanna, she was reading it for school. The discussion during her English class on the book was interesting and it seemed that most of them enjoyed the book. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to read it.

As an initial response, I would have to say this book is pretty good. It moved fast, probably because it is a play, and yet it was powerful. The day I checked the book out from the library, I read half of it in one sitting. It’s hard to stop because things just keep flowing from one sequence to another. There is never a point where everyone is offstage, until the curtain closes at the end of the first act. Some parts of the novel were hard to picture in my head, because people came and went from past to present and because I can’t physically see the stage in front of me, the shifting of time confused me.

One thing that surprised me was the title. Before I had read the book, I would have thought that the "death" would be figurative, but Willy really dies at the end of the book. He may be physically dead, but of course he’s going to live on in the minds of his sons and his wife.

"LINDA: Why didn’t anybody come?

CHARLEY: It was a very nice funeral.

LINDA: But where are all the people he knew?"

During his lifetime, Willy pretended to be somebody he wasn’t. He wasn’t the great salesman that everybody loved, he had to wait for people, he was never called back to the office right as he entered. He lived a dream, and he wanted his sons to love him. When he was still living, Happy and Biff loved him, except they were all constantly fighting. After death, there was no more fighting, so their love for their father could be constant. It seems it always takes a tragedy to make something right.

Something I keep thinking about it their family name, Loman. Were they really as low as their name suggests or were they just common people trying to make a living for themselves? There were low points of Willy’s life such as when he was having an affair with another woman. But he did work hard, and he tried to support his family. In classic pieces of artwork, through composition, the heaviest objects are always placed at the bottom. These objects are placed low on the page, yet they are the support that holds the rest of the piece together. Perhaps all Willy wanted to do was hold together his family even though he couldn’t even control his own life.

The passage I keep thinking back to is when Willy is with the other woman, and Biff finds him.

"BIFF: Somebody got in your bathroom!

WILLY: No, it’s the next room, there’s a party—

THE WOMAN, enters, laughing. She lisps this: Can I come in? There’s something in the backtub, Willy, and it’s moving!

Willy looks at Biff, who is staring open-mouthed and horrified at The Woman."

Also the passage two pages later stands out to me.

"BIFF, his weeping breaking from him: Dad...

WILLY, infected by it: Oh my boy...

BIFF: Dad...

WILLY: She’s nothing to me Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.

BIFF: You—you gave her Mama’s stocking! His tears break through and he rises to go."

I could not imagine how traumatized a child would be to realize that their father of mother was with someone other than their significant other. Biff loved his mother more than anyone, and for his dad to betray her was incomprehensible to him. It must have been extremely hard to find out by actually seeing her. Feeling sorry for him just doesn’t cut it; it’s a lot more than that. It’s wanting to comfort Biff, by taking revenge on Willy. How Willy gave the woman Linda’s stockings reminds me of how Clinton gave both Hillary and Monica copies of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

In Michael McClure’s poem "The Chamber," he talks about how only the brave people are strong enough to hope. I think that applies to this story too, because all this life, Willy hoped. He wanted to live his life through his sons, and he wanted a better life for them, and not to be failures like him. At the end, because his hopes and wishes didn’t come true, he killed himself. He wasn’t brave enough. He was agonized by his awareness of his falseness, and he was haunted by his constant failure, so he felt he had no choice but to end his life. I believe all he needed to do was talk to his sons and actually listen to them once and for all. If he wasn’t satisfied with himself, he needed to fix that, it shouldn’t be up to Biff or Happy. A drama critic, Harold Clurman says, "Death of a Salesman is a challenge to the American dream. This dream demands no challenge, only fulfillment." I don’t think it’s exactly a challenge to the American dream, I think it is an extension of the American dream. Their American dream was to become successful and rich and well liked. But all they did was hope, they needed to go out and do it.

Happy knows his father is a failure because he doesn’t crush his dreams. Biff tries to reach his own dreams and find himself, but he realizes he is just as hopeless as his father is. I believe when someone cries at this story, it is not for Willy, the pathetic protagonist, but also for his sons who are just as pathetic, and everyone else like Willy. Willy is the common man, the lower-middle-class father who represents so many people. I believe this novel meets my definition of beautiful. It is beautifully written in that it can elicit emotion and make the audience, whether the reader or the watcher, feel for the characters. The language is not difficult because it is a dialogue between semi unintelligent people, but it still is very powerful. Miller must have written this book deliberately, thinking about the stage setting, and how the room is set up. People from the past only enter from one side of the house, and when they enter, there is always a change in the music. This novel is also beautiful in the fact that there is some of us in every one of those characters.