March 31, 2005

"Death of a Salesman"

It is always interesting to read a play. Rather than the nice tidy chapters full of description in a novel, plays are broken into scenes filled with stage directions and dialog. However, this doesn’t make reading a play more difficult. Whenever I read a play I find myself putting on the performance in my mind, complete with costumes, scenery, and overdone dramatics. If you can’t see it in the theater, bring the theater to you.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is one of those “classic” plays. Maybe it’s because it is by Miller- everything he does is a “classic”. They could put his name on bottled water and cereal and you’d have crazed English majors running to buy the “classic” goods. Either way, I’m glad to have read such a well-known play. Now when they make Biff references on “Seinfeld”, I’ll know what they are talking about. Ha

What surprised me in the play was the extreme detail in the stage directions. It wasn’t just “Biff moves stage left and looks at Willy” but “Biff solemnly moves towards the left as he gazes helplessly at Willy”. It almost seems like Miller wrote the play to be read as a literary piece as he did for it to be performed. Not only were directions and scenery described well, but also characters actions and, practically, thoughts. The description of Linda on page 12 gives a deep look into her feelings, feelings that the audience would not know just from watching the play.

The flashbacks are a unique element in Death of a Salesman. In plays, sometimes the action is hard to follow because it is not described as well as a novel. Yet there was no confusion with the flashbacks in Death of a Salesman. The flashbacks kept with the flow of the story and were easily understood. Also, they provided both a history of Biff and Willy plus a little foreshadowing. The Woman would not have been included just as another role for a woman and interest of Willy. No, in literature, everyone has a purpose and hers was aiding in the destruction of the wonderful relationship between father and son. The reader (or audience) knows that Willy was likely having an affair with The Woman and also sees that the relationship between Biff and Willy has obviously deteriorated since high school. Piece the two together and one can understand why there are troubles between the two men.

Posted by VanessaKolberg at March 31, 2005 11:21 PM | TrackBack

death of a salesman surprised me. I expected it to bore me to pieces, but willy is so grumpy that he carried me through the story. Especially at the end. It has to be one of my favourite endings ever. I didn't really care for his reasons for doing it, but the fact that he did it make him super cool. I did kind of felt bad for his wife, until I realized how weak a character she was. Oh well, she still wasn't sorry enough to bring the rest of the story down.

Posted by: Micah at March 31, 2005 11:57 PM

Nessa, you and Leslie both seem to like reading plays... do you have any advice for Sam, who finds plays challenging to read?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 1, 2005 12:47 AM

I've given her some advice on her blog. Hope it helps!

Posted by: Nessa at April 1, 2005 10:34 AM

I would really like to see this play performed; although this version reads well as a work of literature, as you said, I think it would be helpful to actually see it all come together. Putting on an imaginary performance in your head just isn't the same as getting to watch every detail unfold on a real stage.

Posted by: ChrisU at April 4, 2005 10:43 AM

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this play. (probably because we've spent so much time talking about it) How would you describe the American Dream of todays society? Like honestly, I can say that there are a lot of things that make up such a dream. I think first you have to distinguish between wants and needs. The American Dream is comprised of things we want (or maybe one specific thing). But then again we are left with the idea that we need to achieve such a dream in order to be socially accepted. The line between a want and need is very thin in this definition. What do you all think?

Posted by: Leslie at April 4, 2005 06:06 PM

Oh, it it certainly a fine line between want and need. We can say we want a new car then make excuses for why we *need* it. With "Death of a Salesman" the American Dream focuses on wants/needs. People want to live comfortably and want to have a good family. To do this, they need money. And when they get the money they buy all the things they "need" to live out the dream- which they want. (I don't think that made a whole lot of sense. Sorry) Willy became too caught up in this vicious cycle of wants and needs yet continued, even to his death, because it was what he was supposed to do- achieve the American Dream.

Posted by: Nessa at April 4, 2005 10:26 PM
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