Death of a Salesman
|Death of a Salesman|
First edition cover (Viking Press)
|Written by||Arthur Miller|
|Date premiered||10 February 1949|
|Place premiered||Morosco Theatre
New York City
|Subject||The waning days of a failing salesman|
|Setting||Late 1940s; Willy Loman's house; New York City and Barnaby River; Boston|
Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival.
Willy Loman returns home exhausted after a cancelled business trip. Worried over Willy's state of mind and recent car accident, his wife Linda suggests that he ask his boss Howard Wagner to allow him to work in his home city so he will not have to travel. Willy complains to Linda that their son, Biff, has yet to make good on his life. Despite Biff's promise as an athlete in high school, he flunked senior year math and never went to college.
Biff and his brother, Happy, who are temporarily staying with Willy and Linda after Biff's unexpected return from the West, reminisce about their childhood together. They discuss their father's mental degeneration, which they have witnessed by his constant vacillations and talking to himself. When Willy walks in, angry that the two boys have never amounted to anything, Biff and Happy tell Willy that Biff plans to make a business proposition the next day in an effort to pacify their father.
The next day, Willy goes to ask his boss, Howard, for a job in town while Biff goes to make a business proposition, but neither is successful. Willy gets angry and ends up getting fired when the boss tells him he needs a rest and can no longer represent the company. Biff waits hours to see a former employer who does not remember him and turns him down. Biff impulsively steals a fountain pen. Willy then goes to the office of his neighbor Charley, where he runs into Charley's son Bernard (now a successful lawyer); Bernard tells him that Biff originally wanted to do well in summer school, but something happened in Boston when Biff went to visit Willy that changed his mind.
Happy, Biff, and Willy meet for dinner at a restaurant, but Willy refuses to hear bad news from Biff. Happy tries to get Biff to lie to their father. Biff tries to tell him what happened as Willy gets angry and slips into a flashback of what happened in Boston the day Biff came to see him. Willy had been having an affair with a receptionist on one of his sales trips when Biff arrived at Willy's hotel room unexpectedly. A shocked Biff angrily confronts his father, calling him a liar and a fraud. From that moment, Biff's views of his father change and set Biff adrift.
Biff leaves the restaurant in frustration, followed by Happy and two girls that Happy has picked up. They leave a confused and upset Willy behind in the restaurant. When they later return home, their mother angrily confronts them for abandoning their father while Willy remains talking to himself outside. Biff goes outside to try to reconcile with Willy. The discussion quickly escalates into another argument, at which point Biff forcefully tries to convey to his father that he is not meant for anything great, insisting that both of them are simply ordinary men meant to lead ordinary lives. The feud culminates with Biff hugging Willy and crying as he tries to get him to let go of his unrealistic expectations that he still carries for Biff and wants instead for Willy to accept him for who he really is. He tells his father he loves him.
Rather than listen to what Biff actually says, Willy realizes his son has forgiven him and thinks Biff will now pursue a career as a businessman. Willy kills himself, intentionally crashing his car so that Biff can use the life insurance money to start his business. However, at the funeral Biff retains his belief that he does not want to become a businessman. Happy, on the other hand, chooses to follow in his father's footsteps.
- William "Willy" Loman: The salesman. He is 63 years old and very unstable, tending to imagine events from the past as if they are real. He vacillates between different perceptions of his life. Willy seems childlike and relies on others for support. His first name, Willy, reflects this childlike aspect as well as sounding like the question "Will he?" His last name gives the feel of Willy's being a "low man," someone low on the social ladder and unlikely to succeed; however, this popular interpretation of his last name has been dismissed by Miller.
- Linda Loman: Willy's wife. Linda is passively supportive and docile when Willy talks unrealistically about hopes for the future, although she seems to have a good knowledge of what is really going on. She chides her sons, particularly Biff, for not helping Willy more, and supports Willy lovingly, despite the fact that Willy sometimes treats her poorly, ignoring her opinions over those of others. She is the first to realize Willy is contemplating suicide at the beginning of the play, and urges Biff to make something of himself, while expecting Happy to help Biff do so.
- Biff Loman: Willy's older son. Biff was a football star with lots of potential in high school, but failed math his senior year and dropped out of summer school when he saw Willy with another woman while visiting him in Boston. He goes between going home to try to fulfill Willy's dream for him to be a businessman and ignoring his father and going out West to be a farmhand where he is happiest. He likes being outdoors and working with his hands yet wants to do something worthwhile so Willy will be proud. Biff steals because he wants evidence of success, even if it is false evidence, but overall Biff remains a realist, and informs Willy that he is just a normal guy, and will not be a great man.
- Harold "Happy" Loman: Willy's younger son. He's lived in the shadow of his older brother Biff most of his life and seems to be almost ignored, but he still tries to be supportive towards his family. He has a very restless lifestyle as a womanizer and dreams of moving beyond his current job as an assistant to the assistant buyer at the local store, but is unfortunately willing to cheat a little in order to do so, by taking bribes. He is always looking for approval from his parents, but rarely gets any, and he even goes as far as to make things up just for attention, such as telling his parents he is going to get married. He tries often to keep his family's perceptions of each other positive or "happy" by defending each of them during their many arguments, but still has the most turbulent relationship with Linda, who looks down on him for his lifestyle and apparent cheapness, despite him giving them money.
- Charley: Willy's wisecracking yet understanding neighbor. He pities Willy and frequently lends him money and comes over to play cards with Willy, although Willy often treats him poorly. Willy is jealous of him because his son is more successful than Willy's. Charley offers Willy a job many times during visits to his office, yet Willy declines every time, even after he loses his job as a salesman.
- Bernard: Charley's son. In Willy's flashbacks, he is a nerd, and Willy forces him to give Biff test answers. He worships Biff and does anything for him. Later, he is a very successful lawyer, married, and expecting a second son. These successes are of the very kind that Willy wants for his sons, and in particular, Biff, making him contemplate where he had gone wrong as a father.
- Uncle Ben: Willy's older brother who became a diamond tycoon after a detour to Africa. He is dead but Willy frequently speaks to him in his hallucinations of the past. Ben frequently boasts, "when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich." He is Willy's role model, although he is much older and has no real relationship with Willy, preferring to assert his superiority over his younger brother. He represents Willy's idea of the American Dream success story, and is shown coming by the Lomans' house while on business trips to share stories.
- Ms. Francis: A woman with whom Willy cheated on Linda.
- Howard Wagner: Willy's boss. He was named by Willy, but sees Willy as a liability for the company and fires him, ignoring all the years that Willy has given to the company. Howard is extremely proud of his wealth, which is manifested in his new wire recorder, and his family.
- Jenny: Charley's secretary.
- Stanley: A waiter at the restaurant who seems to be friends or acquainted with Happy.
- Miss Forsythe: A girl whom Happy picks up at the restaurant. She is very pretty and claims she was on several magazine covers. Happy lies to her, making himself and Biff look like they are important and successful. (Happy claims that he attended West Point and that Biff is a star football player.)
- Letta: Miss Forsythe's friend.
||This section possibly contains original research. (April 2011)|
The play is mostly told from the point of view of the protagonist, Willy, and the previous parts of Willy's life are revealed in the analepsis, sometimes during a present day scene. It does this by having a scene begin in the present time, and adding characters onto the stage whom only Willy can see and hear, representing characters and conversations from other times and places.
Many dramatic techniques are also used to represent these time shifts. For example, leaves often appear around the current setting (representing the leaves of the two elm trees which were situated next to the house, prior to the development of the apartment blocks). Biff and Happy are dressed in high school football sweaters and are accompanied with the "gay music of the boys". The characters will also be allowed to pass through the walls that are impassable in the present, as told in Miller's stage directions in the opening of ACT 1:
Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken and characters enter or leave a room by stepping 'through' a wall onto the fore-stage.
However some of these time shifts/imaginings occur when there are present characters onstage; one example of this is during a conversation between Willy and his neighbor Charley. During the conversation, Willy's brother Ben comes on stage and begins talking to Willy while Charley speaks to Willy. When Willy begins talking to his brother, the other characters do not understand to whom he is talking, and some of them even begin to suspect that he has "lost it". However, at times it breaks away from Willy's point of view and focuses on the other characters: Linda, Biff, and Happy. During these parts of the play, the time and place stay constant without any abrupt flashbacks that usually happen while the play takes Willy's point of view.
The play's structure resembles a stream of consciousness account: Willy drifts between his living room, downstage, to the apron and flashbacks of an idyllic past, and also to fantasized conversations with Ben. When we are in the present the characters abide by the rules of the set, entering only through the stage door to the left; however, when we visit Willy's "past" these rules are removed, with characters openly moving through walls. Whereas the term "flashback" as a form of cinematography for these scenes is often heard, Miller himself rather speaks of "mobile concurrences". In fact, flashbacks would show an objective image of the past. Miller's mobile concurrences, however, rather show highly subjective memories. Furthermore, as Willy's mental state deteriorates, the boundaries between past and present are destroyed, and the two start to exist in parallel.
The original Broadway production was produced by Kermit Bloomgarden and opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, closing on November 18, 1950 after 742 performances. The play starred Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman, Mildred Dunnock as Linda, Arthur Kennedy as Biff and Cameron Mitchell as Happy. Albert Dekker and Gene Lockhart later played Willy Loman during the original Broadway run. It won the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Arthur Kennedy), Best Scenic Design (Jo Mielziner), Producer (Dramatic), Author (Arthur Miller), and Director (Elia Kazan), as well as the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Jayne Mansfield performed in a production of the play in Dallas, Texas in October 1953. Her performance in the play attracted Paramount Pictures to hire her for the studio's film productions.
The play has been revived on Broadway four times:
- June 26, 1975 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, running for 71 performances. George C. Scott starred as Willy.
- March 29, 1984 at the Broadhurst Theatre, running for 97 performances. Dustin Hoffman played Willy. In a return engagement, this production re-opened on September 14, 1984 and ran for 88 performances. The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival.
- February 10, 1999 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, running for 274 performances, with Brian Dennehy as Willy. The production won the Tony Award for: Best Revival of a Play; Best Actor in Play; Best Featured Actress in a Play (Elizabeth Franz); Best Direction of a Play (Robert Falls). This production was filmed.
- February 13, 2012 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, in a limited run of 16 weeks. Directed by Mike Nichols, Philip Seymour Hoffman played Willy, Andrew Garfield played Biff, and Linda Emond played Linda.
Film and television adaptations
- 1951: Adapted by Stanley Roberts and directed by László Benedek who won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Fredric March), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Kevin McCarthy), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mildred Dunnock), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. See main article: Death of a Salesman (1951 film).
- 1961: En Handelsresandes död starring Kolbjörn Knudsen and directed by Hans Abramson (in Swedish)
- 1968: Der Tod eines Handlungsreisenden starring Heinz Rühmann and directed by Gerhard Klingenberg
- 1966 (CBS): Starring Lee J. Cobb, Gene Wilder, Mildred Dunnock, James Farentino, Karen Steele and George Segal and directed by Alex Segal. See main article: Death of a Salesman (1966 TV movie).
- 1966 (BBC): Starring Rod Steiger, Betsy Blair, Tony Bill, Brian Davies and Joss Ackland and directed by Alan Cooke. - See main article: Death of a Salesman (1966 BBC drama).
- 1985: Starring Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich, Stephen Lang and Charles Durning and directed by Volker Schlöndorff. See main article: Death of a Salesman (1985 film).
- 1996: Starring Warren Mitchell, Rosemary Harris, Iain Glen and Owen Teale and directed by David Thacker.
- 2000: Starring Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Franz, Ron Eldard, Ted Koch, Howard Witt and Richard Thompson and directed by Kirk Browning. See main article: Death of a Salesman (2000 film).
Awards and nominations
- 1949 Broadway
- New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play (win)
- Pulitzer Prize for Drama (win)
- Tony Award for Best Play (win)
- Tony Award, Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Dramatic)- Arthur Kennedy (win)
- Tony Award, Best Scenic Design — Jo Mielziner (win)
- Tony Award Author — Arthur Miller (win)
- Tony Award Best Director — Elia Kazan (win)
- 1975 Broadway revival
- Tony Award Best Actor in Play — George C. Scott (nominee)
- 1984 Broadway revival
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play — Dustin Hoffman (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — John Malkovich (win); David Huddleston (nominee)
- Tony Award for Best Reproduction (win)
- 1999 Broadway revival
- Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play (win)
- Tony Award Best Actor in Play — Brian Dennehy (win)
- Tony Award Best Featured Actor in a Play — Kevin Anderson (nominee); Howard Witt (nominee)
- Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play — Elizabeth Franz (win)
- Tony Award Best Direction of a Play — Robert Falls (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Play (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play — Brian Dennehy (win)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play — Elizabeth Franz (nominee)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — Kevin Anderson (win); Howard Witt (nominee)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play — Robert Falls (nominee)
- Drama Desk Award Outstanding Music in a Play — Incidental music by Richard Woodbury (nominee)
2012 Broadway revival
- Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (win)
- Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play — Mike Nichols (win)
- Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play — Philip Seymour Hoffman (nominee)
- Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play — Andrew Garfield (nominee)
- Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play — Linda Emond (nominee)
- Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play — Brian MacDevitt (nominee)
- Tony Award for Best Sound Design of a Play — Scott Lehrer (nominee)
- "Death of a Salesman". Retrieved 6 March 2011.
- Sullivan, Steve. Va Va Voom, General Publishing Group, Los Angeles, California, p.50.
- Gans, Andrew."Starry Revival of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' Opens on Broadway" playbill.com, March 15, 2012
- Itzkoff, Dave (25 August 2010). "Christopher Lloyd stars in 'Death of a Salesman'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- Hurell, John D. (1961). Two Modern American Tragedies: Reviews and Criticism of Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: Scribner. pp. 82–8. OCLC 249094.
- Sandage, Scott A. (2005). Born Losers: A History of Failure in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01510-X.
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