For this review i’m going to be blunt right from the get-go. This book, or play rather, is not for all audiences. For those of you craving the blood-stained pages and political intrigue of fantasy novels such as Game of Thrones or the action-packed dystopian thrillers populating the YA genre as of late look elsewhere. This tale is slow-moving and subtle and demands maturity and keen observation to fully appreciate. Ironically, both of these traits were absent in my decision to read this book. I picked it up solely because of its slim profile composed of only 117 pages in comparison to the daunting thickness of some of its 400 page counterparts which simply wouldn’t fit into my cramped reading schedule. At first glance my copy of Death of a Salesman nearly made me faint. Its page count was nearly double that of what Wikipedia promised me. I was beginning to feel anxious as I cracked open the book and flipped to the first page. Guess what I found? An introduction and analysis longer than the book. I was simultaneously relieved and vexed. On one hand the shortened reading time was a benefit but on the other hand I was fooled yet again by the pesky introduction. So with all my worries set aside I returned home, sunk into my leather couch, and began.
Willy Loman can’t seem to catch a break. He’s a man of the people, a salesman, a negotiator whose capitalization on social skills is becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age in which knowledge rather than charisma is the key to success. And he’s no spring chicken. He’s in his early sixties and is already showing signs of a mental breakdown. The past haunts him. Willy carries on longer conversations with himself replaying old memories than with his dutiful wife Linda. His son Biff has always been the apple of his eye. The big, handsome football star with a winning smile and impeccable physique that was destined for greatness. Wrong. He’s a 35 year-old high school flunkie who makes intermittent stops at his father’s house only to hash out old arguments. Death of a Salesman peels back the idyllic appearance of an American middle class family to show its dysfunction in a realistic light.
I’m sure that synopsis put half of you to sleep but for those of you still hanging in there you’re in for a treat. Despite the dry storyline and presentation I loved this book’s realistic characters tackling relatable issues such as unemployment, father-son feuds, infidelity, and much more. Despite being originally published in 1949 I feel this play is just as relevant or even more relevant today than it was 67 years ago. The globalization of the work force today directly ties into the theme of intellectual capital trumping all else. Also I believe its theatrical format adds to the atmosphere of the story with specific stage instructions that reveal the emotions of the characters. While the ending is rather predictable, it remains a testament to realism that reveals how life’s tragedies are often abrupt and unceremonious. Now, after completing this play I realize why the analysis is so thorough. There are so many nuances in the text that deserve attention and for once I may actually want to read the introduction and analysis of a book. One final reason to convince the scholarly and mature reader that has hung on thus far to pick up this book is that the theatrical adaptation of this written play received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is considered a “modern tragedy” that will add leagues upon leagues to your contextual pool.
Ben Doughty is an eleventh grade student at Novi High School. He enjoys English and European history and devotes his free time to Model United Nations in hopes of having a future in political science.