Death of a Salesman

I went to see Death of a Salesman in London on Saturday. It was a great production with Brian Dennehy tremendous as Willie Loman. I’ve not seen it on stage before and it was a treat to come to it with fresh eyes.

Loman is the archetype of the man who didn’t get Kipling’s advice about not making dreams your master. This, Miller spells out for us, is the trouble with being a salesman. Loman is a furious meaning-maker, lurching from wild despair to naive optimism and unable to make any real connection with those he loves. He loses touch with reality, his life becoming a confused mixture of hallucinations, punctuated by shocking interruptions from the real world around him – ranging from the breakdown of his fridge to the intrusion of his adoring son into his tryst with his mistress.

In Loman’s world, the heavily advertised product ought to be the most reliable but his car and his fridge, you might say his life, prove otherwise. It’s a biting counterpoint to what I might call the dream of the American dream.

It’s a good reminder not to confuse our experience with our interpretations of it. There’s not so very much that we really know for sure, and getting to stuck to our interpretations can be a source of a lot of pain…

4 thoughts on “Death of a Salesman

  1. Jack Yan

    When I read the play at age 17, I never thought about it from a marketing standpoint. I just thought that Biff Simonizing a car was a weird conversation topic. But you are right, Johnnie. Sales often do not work because of a lack of connection with consumers. It may have everything to do with the sales’ force, or the brand they represent. Get them wrong, and all one is selling is an illusion. And the hard sell, those many advertisements on TV touting incremental improvements for a new model year, are the most illusory of all communications.

  2. Ian Glendinning

    Good analysis, and you make an interesting point Johnnie, but it’s a conundrum …

    “confusing experience with interpretations” you say – the reality of life is that outside some zen-like immediacy in the very moment of experiencing, all our remembered experiences are representations and interpretations, and all our decisions, rationalisations and justifications are based on these – seen through what Mr Snowden would call our “schemata” – the set of cultural patterns already evolved in our heads.

    Fascinating to get an Arthur Miller connection to this same recurring subject.

  3. Johnnie Moore

    Ian: Thanks for that conundrum. And yes, funnily someone was discussing the same point with me yesterday. There’s some important point here about the value of spontaneity and a link to why Improv works, but I’m not feeling very articulate about it this morning.

    At a practical level, it’s easy to get trapped by language but for me times when I feel angry, sad, happy whatever and say so are pretty immediate and not necessarily very zen like. They also don’t feel anything like as interpretive as statements like “X is a difficult person” or “General Motors is a good (or bad) brand”. Willie Loman makes lots of these statements about the world and doesn’t seem to say directly how he feels. In the play, we see his descent into delusion which I think is a result.

    At some philosophical level I suppose words like anger, sadness etc are part of a schemata but what happens when we use them may not be.

    My post about “Radical Honesty” talks more about this.

  4. Tom Guarriello

    Yes, we never realize that the ultimate reflection of our interpretive schema (or worldview) is the perceptual world around us. We see “things,” we find outselves emotionally reacting to them, possibilites appear…all as an outgrowth of our being-in-the-world, which is the lens through which reality appears. I wrote a series of posts about this, one of my favorite subjects, about a year ago.

    Take a look if interested: (hope you don’t mind me listing these here, Johnnie)

    Penny Lane

    Penny Lane 2

    Penny Lane 3


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