THE DEATH OF EVERYMAN
THE DEATH OF A SALESMAN, ARTHUR MILLER
Arthur Miller had a good ear for the foibles and traumas of the ordinary people of the old middle class put up against the wall in a world that was dramatically changing after World War II. The time of the man in the gray flannel suit and the victory of corporate culture that destroyed the old independent professions was not the main character of the piece Willie Loman’s time. In this play, seemingly only about the trials and tribulations of Everyman Willie Loman a used up salesman at the end of his career, the underlying tension is that he cannot keep up with those changes required by modern capitalist technique and therefore has to be discarded. In a recent review of the book The Disposable American, that is essentially a study of today’s used up Willie Lomans, I noted that the author had caught the desperation of that layer of working people that had gotten waylaid by globalization. Seemingly Willie is their voice-the voice of shame, individual impotency and sense of lost and betrayal but also a certain pridefulness. Unfortunately, Willie Loman and today's Willies are disturbingly clueless about the forces that have done them in.
This occupational demise naturally has a fallout effect on Willie’s personal life as well. He does not understand what has happened to destroy the integrity of his dysfunctional nuclear family. The old standards that had guided him do not stand up in the new suburban-dominated world where he must try to survive. Obviously there is some dramatic tension between him and his sons who have in their own way nothing but contempt for the old man, his old ways, his illusions and his duplicity. But also, as is always the case with rebellious children, love, at least their conception of it, as well. That this love is not good enough to save Willie in the end is one of the lessons to be learned from the play. That is where the need for political solutions begin. But enough. Read the play and see the Lee J. Cobb version of the movie. Cobb IS Willie Loman.