In 1949, Arthur Miller's famous neo-classical tragedy, Death of a Salesman, was released, and received international applause and praise as a stark view of post-war America, and an attack on the disillusioned American Dream, that everyone can become great and rich through business. The main character, Willy Loman, is an old salesman who is slowly going mad. He keeps slipping back in his memories to the past, and to better times. He used to be a well-known and respected salesman, but now, as all his contacts have retired or died, he is a nobody. All his aspirations and hopes have failed, for example, his son Biff, who could have become a professional American football player, is now a drifter, and he himself has attained none of the things that he so faithfully thought would be available to him. He had always told his children that they would go somewhere, and one of the final rubbing-face-in-the-dirt moments involves the child of the next door neighbour, Charley, becoming a brilliant lawyer. This is humiliating, because Charley never pushed his child, and now he is doing better than both of Willy's. I do not want to give away the story, but would like to discuss some of the recurrent themes in Death of a Salesman.
The American Dream is an important factor in the play, with different people interpreting it in different ways: Biff thinks it is being able to be free and unshackled of respnsibilities, whereas Willy thinks it is becoming economically afloat: ultimately, neither of them experience it. Willy thinks superficiality is important: he is pleased that Biff is good-looking, and so shuns Happy, his other son, more (though he is more successful with women). The other important theme is that of deception, and convincing ourselves that things are better than they really are. All the characters lie about their successes both to others and themselves: they convince themselves that things are and will get better than at the present time, and this shows the tragically optimistic side of human nature. This is a superb play, and I would recommend it to absolutely everyone. It is very moving, and one of the greatest American plays this century, and probably ever.