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Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  192,317 ratings  ·  4,949 reviews
Since it was first performed in 1949, Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the tragic shortcomings of an American dreamer has been recognized as a milestone of the theatre. This Viking Critical Library edition of Death of a Salesman contains the complete text of the play, typescript facsimiles, and extensive critical and contextual material including:

Paperback, The Viking Critical Library (US/CAN), 448 pages
Published 1996 by Penguin Books (first published 1949)
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Edward Richmond Why do you think so? You're making a pretty controversial claim, so it would be smart of you to give some actual reasons for your opinion.

See, I did n…more
Why do you think so? You're making a pretty controversial claim, so it would be smart of you to give some actual reasons for your opinion.

See, I did not enjoy this play, but I think it's not always necessary for me to enjoy literature. It's nice when literature is thought-provoking, powerfully emotional, and also enjoyable to read. But sometimes literature evokes emotional responses that nobody really enjoys. I think Death of a Salesman is a really good example of that.

So do I like it? Nope. Is it an important work that grapples with serious questions? Yep.

This play asks really hard questions. What's the American Dream? Is it worth chasing? Is there a right or wrong way to chase it? How should sons feel about fathers who disappoint them? What makes a father a success or a failure?

These are all worth discussion, and this play discusses these concerns at length.

Most people who don't like the play seem to have one of three objections. 1) They think it's depressing, 2) they think the characters are unlikable, or 3) they don't like Miller's conclusion that Willy's idea of success is both ethically and financially bankrupt, because it depends on people liking him, rather than on his actually being a good person or producing something of lasting value.

To which I almost always say: you don't have to like it for it to be good, or even great. Some kinds of art are great in a way that is pleasurable. But some art is great because it forces you to look at an ugly truth. This play is that kind of art.

I mean, seriously, what's to LIKE about this play? It's about a man who fails as a salesman because he relies on being liked, rather than on being good at sales, and who fails as a father because he taught his sons to value being likable and handsome instead of talented, hardworking or ambitious, and who finally decides that he's worth more dead than alive, because at least if he kills himself and makes it look like an accident, his wife and kids will get the insurance money.

It's a lengthy meditation on the meaning of success, both within the framework of the American Dream, and in terms of what it means to be a good husband, father, brother, or son.(less)
Richard Aaah. The forces of life are in the book itself. The American Dream is the force that Willy Loman does not have a grip of. And it's destroyed him.…moreAaah. The forces of life are in the book itself. The American Dream is the force that Willy Loman does not have a grip of. And it's destroyed him.(less)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

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.

As a flute melody plays, Willy Loman returns to his home in Brooklyn one night, exhausted from a failed sales trip.

His wife, Linda, tries to persuade him to ask his boss, Howard Wagner, to let him work in New York so that he won't have to travel. Willy says that he will talk to Howard the next
A Classic with a big C. I can see why.
It's not a happy story. A story about a troubled family. About getting older and getting cast aside after years of hard work, never having quite made it. About big expectations, never met. Infidelity. About the estranged relationship between father and son. A father, what's he doing? Panicking because he is loosing his job.... loosing his grip on things... on his boys.... hallucinating even?Present and past events or even imagined flow in and out of the sto
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was a young kid, I always insisted like a spoiled brat on having one foot wedged securely in the closing door of Paradise.

As the bright light of that paradisal dawn left my world on its ceaseless journey west, I refused to think Paradise was over for me - at least until the fat lady started to sing...

But then, way back in 1960, I sat next to my Mom on a gleaming - though already antiquated - little post-war twin-prop ‘aeroplane’ to Toronto.

The smiling and immaculately pageboy’d stewardes
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.

There's something to be said for waiting until later in life to read certain books. The struggles of Willy Loman would have meant little to my younger, more impatient self.
Now, the huge amount of time Loman spends dreaming of his halcyon days strikes a chord with me.

Memory has a way of making everything seem bigger, brighter and better than it actually was.
People have a tendency to dwell on the past when the present turns out to be not
Jun 18, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Hate! Hate! Oh, the hate! Arthur Miller does a beautiful job of conveying the emptiness and meaninglessness of his protagonist's life. It left me wanting to jump off a very tall building if only I could overcome the crushing ennui and the conviction that even ending ones life was too meaningless and futile to contemplate. Maybe that means Miller accomplished what he set out to do, but I don't have to like it. ...more
Steven Godin
The action below takes place in the GR cafeteria.....

GR: Do you mind, is this seat taken?
STEVEN: No, please do!
GR: How are you today?
GR: Could you spare a few moments?
GR: So, what did you think of Death of a Salesman?
STEVEN: Great!, the venue may have been small, but that just made the whole experience more intimate. I parked myself in a seat somewhere near the back and in the middle, so had a good panoramic view of the stage, the performances from all the cast were go
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Attention must be paid."

The only time I saw "Death of a Salesman" professionally performed I was almost 19 and I wept for most of the second act. I have not read or seen it since, but recently returned to it. 16 years after my first encounter with this piece I still am moved by it, but for very different reasons. I guess that is what makes it a classic.
The protagonist of the play, the iconic Willy Loman, is a frustrating, loser of a man who frankly has been a cruel fool his entire life. He is j
ME: Good evening and welcome to part 3 of "Newt Gingrich meets Arthur Miller". As you may know, Mr Gingrich has recently been encouraging Americans to read Miller's works. Our third episode is devoted to Death of a Salesman, which--

LAWYER: Hold it right there.

ME: I'm sorry? Is there a problem?

LAWYER: Oh, go on and pretend you don't know what this is about. The "salesman" you're referring to is my client, President Donald Trump. "Death" is too obvious to be worth commenting on. Like so many liber
Susan Budd
Recently Goodreads added a Rereading Feature so members can keep track of all the times they’ve read a book. I wonder how many times I’ve read Death of a Salesman.

The first time I read it was in high school and I didn’t really like it. In later years I developed an appreciation for the play and assigned it to my college literature classes. I even got a VHS tape of the 1985 film with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich and watched it with my students.

Now I find myself again teaching a literature
Brian Yahn
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
Dreams have a dark side, and Death of a Salesman makes that painfully obvious.

Willy Loman, like all of us, just wants to be successful. And although at the start of the play he's amounted to nothing but failure, it's not from bad intention, it's not from lack of trying, it's from his ignorance. Willy thinks that success is measured in wealth, and the key to that is being well-liked. But he tries to cheat his way to wealth (instead of work hard and learn from his mistakes), so he ends up with no
Apr 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this book, Arthur Miller's masterpiece, one finds the reason that Miller was blacklisted during the Red Scare. His undisguised longing for a break from the class system and his disdain for the so-called "American Dream" are nothing short of remarkable.

Within Willy Lowman resides the typical American Dream with no reality. Overtaken by industrialism and materialism, this character represents the absolute failure of society's promise of economic prosperity. His life ends in the most tragic and
Dave Schaafsma
“I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”

I have seen, read and taught Death of a Salesman many times, and loved re-reading it again as part of my tour this year through what I
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1-fiction
Book Review
Arthur Miller is a fantastic writer. 4 of 5 stars to one his most known works, Death of a Salesman, written in 1949. Most Americans read this in middle school as a required book for their English courses. I am not positive when I read this, but I re-read it as part of my English degree in college. I enjoyed it more the second-time around, but it is still a very rough book to read. Not in terms of bad writing, but in terms of topics and emotions.

It focuses on the Loman fami
D.B. Woodling
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Audiences that appreciate exceptional writing and the human conditiion
Arthur Miller, one of the greatest playwrights to date, captures the frailty that is the human condition in his Pulitzer Prize-winning-drama, Death of a Salesman. The main character, Willy Loman, epitomizes the average hardworking male, manically struggling to fulfill unattainable dreams.

Loman now reaching the age of retirement and coming to terms with his physical limitations, Miller’s superior use of dialogue easily conveys Willy's gut-wrenching urgency to pass the baton to his disinterested
Aug 11, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really hate giving this book (well, play) one star. I hate giving any "classic" one star, for that matter. It must have gone down in history for a reason, and is beloved by many. In most classics like this, even if I don't like the story, characters, etc., I usually can find that "spark" that has made it so popular for so many years. But I can honestly say that I found no redeeming qualities in Death of a Salesman. None whatsoever. Sigh.

Maybe I would have been more comfortable actually seeing
I have heard the many references movies and people make to this play, but I didn't know the story. This is a complex piece of writing about aging and dreams not being achieved. I want to see this to see how it all works on the stage. There is so much going on. Time is blended and played with here by Willy. Everything that is going on in his head along with the present all swirl about so that he and us are just a little confused as to what is now, what is past, and what is happening. I mean we kn ...more
This is a tragic tale beautifully told by Arthur Miller.

Previous times I’ve read this, Linda Loman seemed to me to be a passive character who is fiercely loyal to her husband, Willy Loman. This time round I saw her as a woman who was doing all she could to help her husband be happy. Linda Loman is practical, patient and generous to her husband’s obsessive search for that miracle that will give him the happiness he believes he deserves. She is also ready to sacrifice her relationships with her so
Jonathan Terrington
"I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."

Attention, attention must finally be paid... So sounds out Arthur Miller's cry to observe that every individual, every human being must
Sara Alaee
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: play, classic
“Death of a salesman” is an amazing classic in its true sense. It’s gripping, moving, touching and painful. In a world where everybody’s judged by his/her material accomplishments and investments, this profound piece of literature may be an alarming notion that what matters is not necessarily what one seeks or desires. Life’s merely a matter of living for the sake of others: A man is useful as long as he contributes to the society and useless once he stops. In such society there is no motivation ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I surely must have read this classic in high school, but for the life of me do not remember it. Didn't even remember what poor Willy sold until I picked up this wonderful little Penguin copy of the screenplay. I know I've said it before, but I love Penguin books. They have the coolest book covers!

Anyway, now I've read it and won't likely forget it....and, yes....poor Willy Loman. He is a lost soul and aging 63 year old salesman who has spent his sorry life traveling from state to state selling

Sidharth Vardhan
"I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?"

I don't know if Miller intended it as such but it might as well be a criticism of capitalism.

Just look at what Willy has to say to his boss upon being fired:

"You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away — a man is not a piece of fruit."

but this criticism is more existional:

"After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive."


"Work a lifetime to pay off a
Chaunceton Bird
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Finally, I found the book/play I've been looking for. A book/play that tells it like it is. That cuts the fluff and hopeful fairy tale endings and demonstrates how capacious ambition and hard work, more often than not, leaves one like everybody else. The truth is, we're all basically alike. "A dime a dozen," in the words of Biff Loman. And being a sociable, determined person won't put one above the rest, it will put one among them. This is an excellent book/play. Arthur Miller is positively dese ...more
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very haunting story.... of broken dreams. And the power these dreams and hopes can have...
Nov 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh the tragedy! This is so good to read though, I feel as though this book has to be read with someone because you must have someone to debrief with about the happenings throughout the plot. Good 'ol Willy. ...more

Description: David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker and director Howard Davies, who all won awards for the sell-out production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons in the West End in 2010, reunite to create a new production for Radio 3 of Miller's 1949 classic about the American dream and his second big Broadway success. The original won The Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award and Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. This new radio production is part of the celebra
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This book was better than I thought it would be. I was expecting a boring and easy read but what I got was very different. There was action even though you wouldn't really think that those scenes were that exciting. The characters were also really interesting.

I felt bad for Willy at his determination to keep pursuing his dream of being a salesman despite his lack of success. I also was sad about how he truly didn't see his mistakes or reality. He had so many flashbacks and they interfered wit
Nov 18, 2018 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
Those who make syllabi in Pakistan are for some reason very fond of Arthur Miller. First they included this in the text books and later,The Crucible.

Me,I could take it or leave it. Yes,it is a sad story about loss of hope and shattered expectations. The ending is strong,the rest of the play isn't.

But,when I had to read it,it felt like a chore. The dialogue didn't hold my attention. Read it because I had to,not because I wanted to.

Haven't felt any compelling need to read Arthur Miller again.
Willy Loman is one of those modern existential characters trapped in the everyday absurd world. His story is about what happens when a sense of righteousness to do good for your family and yourself gets a "collision" with the cruel and mostly indifferent world. The recurrent theme of good-old "American Dream" met here reminded me of another great story, told in prose - "Of mice and men"...I found "Death of a Salesman" to be a revelation and introspection of different desires and motivations and ...more
Nov 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book many apparently studied and hated in High-school, and no doubt I would have as well. I have no idea why that age group would be interested in the Story of Willie Loman our 60 year old "salesman" here, as he's looking back over his life. Has he been successful, or has he not, is he a tragic dreamer, a hero, or like most of us somewhere in between ? If you're not old enough to have asked these questions of yourself, this book most likely is not for you, that said it's been around since 1949 ...more
J.G. Keely
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama, reviewed, america
I'm usually not much for modern authors and their down-to-earth realism, but that's because most of them never create any sort of psychological or emotional interest. This is one of the rare works about the Simple Tragedy that I found true, funny, and inspiring. It's no Chekhov, but what is? ...more
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Arthur Asher Miller was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman, which are still studied and performed worldwide. Miller was often in the public eye, most famously for refusing to g ...more

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“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be … when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” 290 likes
“The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy.” 171 likes
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