What is the American Dream? Most people still think of it as financial stability and/or wealth. A house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. A husband or wife. Two kids. A dog. Grilling on lazy Sunday afternoons and bowling with the league after getting off work at five. This is the stereotypical American Dream that is as American as apple pie or baseball.
In Arthur Miller's classic screenplay DEATH OF A SALESMAN, chasing said dream - and the consequences that can arise from accepting anything less - is tackled quite masterfully.
While reading this work, I was forced to reflect on what I want in MY future. Being in my second year of college, I think about my future more than anything else. I think about my career (getting a doctorate in English and teaching on the college level) and what I need to do to achieve my goals. As well as my future career, I think of my future relationships. I wonder if I'll ever marry (seems unlikely, but you never can tell). I wonder if I'll manage to make friends wherever I move to. I wonder if I'll be happy, or even content... Or if I'll always want more. DEATH OF A SALESMAN is a work that has stood the test of time because Miller addresses these very thoughts and fears -- the ones everyone has almost constantly. We, as humans, always want more. Perhaps that sounds a bit cynical, but it's where I'm at right now. Sorry.
This screenplay is pretty short to read, being only two acts and a Requiem. The characters are all drawn vividly, especially the title character -- a father and husband who has just lost his job and is slowly going insane with greed and depression. He's realized his life is not what he wanted it to be. His sons are lazy. No one respects him at work. He's gotten old. As well as the salesman (Willy is his name, by the way), his family and those associated with him really come alive and I was immediately drawn into this drama of domestic and monetary woes. My only complaint is the way the flashbacks are handled. It is always really unclear when the story has gone back in time, but I'm sure that's a problem this play has when being read only. On stage I am sure it works wonderfully and adds quite a lot to the story. Still, I was pulled out of the reading from time to time because of the occasional confusing time-lapse.
In short: if you're a fan of American literature at all, you need to read this. In many ways it sums up the baser instincts and emotions Americans (or, perhaps, anyone living in a major country) face and must work through in childhood, young adulthood, and late adulthood. Between the pages of this short work is THE American experience. Not to be missed.