Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is playing on Broadway again. It has been revived a number of times since it was first produced in 1949, and by all accounts, this particular revival has been a success. It’s even expected to turn a neat little profit.
Over at the graying lady, however, Lee Siegel wonders “why the play was revived at all.” Willy believes, Siegel writes, that he can “attain dignity through his work,” but no one believes this anymore:
In our time of banker hustlers, real-estate hustlers and Internet hustlers, of suckers and “muppets,” it is unlikely that anyone associates happiness and dignity with working hard for a comfortable existence purchased with a modest income. Even what’s left of the middle class disdains a middle-class life. Everyone, rich, poor and in between, wants infinite pleasure and fabulous riches.
Siegel needs to read the play again. It’s not quite right that Willy believes he can attain dignity through hard work. Rather he believes he can attain it through success by force of personality alone. He has very little interest in hard work, as his refrain “He’s liked, but not well-liked,” his memories of Ben striking it rich in the jungle, and the foils of the hard-working (and successful) Charles and Bernard all show.
I’m no fan of Arthur Miller, but Death of a Salesman, despite its other excesses, calls into question the very yearning for “infinite pleasure and fabulous riches” that Siegel (also wrongly) sees everywhere.