Death of a Salesman Study Guide

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesperson comes from both Arthur Miller’s personal experiences and the theatrical traditions in which the playwright was schooled. The play remembers the customs of Yiddish theater that focus on household as the vital element, decreasing most plot to the confines of the extended family. Death of a Salesman focuses on two kids who are separated from their daddy, paralleling one of Miller’s other major works, All My Kids, which premiered two years prior to Death of a Salesperson.

Although the play premiered in 1949, Miller started writing Death of a Salesman at the age of seventeen when he was working for his dad’s company. In short story type, it dealt with an aging salesperson not able to offer anything. He is berated by company bosses and need to borrow train modification from the young storyteller. Completion of the manuscript consists of a postscript, noting that the salesman on which the story is based had tossed himself under a subway train.

Arthur Miller reworked the play in 1947 upon a conference with his uncle, Manny Newman. Miller’s uncle, a salesman, was a competitor at all times and even competed with his kids, Buddy and Abby. Miller described the Newman family as one in which one might not lose hope, and based the Loman home and structure on his uncle and cousins. There are many parallels between Abby and Buddy Newman and their fictional equivalents, Happy and Biff Loman: Pal, like Biff, was a prominent high school athlete who ended up flunking out. Miller’s relationship to his cousins parallels that of the Lomans to their next-door neighbor, Bernard.

While constructing the play, Miller was intent on developing continuous action that could cover different time periods smoothly. The major innovation of the play was the fluid continuity in between its sectors. Flashbacks do not happen different from the action but rather as an important part of it. The play moves between fifteen years back and the present, and from Brooklyn to Boston without any interruptions in the plot.

Death of a Salesperson premiered on Broadway in 1949, starring Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman and directed by Elia Kazan (who would later inform on Arthur Miller in front of your home Un-American Activities Committee). The play was a resounding success, winning the Pulitzer Reward, in addition to the Tony Award for Best Play. The New Yorker called the play a mix of “compassion, imagination, and tough technical skills rarely found in our theater.” Ever since, the play has actually been restored many times on Broadway and reinterpreted in phase and television versions. As an archetypal character representing the failed American dream, Willy Loman has actually been interpreted by diverse stars such as Fredric March (the 1951 movie variation), Dustin Hoffman (the 1984 Broadway revival and television motion picture), and, in a Tony Award-winning revival, Brian Dennehy.