A Salesman and a Town

As I mentioned a while ago (probably a month now… time flies!), I have several literature classes that I picked up to teach next year. I’ve been reading all of the books on my syllabus, and my two latest have been the plays Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller) and Our Town (Thornton Wilder).

Death of a Salesman: I read this one in college (we were studying existentialism), and didn’t like it too much. My opinion really hasn’t changed this time around. While the plot is straight forward and fairly easy to understand, I couldn’t sympathize with any of the characters, or really even distinguish between them without the indication of who was talking. Willy Loman’s imagined conversations with his brother are sporadic and convoluted, and hard to follow as well.

The one plus to this play is the question, or assertion, rather, that it poses: Americans are so often set on the “next big thing” or climbing up the ladder that we run ourselves ragged in the process. When someone is too old, they’re replaced, and we move on without another thought. Or, we work every day to support our lifestyles for the next month, and we’re slaves to the kind of life we’ve chosen. Not a constant thing, but it does happen, and far too often in my opinion.

Our Town: This one I read in high school (American Literature), and really enjoyed it. This time was no different! It’s short, but an interesting look at small town life and the progression of time. Acts I and II are a hopeful look to the future, but with an unexpected tragedy in Act III, the play turns to speculation about death and the ignorance of humans in life.

The emphasis on taking the time to slow down, to really take a look at life, is one I think a lot of people need to hear. Ironically, it goes hand in hand with the theme of Death of a Salesman. You can spend your entire life looking to the future, looking for more, but there’s also an importance in taking the time to appreciate the now. Smile at your family a little more, walk a little slower in the street and look at the sky, enjoy a sunset or two.

Though I preferred Our Town over Death of a Salesman, I’m glad I read both again, now that I’m older and also reading them as a teacher rather than a student. I’d give Our Town a 7/10 and Death of a Salesman a 5/10.

Out of the two plays, which is your preference?


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