Magazine article Humanities

Editor's Note

Magazine article Humanities

Editor's Note

Article excerpt


The headline on that February morning in 1949 read: "A GREAT PLAY IS BORN." It was the newest work by the promising young playwright, Arthur Miller. The play was Death of a Salesman, and, following as it did on the success of All My Sons, it set Miller on a path that would bring him a lifetime of honors: the Pulitzer Prize, seven Tony Awards, two Drama Critics Circle Awards, an Obie, an Olivier, the John F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, and others. He is this year's Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities, the highest honor the federal government bestows in the field.

That long-ago review in the New York Herald-Tribune went on to say: "There is always pertinence to this tale of a defeated old drummer coming to the end of his career. A terrible documentation has been leavened with bursts of wild humor and more than one moment of touching grandeur, which the fluent scenes build inexorably to the climax.... Death of a Salesman is a play to make history."

Over the fifty years, the "defeated old drummer," Willy Loman, has traveled in the shadow of Arthur Miller. There are glimmers of Willy from the writer's earliest days-an uncle who was a salesman, a father who lost his New York clothing business in the Depression. Isidore Miller gave up the chauffeur and the seven-passenger car; the summer house went; the family moved to a smaller house in Brooklyn; Arthur Miller's mother began pawning or selling her jewelry.

"I had two fathers," Miller writes, "the real one and the metaphoric, and the latter I resented because he did not know how to win out over the general collapse.... A fine dusting of guilt fell upon the shoulders of the failed fathers, and for some unknown number of them there would never be a recovery of dignity and self-assurance, only an endless death-in-life down to the end."

Arthur Miller was a student at Lincoln High in those days. …

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