Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Emperor really didn't have any clothes

One of my deep, dark secrets has always been that I loathe Death of a Salesman, a play I found turgid, depressing and utterly pointless. I never felt that Willie Lohman was anything but a nebish -- not because of some evil system grinding him down -- but simply because he was a nasty, stupid man. Of course, one doesn't voice these thoughts, especially in the academic, liberal circles in which I moved. It was therefore so refreshing to see this over at the Independent Women's Forum Inkwell:

Let’s face it: Miller wrote exactly one good play: "Death of a Salesman." And even "Death," with all its melodrama and pathos, has its problems, in that you need an actor of nearly superhuman talents--say, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, or Dustin Hoffman--to make its central character, Willy Loman, come alive. On the printed page, Willy is no more than a cardboard Everyman pastiche of Miller’s Marxist notion of the toll that capitalism is supposed to take on those who aren’t rich. Willy Loman doesn’t fall because he’s Willy Loman but because he’s an ordinary guy who bought into the stupid "American dream" (to quote Miller’s eulogizers), and so, "attention must be paid," as his wife, Linda, says in the play. It’s up to the actors to turn Willy from a cutout into a rounded, emotionally moving individual. Every other piece of theater crafted by Miller was bad, bad, bad. "The Crucible"? Another melodrama with a message, this message--the McCarthy hearings were, um, witchhunts--even less thinly coated with storyline and genuine characterization than "Death." Schoolchildren everywhere in America are still obliged by their earnest and politically correct teachers to read, see, or stage "The Crucible" at least once before they’re allowed to graduate from high school, but scholars of early American and witchcraft history--not to mention literary critics who demand more from the stage than propagandistic cartoons--consider the play a joke. Then there’s "A View From the Bridge," where Miller decided to write a Greek tragedy but confused Oedipus with the Oedipus complex and make the plot about a guy who falls in love with his niece. Or "After the Fall," in which Miller trashed his wife of five years, Marilyn Monroe, or "Finishing the Picture," written just before his death, in which he trashed her some more. Poor Marilyn was emotionally frail enough without having to endure a didactic, humorless Marxist catechist of an ex-husband reaching even into her grave to give her a hard time.
There's more, and IWF links to a Wall Street Opinion Journal article by Terry Teachout, which is also a good thing to read.