It can be a bit of a come down when you have just read a couple of fun novels, that being The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway, and a Secret Seven book, to suddenly jump over to a book that is as dark and bleak as this, however the reason that I did this was to push up the number of commentaries that I wrote this week, and since this was a rather short play, I decided that I would actually read this one instead of jumping straight into King Solomon's Mines.
Now, you may ask why I say that A Sun Also Rises is a fun novel, but as far as I am concerned it was. Okay, granted, it is about the aimlessness and pointlessness of the post-world war I society, but at least they were having fun. Some might say that sitting in cafes in Paris getting drunk isn't fun, but I would have to disagree. Anyway, they ended up ongoing to Pamplona, watching the running of the bulls, and then going to bull fights, as well as sitting in cafes and getting drunk, but my argument still is that at least they were having fun, even though there was no purpose or point to the fun that they were having (and isn't the purpose and point of having fun is to, well, have fun).
This book, however, is the complete opposite, though it can be tied to the Hemmingway novel I have just mentioned because both are set in a post-war society, and both of them explore the bleakness of both societies. However, since this play was written in 1949, I sort of wonder why the war isn't mentioned, but then it probably has something to do with the fact that Willy Loman would have been too old to go and fight in the war anyway (the second one that is, not the first one, he probably was old enough to fight in the first one, but the play does not give any indication of how old he is, or the date in which the play was set. In fact, the play does have some timeless quality to it).
The whole theme of the play is the lie that is the American Dream. The idea of the American dream is that through hard work and perseverance, one can succeed and end up living the good life. Some commentators have suggested that Willy Loman failed because he did not understand the nature of hard work, but my response to that is simply:
The reason I say that is because at the beginning of the play Willy comments on how he is so tired because his job always requires him to travel, yet despite all of the work that he puts into the job, he never gets anywhere. Maybe it is because he is not a good salesman, and it is also suggested at the end of the play that sales was not the job for him, and maybe he should have been a builder instead. However, it was the job of the salesman that attracted him, and he worked as a salesman right up until he died.
The dream also went down onto his children, in that Willy had big dreams for his children, but once again these dreams never came to fruition. Biff's dreams were shattered when he discovered that his father was having an affair, and it is difficult to see where Happy lies, except for the fact that he also lived in a dream world, it was just that unlike Biff, his dream had yet to be shattered.
The thing with success in the capitalist society is that success has nothing to do with hard work, and everything to do with being personable and being liked. They may mention that JP Morgan was never liked, but that is irrelevant because it was not that everybody like him, but rather it was that the people who did like him counted. Willy spent his life trying to be liked by people that did not like him, and thus was wasting the opportunities that were presented to him. For instance, one of his friends offers him a job with a steady wage, but he turned it down because he did not want a hand out. This was foolish of Willy because this was an opportunity, and it is irrelevant as to whether he thought it was a hand out or not, because it was an opportunity to live the dream. If JP Morgan succeeded, it was because he took hold of those opportunities.
This is the flaw in the American Dream: people believe that it has everything to do with working hard and rejecting handouts. However, remember that during the Global Finanical Crisis of 2008, the bosses of the big banks all went running to Washington, along with the bosses of the big car companies asking for – guess what – hand outs – AND THEY GOT THEM.
This theme is also taken up in Deer Hunting With Jesus, were we are taken to the working class of America where is idea of the American Dream is alive and well, and once again failing to lift these people out of poverty. Yet they refuse handouts and they refuse offers of help, because they have been told the lie that Americans do not take handouts, but they struggle with an ever increasing pile of debt that is forcing them deeper and deeper into poverty.
What the play does is that it exposes the fallacy of the American Dream and confronts us with the reality of where it sends up. However, people do not want to see it, and instead blame Willy Loman for being lazy and caught up with being liked, rather than working hard. As I said, Willy Loman worked pretty damn hard, and look where it got him. Okay, he is not blameless, but the thing is that he was caught up in the lie that is the American Dream, and strived all of his life to see that dream come to fulfilment, yet in the end, failed to see that he had two great kids, a loving wife, and a home that he could call his own.