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Friday, May 4, 2012

Death of a Salesman


Is it the great America tragedy or the great American satire? I consider it the latter, with scathing ironies on everything held up as the archetypical American Dream: a house paid off in 25 years, worship of youth and popularity ("being well liked"), a boastful masculinity, a delusional optimism, and, most of all, selling things. Sell, Sell, Sell! Everyone can see Willy Loman is pathetic, yet no one walks out thinking the play is really about the "Death of the American Dream." It has been considered by many to be the "greatest American play." Ironic, isn't it?

But it is also a family tragedy in the sense of great American family tragedies. I most identify with Happy Loman, desperately trying to hold the family together by toeing the line, obliviously idolizing everyone else but baffled by their bitterness toward each other, perpetually wondering what the fuck is wrong with your clansmen.

What is wrong with the family? What a bizarre and fucked up relationship Willy and Biff have. In the best of times, they simultaneously idolize and be idolized by each other, and in the end crush each other under the weight of both men. Willy incessantly fawns over Biff's youth and popularity in high school, which feeds his own delusional self-image of being a "well liked" salesman up and down the Northeast. Biff basks in his father's adoration and idealization, swallowing Willy's myth line and hook to his own peril. Biff's idol shriveled and died when he happened upon Willy sleeping with a trashy woman on the road some years ago, and the death of his Father myth lay waste to his subsequent life. The death of Willy's Son myth comes much later and more reluctantly, resulting in Willy's suicide. In a way, Biff's self-destruction is a form of suicide, too. Father and son, what symmetry!

Why should it be so strange that one would look to his son for comfort and dependency and other kinds of safety and protection normally provided by one's parents? Oh, Willy's father was absent in his childhood. The substitute father, his brother Ben, abandoned him, too. Is it so incomprehensible that a weak, frightened, pathetic man would cling onto his first-born son as a shield against the constant assaults on his self-esteem from the world? It is fairly common, in fact, for parents to try to boost their own sense of worth through bloated expectations on their children's worth. And children under such desperate parental neediness eventually crumble, even without the revelation that their parents are but weak and pathetic nobodies.

Parents and children are all desperately seeking a safe haven for their fragile and broken psyche. Delusions abound. Everyone in the play lives in a rosy delusion of the others, even Biff, whose rage is rooted in his inability to let go of his Father myth. I suppose it is inevitable that most children cannot help but idolize their parents and believe them omnipotent. But then from whom do parents find such comfort if they have not found it in their own parents? I guess that is the universal appeal of religion.

***********
看完 Salesman 之后的当晚做梦梦见了 Paul Giamatti。

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