Friday, February 17, 2006
Death Of A Salesman
I'll be honest - I haven't read a word of the play. I've only attended a single lecture, by an italian madam by the name of Ms Lovisa.
What I like about studying English is that certain classical themes are explored, and given an emotional depth, and perspective. Once these are lived or perceived, there is a psychology involved, and once you can express the subtle, it becomes less inexplicable.
Death of a Salesman (DS)is about the sidelining of an individual. I know what that feels like. Or do I? It's about age catching up with a man, where his territory contracts with age, and he has to defend it. It's an unexpected symptom of growing old in this world.
When you are the follower of a system, you also become its victim. It helps if you;re unable to navigate because you're a credible human being, contributing to your own downfall with self made plans that are more romantic than realistic.
I've written about the past, but find it difficult to juxtapose past and present without confusing the reader. Miller provides an example. The action, some of which is going on in Willy Loman's mind (Willy is a symbol of the lowly average individual, the Lowman), oscillates between present and past. Usually, when the present is an embittering experience, we seek solace in the past.
It's better to find possibilities in the present, because the present is where we are, and it's all we'll ever have.
Competition Creates Anxiety
I've often believed that one of the effects of living in the age that we do - which is very competitive, is that it creates an enormous amount of losers. Once the energy crisis looms, and it will in the coming years, the amount of economic losers will represent almost all of the population. The remainder will be the elite, and the world will soon turn to nonsense when only a few million are able to operate their lives on expensive energy.
Or am I naive on this point? I doubt it, but I have been wrong before.
Anxiety though, does spring from the competitive attitude. In a race like the Tour de France, over the past 7 years, one individual has had an abundantly satisfying and positive experience. Lance Armstrong has been outnumbered by plenty of losers, many of them returning again and again to disappointment. Imagine being someone like Jan Ullrich - coming second or third year after year after year?
I believe the emphasis ought not to be as much on winning, as on how the game is played. There should be events where the competitors are matched based on body fat, or perceived/actual levels of training. Or no training at all. There ought to be prizes for those coming last, or being the most creative (in terms of uniform or racing strategy). There ought to be prizes for those smiling the whole way and appearing to enjoy themselves. As it is, a single winner hardly seems worth the cost of having so many losers.
Those competitors who are losers 'take the good with the bad' the 'rough with the smooth', but what about those who can't, who learn from society that the world loves a winner, and the rest are expendable, or ignored or just by the way.
Part of this World
In The Lord of the Rings, there's a moment where the hobbits ask Treebeard, a giant creature resembling a tree, also known as an Ent - the hobbits ask him whether he will get involved in the war. Usually, the answer is no. But when a war is already being waged, and forests are being felled, and you are a member of that forest, survival comes into question. It is then that one has to accept that we are part of the world.
A war is being waged. Several. There's a competitive war, a war for wealth, and the wars the governments have instituted, such as the War On Terror. Now there's an interesting combination of words. To change the world, you and I have to decide that we are a part of it, and not apart from it.
The Past Is Irrelevant
We can learn from history, but more important, the past was filled with possibility (returning once more to DS), and the present sometimes feels it is filled with disappointment.
Willy Loman focusses on icons, symbols, images in his mind. He remembers his son Biff after a football game, and a crowd chanting "LOMAN LOMAN LOMAN..."
Yes, imagine a crowd in your community chanting your family name. And then imagine being forgotten when the next hero emerges.
Success is the result of a process. It is not a bunch of still photographs put together and asked to represent themselves as motion.
When people elevate themselves over and above people around them, they are doomed to fail. A humble approach, based on hard work and not appearances, was the author's idea of a code that might lead to success. What would he make of the world today, where success can sometimes be completely based on appearance for some, and those who look ordinary, then have to focus on the original system, of being humble and working hard.
In the end, being humble is the friend of all. For even those who appear the most beautiful are doomed to become ordinary once more. Youth fades. Success loses its veneer.
The moral lesson, according to my articulate lecturer is this:
One must not exaggerate one's virtues. The fall, when it comes, is then doubly hard.
Willy attaches too much value to the trivial and the transitory. The order of his priorities needs management.
Willy is misplaced - in time - and he soon becomes displaced by society. It's a lesson that has some relevance in our time, in my time.
Make up your mind. Steel yourself. Then quietly get on with it, while being kind and friendly to those around you. In time, you will need them, and they will need you.