We never find out what Willy Loman has spent his life selling in Arthur Miller’s examination of the American Dream – despite the fact that his occupation is key to the action and themes of the play. However, what he sells is unimportant: how he sells (or fails to sell) is what counts. Because Willy believes that personal charisma will succeed over hard work and expertise, and this is the key to his own personal tragedy.
Death of a Salesman has featured on examination board lists of set texts for decades, more recently on the AQA ‘Aspects of Tragedy’ AS and A-level specifications. The play can be a difficult one to study, not least because it is bleak and at times even emotionally harrowing.
Experiencing it through performance is a help, and the BBC is broadcasting an audio production of the play next Sunday (Radio 3 9 pm) starring David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker, as part of BBC radio’s celebration of the centenary of the writer’s birth. More information is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gpwk4 and the programme will be available on this site shortly after broadcast.
Clips from the BBC’s English File including Arthur Miller’s views on two different versions of his Pulitzer-Prize winner are at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vyyvq/clips
Examination board AQA’s own resources include an exemplar AS student response to a question on the play at http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/resources/english/AQA-7716-P1A-SB-B4-CEX.PDF