Seventy years ago, on 10 February 1949, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman premièred on Broadway to rapturous acclaim. Miller’s intention in writing the play, he recalls in his autobiography, Timebends (1987), was not to put ‘a timebomb under capitalism’ – as one outraged woman accused on opening night – but rather to expose a ‘pseudo life that thought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon’. It’s ironic that a country that did so much to articulate and sell the American Dream – perhaps best précised by Hap Loman as the fight to come out ‘number one man’ – should give birth to one of literature’s biggest losers. But after hundreds of productions of Death of a Salesman around the world, Miller’s anti-hero – ‘a joker, a bleeding mass of contradictions, a clown’ – has been found to be representative everywhere, in every system, of ourselves.
Death of a Salesman (Queensland Theatre)
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Bronwyn Lea was born in Tasmania and grew up in Queensland and Papua New Guinea. She is the author of Flight Animals (UQP, 2001), winner of the Wesley Michel Wright Prize and the FAW Anne Elder Award, and The Other Way Out (Giramondo, 2008), which won the WA Premier’s Book Award for Poetry and the SA Premier’s John Bray Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection is The Deep North: Selected poems (George Braziller, 2013). She teaches creative writing at the University of Queensland and is poetry editor for Meanjin.
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