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.
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