“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”
~Arthur Miller, from Death of a Salesman
Have you ever gone to bed after a long hard day at work and were just so mentally fatigued that you just could not sleep? Then perhaps when you did it was fitful and absent of rest. There might have been other times when you worked hard at something you love, like gardening for instance, and then when to bed completely physically spent. That night you went to sleep quickly and slept like a baby.
What’s the difference?
In the first circumstance, you were fighting someone else’s battle for someone else’s dream.
In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:
Despite this realization, Willy still doesn’t quite get it. But Biff does. He says to his brother Happy about their father, “The man don’t know who we are!” Then Biff confronts Willy while Willy is outside, madly planting seeds. Biff says to Willy, “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!” Biff goes on to tell Willy that Willy had so blown Biff full of “hot air” while he was growing up—the hot air of unrealistic expectations and false illusions—that Biff never understood what was required in order to achieve real success. But now, at last, Biff realizes who he is—and who he is not—and that “all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!”
Biff’s enlightenment is a good argument that it is he—not Willy—who is the play’s tragic hero. Biff has suffered loss—his father, for one—but he has, in accordance with the classical definition of the tragic hero, experienced illumination, too. He recognizes his father’s fatal error: following someone else’s calling instead of his own.
What kind of life do you dream for?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).
Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).
Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.