Sleep Well My Friend

“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


RickHave 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 Miller

Arthur Miller

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

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.

Man Adrift

“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 


RickArthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the story of Willy Loman – the slow deterioration of a man obsessed with success who eventually loses his job. Desiring to be supportive, his son takes Willy out for an evening. As they prepare to leave, Willy’s wife requests, “Be kind to your father, son; he is only a little boat looking for a harbor.” In one masterful sentence, we understand man adrift.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Knowing oneself has tremendous importance for all of the major life decisions one might make. Making life choices that are in line with who one is—who one was created to be—leads to a more fulfilling life. I know that “self-fulfillment” has become a dirty word for those who rightly understand that life is not “all about me,” but about a greater purpose. This is true. At the same time, each of us is created as a unique individual with unique gifts, talents, and callings that were designed for a purpose. Self-fulfillment doesn’t necessarily mean selfish fulfillment. It can mean fulfillment of all that one was created to be. The satisfaction one feels at having achieved one’s rightful desires is no more selfish or wrong a thing than the satisfaction of the apple tree in bringing forth the fruit it was designed to bear.

How did you learn what your true calling in life was?  Is there only one calling?  Can one’s calling change through the course of one’s life?

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 Miller

Arthur Miller

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

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.

Finding Yourself

“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


RickIn Chapter 8 of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior tells the story of the breakup with a boyfriend that was a pivot point in her life.  The circumstance was important on its own merit but in context it was a defining moment in self-understanding that contributed to other significant directional decisions.

Dr. Prior writes:

I had spent eighteen years trying to become myself, but I was just now learning who it was that I was becoming. And who I was becoming was not necessarily the person I had in mind. Perhaps that person was born the night I drove away from that restaurant parking lot and refused to be either a doormat or a fool.

What are some of the most important things one should know about oneself?  Is it the same thing as “finding oneself”? Why or why not?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

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

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.

Know Thyself: Day 2

Death Of A Salesman
Arthur Miller

““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.” 


Self-idolatry takes many forms, including (surprisingly) depression.  When a person’s focus and purpose is based on themselves, it’s hubris regardless of its pain.  That’s not to say it is sinful to experience inner turmoil, but it becomes so when the solace sought is in anything other than the glory of God.  The bottom-line is this: Suffering has no value if it doesn’t take you closer to God.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

This social context that Willy finds himself in—the consumer-driven, appearance-obsessed culture of modern America, takes the place fate holds in ancient tragedies. However, in the classical model, the tragic end is not brought about by fate alone, but in combination with the tragic hero’s actions, actions rooted in some tragic flaw. For many a tragic hero, that tragic flaw is pride. Willy’s pride is revealed in various ways in his downward spiral. Willy is too proud to ask his grown sons for financial help when he desperately needs it (though they are pretty much worthless anyway), and too proud to resist buying for his wife and home things he can’t afford, and too proud to be honest with his wife—or even to be honest with himself—about his failings. This lack of honesty with himself is what gets us closer to the real tragic flaw in this tragic hero: Willy’s failure to know.

An ancient saying is that “adversity introduces a man to himself.”

How do painful life experiences help you discover who you are?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

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

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.

Know Thyself

“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


RickArthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the tragic story of Willy Loman, a man destroyed by false values that are not his own.  The hardest question to answer is this: What do I want?  The answer is rarely evident.  You must first know who you are before you can understand the desires of your heart, and that is always a painful process.  The fortunate learn quickly, but they are the exception.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

In many areas of life, self-knowledge is crucially important to making wise choices, the sort of choices that lead to a fulfilling life. For what would be the wise choice for you, might not be the wise choice for your neighbor. Of course, in making choices between right and wrong, right is always the wise choice, but many, if not most, of our daily choices deal not with right or wrong, but with shades of right. Probably the most significant area in which this is true is in our choice of daily work, and it is in the area of work that Willy in Arthur Miller’s 1949 Death of a Salesman experiences the tragic consequences of failing to know who he is.

Another spoiler alert: the salesman dies. But what makes this death tragic—in the classical sense—is that death could have been avoided. Arthur Miller purposely emulated the classical tragedy model in writing his modern tragedy of the “common man.” In this case, the fatal error of the tragic hero, the salesman Willy Loman, is combined with the force of fate manifest in the social context of the hyper-capitalist, consumer culture of mid-1950s America. As in classical tragedy, all is not entirely lost, for illumination is gained, arguably, for Willy, and even more clearly for his son, Biff.

What are some of the ways a person comes to know him or herself?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

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

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.