For all those of you currently in school or are recent graduates, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman should ring a bell (it’s not necessarily everybody’s favorite play read in English class, but it’s also not the most disliked play read in class either).
For those of you who went to school with the Flintstone’s children and are having a little trouble recalling the play, let me give you a 3 part blurb about it.
Salesman (Willy Loman) becomes fixated on this “perfect image” on how he should be. Salesman works all his life to make that image a reality. Salesman dies trying.
The underlying theme of the play is the concept of the American Dream. Willy becomes so fixated on reaching what he believes is the American Dream (which is to be a respectable, well loved salesman), that he drives himself to the brink of exhaustion (both physically and mentally). And with his stressed relationship between him and his sons, he is pushed over that brink by the end of the play.
It is actually revealed throughout the play that Willy is quit a handy carpenter, as well as avid gardener, but again, he becomes so fixated on becoming this super star salesman, that he dismisses these qualities about himself.
Linda (Willy’s wife) has one of the most famous lines of the entire play in Act I. She says, referring to Willy, “But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. Attention must be finally paid to such a person” (Miller 56).
Alright Linda, now is your time to shine girlfriend, for on this day, attention shall be paid to as you say, “such a person”.
Notice the title is, “Death of a Salesman”, not “Death of Willy Loman, the Salesman”.
Because Linda, just like this play, is not only referring to Willy, she is referring to a whole group of people who have become all too common in this world; people who try to sell themselves to others in the hopes of being well liked and respected, but in doing so, end up ignoring their true selves or even changing themselves in the whole.
The reality of the situation is that whoever you are, whatever job you do have, we are all salesmen; we are all constantly trying to sell ourselves to other people, to convince others that we are smart enough, beautiful enough, athletic enough, funny enough, interesting enough, plus a multitude of other things.
To bring this into a more relatable context for the world we live in today, let’s talk about another dream, perhaps the second most famous dream to the American Dream – that is, the College Dream.
The College Dream is not just about having the chance to obtain a stellar education, which let’s be clear about, is a HUGE honor and an honor which unfortunately not everybody gets to have; it’s also about finding yourself and creating yourself and meeting lots of new exciting people who you’ll get to call your life-long friends and having experiences that make you better.
The pressure to make this College Dream a reality is pretty high from the get-go, especially when students see other students supposedly living this dream themselves. It’s difficult to feel like the one left out (similar to how Willy felt compared to the younger salesmen).
The first year is incredible stressful social wise; the first year, when everybody’s being sorted into their “proper categories” that are the social circles of the school, as well as joining way too many student groups and clubs that is humanly possible to keep up with.
Honestly, it would just be easier if we borrowed the sorting hat from Hogwarts or something.
For me personally, my first year consisted of me deleting the 500 emails about sororities that I received every day, and instead creating power points that I used to pitch the robotics team to other students. Because my parents raised me to be my own person no matter what was going on around me (thanks mom and dad).
And because of that, I now have a group of teammates who make me feel proud to have a, “I love RobotC” sticker on my computer. The lesson being here that the 1 person who makes you feel comfortable with yourself will always mean more to you than the 100 people who make you feel uncomfortable with yourself.
(For all you non-coders out there, RobotC is a programming language commonly used in the industrial engineering and robotics fields).
So what do you do when you become fixated on being able to sit with the cool kids?
You observe them in their natural habitat, you pick up the social cues, you dream about how you’ll become their new founded best bud and how everybody will love you…
And then you snap back to reality, realize how petrified you really are, and lock yourself in your room to indulge in Netflix for the next 3 hours.
However long this process takes or whatever form it takes, I think we can all agree that there is always that moment of daydreaming followed by a fearful moment of anxiety when faced with the proposition of trying to fit in.
Bottom line, whatever you do, you must be very careful that you do not ever change who you are at the core.
Side note: I was struggling to word the above line for a while, because I kept thinking that it is ok to change, but that change must be for the better.
One more (silly) way to think about all of this: if you were trying to sell a table to somebody, and they say that what they really want is a chair, you wouldn’t cut down the table to turn it into a chair. You would find another customer who actually wants a table.
If somebody doesn’t appreciate you for you, go find somebody else, because no matter how incredible that person may seem to you, they aren’t worth it.
Housekeeping Note: The tea set pictured above is a part of the “Polka Dot Tea for Two” 5 piece porcelain set from World Market.