A Dream Needed for Misery: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

            Background: Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by Arthur Miller, which tells the story about the slow dissolution of Willy Loman’s life. It is a tragedy of unraveling dreams, and the regrettable meeting of an unshakeable optimism, and an unmoveable (and indifferent) reality. It will be considered how Willy Loman’s dreams are not merely self-deceptions, but are the necessary sustenance of his life – a life that is simultaneously condemned to misery by those dreams. It can be difficult to read Death of a Salesman and not see Marx lurking offstage, watching his insights come to life, as Marx is a political philosopher of some repute. For explicit examination of the concepts that are offhandedly mentioned in this article, the essay “Estranged Labor” by Karl Marx is recommended. 

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Painted Worlds

             It had been exactly seventeen-hundred-and-fifty-seven days since the discovery. Marcus knew this because he counted, and counted, and recounted. Sometimes, he felt all he did was count days. He was good at it – very good. He imagined that to many people, counting days was an unremarkable skill. And if pressed, he would agree; but then, quite impulsively, he would disagree just as strongly. These were the contradictions of living with unremarkable skills.

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The Garden of Many Paths

            The premise of this world is no doubt fictional. It is a garden of many paths. Each path that is taken ends in a fork. If one tries to turn around, they will find yet another fork, different than the one that got them there. It is unknown what happens to the paths that are not taken, and if they end in forks too. All that is known is that for each path that is taken, it will end in a fork. The gods of this world, should they exist, must have fickle motives. Or else they like gardens and paths.

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Hourglass

            Background: It is often unclear where precisely a story originates, or why it ends. The writer, Jorge Luis Borges, in the story “Borges and I,” writes: “It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to… I shall endure in Borges, not in myself (if, indeed, I am anybody at all), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others’… So my life is a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away – and everything winds up being lost to me, and everything falls into oblivion, or into the hands of the other man. I am not sure which of us it is that’s writing this page.” He says his own taste runs to hourglasses and maps. This is a story that is about hourglasses, but not about maps.

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