Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Crucible

Just ran across an old piece in Salon by Michael Kimmel (excerpted from his book) entitled "Why is it always a white guy: The roots of modern, violent rage " The less said about the piece in general the better.  But one bit caught my eye:

[...T]hey were driven crazy by the sense that the world had spun so far off its axis that there was no hope of righting it. Underneath that sense of victimhood, that sense that the corporations and the government were coconspirators in perpetrating the great fleecing of the American common man, lay a defining despair in making things right. And under that despair lay their tragic flaw, a deep and abiding faith in America, in its institutions and its ideals. Like Willy Loman, perhaps the quintessential true believer in the ideology of self-made American masculinity, they believed that if they worked hard and lived right, they, too, could share in the American Dream. When it is revealed that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, that dreams are for Disneyland, then they morph into a tragic American Everymen, defeated by circumstances instead of rising above them.

This seems a pretty straightforward misreading of Death Of A Salesman.  Willy Loman was done in by his false dreams, but I wouldn't say they're about hard work and living right.  Willy's neighbor's boy Bernard gets to argue in front of the Supreme Court, and Willy can't understand it--little Bernard, whom Willy used to mock for studying so hard, is now a big lawyer, while his son Biff, who was a high school football star, but failed math and didn't graduate, is a loser.

The play is complex enough (and some would say muddled enough) to allow various interpretations, but Loman is pretty clear--to his sons and presumably to himself--that you make it by being well-liked, by being charming.  Ironically, in the world that Kimmel imagines to be true, where being in with the right crowd that keep everyone else down is the way to succeed, Willy's philosophy would be the correct one.


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