Jeff Smith 11 a.m., May 25
Attention Must be Paid.
“So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person. You called him crazy... no, a lot of people think he's lost his... balance.”
Linda Loman is exhorting her sons, Biff and Happy, but Arthur Miller is also exhorting us.
The Globe’s current production of Miller’s masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, is a shattering experience.
As the audience filed out of the theater, after the concluding graveside scene, few of us spoke until we had exited the building.
I overheard several people talking in the courtyard. Most were making comments like, “I mean, I read it in high school but I had no idea.”
So what attention are we to pay to Willy Loman? Why is Arthur Miller blatantly telling us to pay attention to such a person? Is Willy crazy?
Willy is no more crazy than you or I. He has only lost the ability to keep his thoughts to himself. Willy is constantly replaying scenes from his past but he thinks of them out loud.
We all think this way. We might be washing the car or driving to work and suddenly we replay a scene from our past. Sometimes it’s a positive scene but often it’s a scene in which we imagine ourselves to have been wronged. We think just like Willy, but we don’t speak our scenes like he does—for the most part.
Attention must be paid. Willy represents the dysfunction we all posses but we still have the ability to hide our hysteria. Our delusions of grandeur remain private but they are delusions none the less.
Willy rarely tells the truth in general and specifically never tells the truth about himself. He doesn’t lie to avoid trouble, like a child who lies about eating all the cookies. No, he lies about himself because he doesn’t consider the truth of himself to be acceptable.
Attention must be paid. How much do we tell the truth about ourselves and our current circumstances? We pick and choose. Mostly we tell lies of omission regarding ourselves. Why don’t we just share the truth? We don’t consider the truth to be acceptable.
There are a few moments when the truth of Willy shows up.
Willy’s older brother Ben offers him an opportunity to manage a forest claim in Alaska. Willy truthfully wants to go but decides, with prompting from his wife Linda, that he is building something good in his sales position.
Ben asks him, “What are you building? Can you put your hands on it?”
What is Willy building? Can he put his hands on anything in his life?
No. As Willy’s neighbor and friend Charlie reminds us, Willy based everything on a shoe shine and a smile.
Attention must be paid. Miller is asking us all, "What are you building? Can you put your hands on it?"