Strange, Terrible Sagas

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur Miller

And there's no sturdier play in the American theater than DeathofaSalesman.There may never be a Great American Novel, but with this play, theater has its own version of it. Perfectly poised between naturalistic representation and a thoroughly modern and anguished expressionism, the play not only gives us indelible characters who've passed into popular culture (and not just Willy Loman; Biff Loman was a running joke on Seinfeld)and tag lines that sum up the play as well as the necessity for working-class tragic theater ("Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a man"), but it also gives Americans one more great fallen hero to put alongside Captain Ahab, Jay Gatsby and Joe Christmas—characters whose strenuous failures hurt so much because the hope out of which they come is so familiar, so seductive, so American.

Hunter Thompson once said that his "beat" was "the death of the American dream," but he never believed in the hope enough for the death to mean very much; to bring the hope and the despair together was Miller's beat—and his triumph.?

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