For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile. Care to join me?
Miller was the first playwright, besides Shakespeare, that I sought out voluntarily. The Crucible had been required reading in middle school, and I remember thinking how brilliant a writer he was to bring so much meaning and relevance to an event that happened so long ago. Hey, to a 13-year-old kid 1692 might as well have been pharaonic Egypt. Still, I was very familiar with the relationship drama of Abigail Williams and John Proctor. I watched it played out almost every day in the halls of my school. I was drawn to how “normal” everything was in his work. These were characters I understood, even without researching the history of the Salem witch trials, even without understanding the more current historical context in which Miller wrote the play.
When I did make the connections between The Crucible and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s or any other fear-based, hysterical persecution, the meaning of Miller’s work took on added depth. Here was writing that was powerful, and thought-provoking, and perspective-challenging. Things weren’t as they seemed, and I began to learn that to every story there is more than just the surface tale. I think it also marked a turning point, of sorts, when I started trying to understand motives and agenda, not just in the work itself, but in my daily interactions.
I picked up Death of a Salesman in high school, after reading (unassigned, of course) an excerpt from it in my textbook. After reading the excerpt, I checked the fully script out of the library. Fascinating, fascinating stuff. I felt sorry for Willy Loman. In an odd sort of way, I made the connection between his job as a traveling salesman, and my Dad’s being in the military. Neither Willy, nor my Dad were given a choice. They had to go where they were sent, regardless of feelings or preferences. That’s where the connections ended, though. My father was dead set against me joining the military, unlike Willy, who hoped Biff would follow in his footsteps.
Still, I felt Willy’s frustrations, his disappointments. I understood his flight to imagination or the past or whatever haven he found to escape the realities and disappointments of his own life. Like The Crucible, I watched some of the same relationship dramas unfolding in my daily life: the weight of expectation placed on a child’s shoulders, confrontations with unyielding, and unsympathetic authority figures (teachers, coaches, parents). This was also where I first heard the concept of being worth more dead than alive, and I was horrified by it. In a way, I suppose, Death of a Salesman helped form my opinions about the value of human life.