Review: Death of a Salesman

The Humm Handbook: Lifting Your Level of Emotional Intelligence that I wrote and Wilkinson Publishing published in 2007 is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1, The Seven Components, describes the Humm technology, the precursor to the 7MTF,
  • Part II, The Emotionally Intelligent Manager, works though each four stages of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills using the Humm technology.
  • Part III, The Art of Decision Making is based on an MBA elective at the London Business School organised by Charles Handy. Charles argued that while businesses come and go the great plays last forever.  In the book I discuss five of the great plays:  Antigone, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear and Death of a Salesman.  Whenever one of the 5 plays is being performed in Sydney I try to see it.

(If you want a Free Copy of The Humm Handbook: Lifting Your Level of Emotional Intelligence the offer is still open.)

Currently Death of a Salesman being performed in Sydney and last week I went to a performance.  It stars Anthony LaPaglia as Willy Loman; casting of the central role usually falls into one of two camps: slightly built, as Miller initially conceived him (best personified by Dustin Hoffman), and hulking (Lee J Cobb as the original Willy)). LaPaglia belongs firmly in the latter camp and the result is a man whose physical stature seems to mock his lack of inner fortitude. He lurches around the stage, unsure and unsteady, like a hollowed-out cargo ship lost at sea. His voice is gravelly and sonorous, but also worn out. As Linda says, “the man is exhausted. A small man can be just as tired as a great man.” It’s a performance of great range and subtlety, a finely wrought portrait of erosion and bewilderment.

The rest of the cast, perhaps motivated by LaPaglia’s performance are good except for Alison Whyte who plays Linda, Willy’s wife,  She is beyond excellent acting; she is reality.  The audience was stunned when she performed the famous “Attention must be paid” speech.  The play was first performed in 1949 and in the past 65 years I doubt if there has been a better performance of Linda.

You knew it was the DEI 2020s when on several occasions Willy tells his wife to shut up.  You could hear the audience sucking air as they heard a straight white male putting down his loyal wife.

As I write in my book one of the great themes of Death of a Salesman is the inability of the various characters to face the reality of their own emotions.  Biff, unlike his brother and father, is the only one who does.  The failure to face the emotional reality about themselves is matched by the distortions of their own memories.  Although many of their stories have some historical truth, that truth is so covered with their euphemistic interpretations that it is barely recognisable.  The stories the family has told have become nearly indistinguishable from the real circumstances of their lives.

The failure of Willy to understand himself is the tragedy of the play.  Willy is a man of limited talents who set himself unreasonable objectives based on overly high expectations.  Instead of relying on real talents; he relied on ‘personality’.  Willy’s real love was carpentry and working with his hands.  Instead he tried to be a salesman, a career to which he was emotionally unsuited.

The other trope that particularly resonated with me was the multiple references to Willy crashing his car.  As someone who recently totalled his 12 year old Audi A4 because of  a micro sleep following an overnight flight from Tokyo my empathy with Willy was total, particularly now I am 79.

It is a great play with great performances.  If you get a chance to go and see it, take it.


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Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

Christi Spring CEO Institute. - web