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From the Outside In: A Visitor's Guide to the Windows

Introduction

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Typescript of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, ca. 1948

Death of a Salesman.

Etched into the windows of the Ransom Center is this image of one of Arthur Miller's typescripts for the play Death of a Salesman. The excerpt depicted is dialogue between the title character, Willy Loman, and his wife, Linda, in the opening scene of the second act. The typescript shows the play's writing when still being formed and revised by Miller. Large scratch-outs zigzag through whole paragraphs, arrows rearrange the words, and new lines have been handwritten into place. The first lines discuss the couple's dreamy expectations for a brighter future soon to come—a business loan his son might be given, a new house in the country, and an office job in the city so Willy can stop traveling. But Linda's reminder "to ask [Willy's boss] for a little advance" in the last lines, "because we've got the insurance premium," exposes the discrepancy between their dreams and a reality in which they are barely getting by. The passage encapsulates the play's central theme, that valuing oneself in terms of the American dream is a setup for failure.

Although Death of a Salesman was not Miller's first successful play, it was the play that established him as a great American playwright. Miller wrote the play in the spring of 1947, within a small studio he built himself next to his Connecticut farmhouse. The writing flowed easily for Miller, who finished the first half of the play in one day and night, and the second half in the next six weeks. According to his biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Miller wanted "to take the audience on an internal journey through the mind, memories, fears, anxieties of his central character." Rather than adhering to earlier playwrights' conventions, Miller gave the play a radical structure in which the past and the present coexist, and where walls can sometimes be stepped through. The play opened at the Morosco Theatre on February 10, 1949, and was met with critical acclaim, winning Miller numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The play has remained popular, and has since been produced into films, translated, performed internationally, and revived on Broadway in 1999. Playwright Tony Kushner, while discussing the continuing importance of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, has stated, "Willy is part of our mythology now."

This typescript represents one of several papers within the Arthur Miller collection held at the Ransom Center, which includes the manuscripts of thirty-four different works, dated from 1935–1953. To view Miller's early notebooks, and to see how his works took shape as he revised them gives one a more intimate understanding of the creative process and intentions of the playwright, who represented his generation so well by writing about the dreams and tragedies of his era. A leading scholar of Arthur Miller's work and life—Christopher Bigsby, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre at the University of East Anglia—benefited from studying these papers. Regarding his 30 years of research at the archives, Bigsby has stated, "The Ransom Center is what the House of the Medicis once was to 14th century Florence...it has had a hand in a new Renaissance."   —Amy Kristofoletti

Arthur Miller (1915-2005) Papers at the Harry Ransom Center