To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Virginia Woolf. “The Lady in the Looking–Glass” A Reflection People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms any more than they should leave open cheque books or letters confessing some hideous crime. One could not help looking, that summer afternoon, in the long glass that hung outside in the hall. Chance had so arranged it. From the depths of the sofa in the drawing-room one could see reflected in the Italian glass not only the marble-topped table opposite, but a stretch of the garden beyond. One could see a long grass path leading between banks of tall flowers until, slicing off an angle, the gold rim cut it off.
The house was empty, and one felt, since one was the only person in the drawing-room, like one of those naturalists who, covered with grass and leaves, lie watching the shyest animals — badgers, otters, kingfishers moving about freely, themselves unseen. The room that afternoon was full of such shy creatures, lights and shadows, curtains blowing, petals falling — things that never happen, so it seems, if someone is looking. The quiet old country room with its rugs and stone chimney pieces, its sunken book-cases and red and gold lacquer cabinets, was full of such nocturnal creatures. They came pirouetting across the floor, stepping delicately with high-lifted feet and spread tails and pecking allusive beaks as if they had been cranes or flocks of elegant flamingoes whose pink was faded, or peacocks whose trains were veiled with silver. And there were obscure flushes and darkenings too, as if a cuttlefish had suddenly suffused the air with purple; and the room had its passions and rages and envies and sorrows coming over it and clouding it, like a human being. Nothing stayed the same for two seconds together.
But, outside, the looking-glass reflected the hall table, the sunflowers, the garden path so accurately and so fixedly that they seemed held there in their reality unescapably. It was a strange contrast — all changing here, all stillness there. One could not help looking from one to the other. Meanwhile, since all the doors and windows were open in the heat, there was a perpetual sighing and ceasing sound, the voice of the transient and the perishing, it seemed, coming and going like human breath, while in the looking-glass things had ceased to breathe and lay still in the trance of immortality.
Half an hour ago the mistress of the house, Isabella Tyson, had gone down the grass path in her thin summer dress, carrying a basket, and had vanished, sliced off by the gilt rim of the looking-glass. She had gone presumably into the lower garden to pick flowers; or as it seemed more natural to suppose, to pick something light and fantastic and leafy and trailing, travellers’ joy, or one of those elegant sprays of convolvulus that twine round ugly walls and burst here and there into white and violet blossoms. She suggested the fantastic and the tremulous convolvulus rather than the upright aster, the starched zinnia, or her own burning roses alight like lamps on the straight posts of their rose trees. The comparison showed how very little, after all these years, one knew about her; for it is impossible that any woman of flesh and blood of fifty-five or sixty should be really a wreath or a tendril. Such comparisons are worse than idle and superficial — they are cruel even, for they come like the convolvulus itself trembling between one’s eyes and the truth. There must be truth; there must be a wall. Yet it was strange that after knowing her all these years one could not say what the truth about Isabella was; one still made up phrases like this about convolvulus and travellers’ joy. As for facts, it was a fact that she was a spinster; that she was rich; that she had bought this house and collected with her own hands — often in the most obscure corners of the world and at great risk from poisonous stings and Oriental diseases — the rugs, the chairs, the cabinets which now lived their nocturnal life before one’s eyes. Sometimes it seemed as if they knew more about her than we, who sat on them, wrote at them, and trod on them so care fully, were allowed to know. In each of these cabinets were many little drawers, and each almost certainly held letters, tied with bows of ribbon, sprinkled with sticks of lavender or rose leaves. For it was another fact — if facts were what one wanted — that Isabella had known many people, had had many friends; and thus if one had the audacity to open a drawer and read her letters, one would find the traces of many agitations, of appointments to meet, of upbraidings for not having met, long letters of intimacy and affection, violent letters of jealousy and reproach, terrible final words of parting — for all those interviews and assignations had led to nothing — that is, she had never married, and yet, judg ing from the mask-like indifference of her face, she had gone through twenty times more of passion and exper ience than those whose loves are trumpeted forth for all the world to hear. Under the stress of thinking about Isabella, her room became more shadowy and symbolic; the corners seemed darker, the legs of chairs and tables more spindly and hieroglyphic.
Suddenly these reflections were ended violently — and yet without a sound. A large black form loomed into the looking-glass; blotted out everything, strewed the table with a packet of marble tablets veined with pink and grey, and was gone. But the picture was entirely altered. For the moment it was unrecognizable and irrational and entirely out of focus. One could not relate these tablets to any human purpose. And then by degrees some logical process set to work on them and began ordering and arranging them and bringing them into the fold of common experience. One realized at last that they were merely letters. The man had brought the post.
There they lay on the marble-topped table, all dripping with light and colour at first and crude and unabsorbed. And then it was strange to see how they were drawn in and arranged and composed and made part of the picture and granted that stillness and immortality which the looking-glass conferred. They lay there invested with a new reality and significance and with a greater heaviness, too, as if it would have needed a chisel to dislodge them from the table. And, whether it was fancy or not, they seemed to have become not merely a handful of casual letters but to be tablets graven with eternal truth — if one could read them, one would know everything there was to be known about Isabella, yes, and about life, too. The pages inside those marble-looking envelopes must be cut deep and scored thick with meaning. Isabella would come in, and take them, one by one, very slowly, and open them, and read them carefully word by word, and then with a profound sigh of comprehension, as if she had seen to the bottom of everything, she would tear the envelopes to little bits and tie the letters together and lock the cabinet drawer in her determination to conceal what she did not wish to be known.
The thought served as a challenge. Isabella did not wish to be known — but she should no longer escape. It was absurd, it was monstrous. If she concealed so much and knew so much one must prise her open with the first tool that came to hand — the imagination. One must fix one’s mind upon her at that very moment. One must fasten her down there. One must refuse to be put off any longer with sayings and doings such as the moment brought forth — with dinners and visits and polite conversations. One must put oneself in her shoes. If one took the phrase literally, it was easy to see the shoes in which she stood, down in the lower garden, at this moment. They were very narrow and long and fashionable — they were made of the softest and most flexible leather. Like everything she wore, they were exquisite. And she would be standing under the high hedge in the lower part of the garden, raising the scissors that were tied to her waist to cut some dead flower, some overgrown branch. The sun would beat down on her face, into her eyes; but no, at the critical moment a veil of cloud covered the sun, making the expression of her eyes doubtful — was it mocking or tender, brilliant or dull? One could only see the indeterminate outline of her rather faded, fine face looking at the sky. She was thinking, perhaps, that she must order a new net for the strawberries; that she must send flowers to Johnson’s widow; that it was time she drove over to see the Hippesleys in their new house. Those were the things she talked about at dinner certainly. But one was tired of the things that she talked about at dinner. It was her profounder state of being that one wanted to catch and turn to words, the state that is to the mind what breathing is to the body, what one calls happiness or unhappiness. At the mention of those words it became obvious, surely, that she must be happy. She was rich; she was distinguished; she had many friends; she travelled — she bought rugs in Turkey and blue pots in Persia. Avenues of pleasure radiated this way and that from where she stood with her scissors raised to cut the trembling branches while the lacy clouds veiled her face.
Here with a quick movement of her scissors she snipped the spray of travellers’ joy and it fell to the ground. As it fell, surely some light came in too, surely one could penetrate a little farther into her being. Her mind then was filled with tenderness and regret. . . . To cut an overgrown branch saddened her because it had once lived, and life was dear to her. Yes, and at the same time the fall of the branch would suggest to her how she must die herself and all the futility and evanescence of things. And then again quickly catching this thought up, with her instant good sense, she thought life had treated her well; even if fall she must, it was to lie on the earth and moulder sweetly into the roots of violets. So she stood thinking. Without making any thought precise — for she was one of those reticent people whose minds hold their thoughts enmeshed in clouds of silence — she was filled with thoughts. Her mind was like her room, in which lights advanced and retreated, came pirouetting and stepping delicately, spread their tails, pecked their way; and then her whole being was suffused, like the room again, with a cloud of some profound knowledge, some unspoken regret, and then she was full of locked drawers, stuffed with letters, like her cabinets. To talk of “prising her open” as if she were an oyster, to use any but the finest and subtlest and most pliable tools upon her was impious and absurd. One must imagine — here was she in the looking-glass. It made one start.
She was so far off at first that one could not see her clearly. She came lingering and pausing, here straightening a rose, there lifting a pink to smell it, but she never stopped; and all the time she became larger and larger in the looking-glass, more and more completely the person into whose mind one had been trying to penetrate. One verified her by degrees — fitted the qualities one had discovered into this visible body. There were her grey-green dress, and her long shoes, her basket, and something sparkling at her throat. She came so gradually that she did not seem to derange the pattern in the glass, but only to bring in some new element which gently moved and altered the other objects as if asking them, courteously, to make room for her. And the letters and the table and the grass walk and the sunflowers which had been waiting in the looking-glass separated and opened out so that she might be received among them. At last there she was, in the hall. She stopped dead. She stood by the table. She stood perfectly still. At once the lookingglass began to pour over her a light that seemed to fix her; that seemed like some acid to bite off the unessential and superficial and to leave only the truth. It was an enthralling spectacle. Everything dropped from her — clouds, dress, basket, diamond — all that one had called the creeper and convolvulus. Here was the hard wall beneath. Here was the woman herself. She stood naked in that pitiless light. And there was nothing. Isabella was perfectly empty. She had no thoughts. She had no friends. She cared for nobody. As for her letters, they were all bills. Look, as she stood there, old and angular, veined and lined, with her high nose and her wrinkled neck, she did not even trouble to open them.
People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms.
Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman INTRODUCTION Arthur Miller has emerged as one of the most successful and enduring playwrights of the postwar era in America, no doubt because his focusing on middle-class anxieties brought on by a society that emphasizes the hollow values of material success has struck such a responsive chord. The recurring theme of anxiety and insecurity reflects much of Arthur Miller’s own past. Born the son of a well-to-do Jewish manufacturer in New York City in 1915, Miller had to experience the social disintegration of his family when his father’s business failed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By taking on such odd jobs as waiter, truck driver, and factory worker, Miller was able to complete his studies at the University of Michigan in 1938. These formative years gave Miller the chance to come in close contact with those who suffered the most from the Depression and instilled in him a strong sense of personal achievement necessary to rise above the situation. He began writing plays in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until Death of a Salesman was performed in 1949 that Miller established himself as a major American dramatist.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1949, Death of a Salesman has to this day remained a classic. The play’s intellectual appeal lies in Miller’s refusal to portray his characters as two-dimensional — his refusal to involve himself in a one-sided polemic attack on capitalism. Even critics cannot agree as to whether Death of a Salesman is to be categorized as social criticism, a tragedy, or simply a psychological study. Of necessity, each person will have to draw his or her own individual conclusions.
The fact that performances of Death of a Salesman have met with acclaim throughout the world testifies to its universality: the play’s conflicts and themes appear not to be uniquely American.
LINDA BIFF HAPPY BERNARD
THE WOMAN CHARLEY UNCLE BEN
The action takes place in Willy Loman’s house and yard and in various places he visits in the New York and Boston of today.
New York premiere February 10, 1949.
A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises. Before us is the Salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream dings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens onto the apartment house at the side. Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys’ bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen. The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roof-line of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all Willy’s imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping »through« a wall onto the forestage. From the right, Willy Loman, the Salesman, enters, carrying two large sample cases. The flute plays on. He hears but is not aware of it. He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly. Even as he crosses the stage to the doorway of the house, his exhaustion is apparent. He unlocks the door, comes into the kitchen, and thankfully lets his burden down, feeling the soreness of his palms. A word-sigh escapes his lips — it might be »Oh, boy, oh, boy.« He closes the door, then carries his cases out into the living room, through the draped kitchen doorway. Linda, his wife, has stirred in her bed at the right. She gets out and puts on a robe, listening. Most often jovial, she has developed an iron repression of her exceptions to Willy’s behavior — she more than loves him, she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end.
LINDA (hearing Willy outside the bedroom, calls with some trepidation): Willy!
WILLY: It’s all right. I came back.
LINDA: Why? What happened? (Slight pause.) Did something happen, Willy?
WILLY: No, nothing happened.
LINDA: You didn’t smash the car, did you?
WILLY (with casual irritation): I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me?
LINDA: Don’t you feel well?
WILLY: I’m tired to the death. (The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb.) I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
LINDA (very carefully, delicately): Where were you all day? You look terrible.
WILLY: I got as far as a little above Yonkers. I stopped for a cup of coffee. Maybe it was the coffee.
WILLY (after a pause): I suddenly couldn’t drive any more. The car kept going off onto the shoulder, y’know?
LINDA (helpfully): Oh. Maybe it was the steering again. I don’t think Angelo knows the Studebaker.
WILLY: No, it’s me, it’s me. Suddenly I realize I’m goin’ sixty miles an hour and I don’t remember the last five minutes. I’m— I can’t seem to — keep my mind to it.
LINDA: Maybe it’s your glasses. You never went for your new glasses.
WILLY: No, I see everything. I came back ten miles an hour. It took me nearly four hours from Yonkers.
LINDA (resigned): Well, you’ll just have to take a rest, Willy, you can’t continue this way.
WILLY: I just got back from Florida.
LINDA: But you didn’t rest your mind. Your mind is overactive, and the mind is what counts, dear.
WILLY: I’ll start out in the morning. Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning. (She is taking off his shoes.) These goddam arch supports are killing me.
LINDA: Take an aspirin. Should I get you an aspirin? It’ll soothe you.
WILLY (with wonder): I was driving along, you understand? And I was fine. I was even observing the scenery. You can imagine, me looking at scenery, on the road every week of my life. But it’s so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm. I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. And then all of a sudden I’m goin’ off the road! I’m tellin’ya, I absolutely forgot I was driving. If I’d’ve gone the other way over the white line I might’ve killed somebody. So I went on again — and five minutes later I’m dreamin’ again, and I nearly... (He presses two fingers against his eyes.) I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.
LINDA: Willy, dear. Talk to them again. There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York.
WILLY: They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.
LINDA: But you’re sixty years old. They can’t expect you to keep travelling every week.
WILLY: I’ll have to send a wire to Portland. I’m supposed to see Brown and Morrison tomorrow morning at ten o’clock to show the line. Goddammit, I could sell them! (He starts putting on his jacket.)
LINDA (taking the jacket from him): Why don’t you go down to the place tomorrow and tell Howard you’ve simply got to work in New York? You’re too accommodating, dear.
WILLY: If old man Wagner was alive I’d a been in charge of New York now! That man was a prince, he was a masterful man. But that boy of his, that Howard, he don’t appreciate. When I went north the first time, the Wagner Company didn’t know where New England was!
LINDA: Why don’t you tell those things to Howard, dear?
WILLY (encouraged): I will, I definitely will. Is there any cheese?
LINDA: I’ll make you a sandwich.
WILLY: No, go to sleep. I’ll take some milk. I’ll be up right away. The boys in?
LINDA: They’re sleeping. Happy took Biff on a date tonight.
WILLY (interested): That so?
LINDA: It was so nice to see them shaving together, one behind the other, in the bathroom. And going out together. You notice? The whole house smells of shaving lotion.
WILLY: Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.
LINDA: Well, dear, life is a casting off. It’s always that way.
WILLY: No, no, some people accomplish something. Did Biff say anything after I went this morning?
LINDA: You shouldn’t have criticised him, Willy, especially after he just got off the train. You mustn’t lose your temper with him.
WILLY: When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?
LINDA: But, dear, how could he make any money?
WILLY (worried and angered): There’s such an undercurrent in him. He became a moody man. Did he apologize when I left this morning?
LINDA: He was crestfallen, Willy. You know how he admires you. I think if he finds himself, then you’ll both be happier and not fight any more.
WILLY: How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!
LINDA: He’s finding himself, Willy.
WILLY: Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!
WILLY: The trouble is he’s lazy, goddammit!
LINDA: Willy, please!
WILLY: Biff is a lazy bum!
LINDA: They’re sleeping. Get something to eat. Go on down.
WILLY: Why did he come home? I would like to know what brought him home.
LINDA: I don’t know. I think he’s still lost, Willy. I think he’s very lost.
WILLY: Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such — personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff — he’s not lazy.
WILLY (with pity and resolve): I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up. When he walked down the street... (He loses himself in reminiscences.)
LINDA (trying to bring him out of it): Willy, dear, I got a new kind of American-type cheese today. It’s whipped.
WILLY: Why do you get American when I like Swiss?
LINDA: I just thought you’d like a change...
WILLY: I don’t want a change! I want Swiss cheese. Why am I always being contradicted?
LINDA (with a covering laugh): I thought it would be a surprise.
WILLY: Why don’t you open a window in here, for God’s sake?
LINDA (with infinite patience): They’re all open, dear.
WILLY: The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks.
LINDA: We should’ve bought the land next door.
WILLY: The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow any more, you can’t raise a carrot in the back yard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?
LINDA: Yeah, like being a million miles from the city.
WILLY: They should’ve arrested the builder for cutting those down. They massacred the neighbourhood. (Lost.) More and more I think of those days, Linda. This time of year it was lilac and wisteria. And then the peonies would come out, and the daffodils. What fragrance in this room!
LINDA: Well, after all, people had to move somewhere.
WILLY: No, there’s more people now.
LINDA: I don’t think there’s more people. I think
WILLY: There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! Population is getting out of control. The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And another one on the other side... How can they whip cheese?
WILLY (turning to Linda, guiltily): You’re not worried about me, are you, sweetheart?
BIFF: What’s the matter?
LINDA: You’ve got too much on the ball to worry about.
WILLY: You’re my foundation and my support, Linda.
LINDA: Just try to relax, dear. You make mountains out of molehills.
WILLY: I won’t fight with him any more. If he wants to go back to Texas, let him go.
LINDA: He’ll find his way.
WILLY: Sure. Certain men just don’t get started till later in life. Like Thomas Edison; I think. Or B. F. Goodrich. One of them was deaf. (He starts for the bedroom doorway.) I’ll put my money on Biff.
LINDA: And Willy — if it’s warm Sunday we’ll drive in the country. And we’ll open the windshield, and take lunch.
WILLY: No, the windshields don’t open on the new cars.
LINDA: But you opened it today.
WILLY: Me? I didn’t. (He stops.) Now isn’t that peculiar! Isn’t that a remarkable... (He breaks off in amazement and fright as the flute is heard distantly.)
LINDA: What, darling?
WILLY: That is the most remarkable thing.
LINDA: What, dear?
WILLY: I was thinking of the Chevvy. (Slight pause.) Nineteen twenty-eight ... when I had that red Chevvy... (Breaks off.) That funny? I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today.
WILLY: Remarkable. Ts. Remember those days? The way Biff used to simonize that car? The dealer refused to believe there was eighty thousand miles on it. (He shakes his head.) Heh! (To Linda.) Close your eyes, I’ll be right up. (He walks out of the bedroom.)
HAPPY (to Biff): Jesus, maybe he smashed up the car again!
LINDA (calling after Willy): Be careful on the stairs, dear! The cheese is on the middle shelf. (She turns, goes over to the bed, takes his jacket, and goes out of the bedroom.)
(Light has risen on the boys’ room. Unseen, Willy is heard talking to himself, »eighty thousand miles,« and a little laugh. Biff gets out of bed, comes downstage a bit, and stands attentively. Biff is two years older than his brother Happy, well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured. He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable than Happy’s. Happy is tall, powerfully made. Sexuality is like a visible color on him, or a scent that many women have discovered. He, like his brother, is lost, but in a different way, for he has never allowed himself to turn his face toward defeat and is thus more confused and hard-skinned, although seemingly more content.) HAPPY (