Study Guide

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller in Queer Theory

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Talk about failure. Biff Loman is a bum and this play is a big bummer. Biff just wants to live on a farm out west and look at the sky. But us Americans are taught to make more of ourselves than that, aren't we?

Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller, and it's arguably the most important work in all of American Theatre. It doesn't have any obviously "gay" people in it, but that doesn't mean we can't give it a queer reading. So here's a quick one: Biff doesn't want to be what his father thinks he should be: successful, handsome, and "well-liked."

You know who else doesn't want to be who their fathers (real and metaphorical) want them to be? That's right: a lot of people, including queer activists.

Death of a Salesman rocked theatre audiences in the 1950s as a critique of American exceptionalism and the unrest attached to market capitalism. Who wouldn't want to be rich and powerful? Who wouldn't want to be one of the kids from Willy Wonka?

Once again: a lot of people, including queer activists. Just as the Beat Generation ushered in an era of revolt, Arthur Miller's works examined how harsh gender expectations ruined the lives of many young men.

The baby boomers were kids born into post-war America, and they believed their kids were meant to be winners. Every kid can own a chocolate factory if you just try hard enough, right? Not exactly.

And what if you don't want the factory to begin with? What if you want a purple unicorn instead?