Death of a Salesman

BY Arthur Miller
Book Information1/1/0/US/VK/1949/?  •  223x150x24  • 362  • Pulitzer'49

Death of a Salesman, published by Viking Press in 1949 and a Pulitzer winner, is Arthur Miller's most famous work. Today, it is considered one of the finest 20th century American plays, along with Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night". Like Streetcar, Salesman deals with desire and despair, machismo and muliebrity. It is a story of Willy Loman who, in his 60s, was dealing with desolation, through illusions and flashbacks, after his two biggest prides in life had turned on him. The first was the company, where he spent a life time as a travelling salesman, that rendered him redundant, and the second was Biff, his elder son whom he had great hope of achieving greatness, who flatly refused to live to Willy's definition of success. Biff not only rejected Willy's version of the American dream, he also considered his father a phony after witnessing his adulterous affair. Willy would finally take his own life in hope that the insurance payout would give Biff a fresh start. And it was Linda, the wife and mother, who kept the fragmented family together with her matronly muliebrity.

Death of a Salesman portrays the harrowing experience of a man trapped in a paradigmic shift, to slow to adapt. It laments the demise of an older culture where local firms operated like a family business and took care of their employees for life. In place was the shift to corporatization, where cheap youthful ebullience was preferred to expensive aged experience, and Willy was caught in this hurricane of change without realizing it, all the while lulled in a false sense of security. Biff reminds me of the "Swede" Levov of Philip Roth's "American Pastoral", a prodigiously talented young man whose ostensible guaranteed success went horribly wrong under the torments of life's vagary.

This is the first edition first printing with the first state dust jacket that is unclipped, reflecting the correct price of $2.50. The book is bound in orange clothed board with an image of a house on front board and lettering, both black, on spine, and has green topstain. The copyright page should state "PUBLISHED BY THE VIKING PRESS, INC. IN MARCH 1949" at the top and "PRINTED IN U.S.A. BY AMERICAN BOOK-STRATFORD PRESS INC., NEW YORK" at the bottom. There is a second state dust jacket where the middle "S" of "SALESMAN" on the front of the dust jacket is right shifted so that it falls between the yellow triangle  and the green background. There is also a non-collectible book club edition identifiable by a small dot at the lower left corner of the back board, near the spine. If the copyright page indicates that the book is printed by Kingsport Press instead of Stratford Press, that also indicates a book club edition.

This book is readily available and a VG copy can be purchased from eBay or Abebooks from $1,400 onwards. This is a NF copy with a NF dust jacket and a NF- book that suffers only from an owner's inscription on the front paste down. There is no official signed first edition but there are at least four versions of publisher-guaranteed signed edition:
  • A 500-copy signed limited edition issued by Viking Press in 1981.
  • A 1500-copy signed limited edition - additionally signed by Leonard Baskin, the illustrator - issued by The Limited Editions Club in 1982.
  • A 50th anniversary signed edition of unknown copies issued by The Penguin Press in 1999.
  • A 50th anniversary signed collector's edition of unknown copies issued by Easton Press in 1999. 


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