Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is considered by many to be both the playwright's masterpiece and a cornerstone of contemporary American drama. Subtitled Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem, the play was first produced in 1949 and struck an immediate, emotional chord with audiences. The work garnered numerous honors and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and enjoyed a lengthy run (742 performances) on Broadway. In the decades following its premiere, Death of a Salesman has become one of the most performed and adapted plays in American theatrical history. Much of this success is attributed to Miller's facility in portraying the universal hopes and fears of middle-class America. Through his main character, Willy Loman, Miller examines the myth of the American Dream and the shallow promise of happiness through material wealth. He uses Willy as an example of how undivided faith in such a dream can often yield tragic results, especially when it goes largely unfulfilled. Audiences have continued to respond to this theme because, in some incarnation, the American Dream has persisted; a viewer can watch Death of a Salesman and relate Willy's situation to their own compromised ideals and missed opportunities. More than a cautionary tale, however, Miller's work is also revered for its bold realism and riveting theatricality, a play that deals in weighty emotional issues without descending to melodrama.
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