Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sale of a dead man...musing about Willie Loman, Alzheimer's patient

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

When I started this blog entry at 11:30am, I should have been finishing my test on Death Of A Salesman. However, there I was, in the LAVC Lion's Den cybercafe, blogging about how angry I was. I was ready to take the test. (Thank Goddess for "Save as Draft" in Blogger!) But Dr. Roth didn't show up. At the time, I wondered if there was a daytime Dodgers home game today. After checking the Dodgers website, I found out that there's a home game but it starts at 7:10pm. Dr. Roth is a freak for baseball, and often conversations about baseball have cut into lecture time. If there had been a 1pm game he would have been so busted. I would have gone to the Academic Senate and complained. Seriously.

The way Dr. Roth does a test is pretty screwed up. English 103 is supposed to be English and Critical Thinking. However, a test in Dr. Roth's English 103 class is not about critical thinking at all: it's about regurgitating Dr. Roth's views on a given text in a 50 question, true-false format test. I think I understand why he's so popular on RateMyProfessor.Com...most students love the way he tests because they don't have to even read the frickin' text...all they have to do is commit to memory every single blessed thing he says in a lecture and the handout. Oh yeah, and it helps to watch the movie too. He always shows a movie version of the plays. (All four texts are plays.) This time it was the great Dustin Hoffman/John Malkovich version that was made for TV. I must say, ever since I saw it when it first aired I see Hoffman as Willy Loman. He made that part his own, and so did John Malkovich as Biff Loman.

However, I'm a freak. I want to do essay tests on each text. I want to be able to make my argument about what the text means and what my views are. I actually read, and I actually draw conclusions based on my reading of the text. This actually has worked against me on the two tests I have taken.

What do I think of Death Of A Salesman? For one thing, it hits a bit close to home. I'm not a self-obsessed jock like Biff Loman but 1.) I have watched family members die of Alzheimers and Alzheimers-like conditions, and it is clear to me that Willy Loman was dying from some sort of dementia; and 2.) I'm 41 years old and, as the subtitle of my blog puts it, I'm back in school trying to reinvent myself. I haven't quite found myself yet so far. So I feel a fair amount of kinship with Biff at this juncture.

I also can feel a lot for Willy Loman, even though he's an asshole who hurts everyone in his life and may or may not truly love them. There are times when I feel as broken-backed as he does; and the aspect of going back to school I hate the most, that of incurring more and more student loan debt, makes me sometimes think that if I died it would be better, that Richie would be released from the joint obligations we have in regards to my loan debt. Of course, I have spoken of this before in the blog, and I always come to the same conclusion: if I cannot live for myself, for my own sake, at least I can live for the sake of beloved family and friends. I don't want to model suicide as acceptable, and I don't want to hurt the ones I love. I have had family and friends die at their own hand, and it's the most cruel thing a person can inflict on their loved ones.

In Willy's diseased, damaged mind, he thinks that if he kills himself, his family would get the insurance money and he'd finally be able to provide for them at last. Of course, he has made previous attempts on his life, so a pattern has been established of suicidal ideation. There is no way in hell that the insurance company will pay on the claim. His last act on earth, like all of his others, is an act of futility.

My view that Willy Loman has Alzheimers is something Dr. Roth disagrees with. He thinks Willy suffers from "insanity" but isn't a dementia a kind of mental illness? I watched my maternal grandfather die of Alzheimers, and saw my paternal grandmother deteriorate from a dementia resulting from "mini-strokes." I saw what happened to their personalities, and recognized Willy's symptoms from theirs. Both of my Great Uncles on my mother's side also have gotten Alzheimers, and my Aunt and Uncle are both fearful their number will come up. The thought that maybe I'm due for it in the future is one that has crossed my mind more than once. If I do, I hope someone puts me out of my misery quickly.

Roth also disagrees with me about another aspect of the play: I think that "Ben Loman" is a figment of Willy's imagination, a composite incarnation of all the "self made man" mythology he has swallowed and the Horatio Alger pulp juvenile fiction he doubtless devoured as a boy. There seems to me to be some sort of weird ambiguity about who Ben really is. Is he Willy's elder brother? Is he Willy's uncle? Is he a family friend? He doesn't seem to really fit in with the rest of the family. The Lomans all seem to have a black cloud hanging over their heads, even though Hap Loman does a great job hiding his despair in sex addiction and substance (alcohol) abuse. Ben is sort of a Gilded Age Uebermensch, a combination of Teddy Roosevelt and the Robber Barons of the turn of the 20th Century, couched in the splendor of a Kipling hero. In the Hoffman/Malkovich version, the actor who portrayed Ben was about a foot taller than Hoffman and as robust and overfed as Hoffman was stunted and nebbish-like. You couldn't see Ben as part of the Loman gene pool.

Anyway, I read the material and I thought about it, and I came to different conclusions than my professor. However, I dare not let those different conclusions affect how I answer the test, which is probably now pushed back to Monday. No, I need to regurgitate the canned answers with all the critical thinking of a Clone Trooper. Some course in critical thinking this turned out to be. I'm glad I took Philosophy 20, Ethical Philosophy, so that I got a chance to flex my mental muscles in an environment where critical thinking really was valued.

posted 3:30 PM

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