Here’s the punch line of an Arthur Miller-Marilyn Monroe as she-wolf at costume-party joke my chemistry professor told his class years ago: “Gee, who were Romulus and Remus anyway?”
It wasn’t funny when he told it, either, but he had the added disadvantage of being a tedious lecturer in a tedious subject, so he had a tough audience—one he’d toughened himself by numbing us three times a week. I thought of that joke (I only remember lame ones) when I read on the elevator that Miller had died. There’s a small screen on our office building elevators that supplies passengers with news and ads, and I’ve learned a remarkable number of news bits like this from it over the years.
Ms. W., a high school English teacher I disliked—a mutual feeling, I think—was a big fan of The Crucible, which she taught, so that one was ruined for me. I’m glad she didn’t teach us Death of a Salesman, which I’ve seen filmed versions of, to my benefit, without any pedagogic guide. When I was younger, I puzzled the most at why Willy Loman turned down his friend’s offer of a job when he badly needed one, but of course people really do that kind of thing, and often. And it was death of a salesman, after all, so he needed to die tragically by his own hand, not subsist on Social Security after turning 65. Subsistence Retirement of a Salesman just doesn’t have that dramatic ring.
The only Arthur Miller play I’ve actually seen staged was All My Sons, which I saw in Chicago back when I used to go the theater every month or so. It had a tragic suicide, shattered family and a Big Dark Secret (ultimately revealed), so who says you need to read Southern gothic fiction to get all that?