7: Article excerpt, David Mamet on why "Death of a Salesman" is Jewish, 2005.
David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and screenwriter, famous for works such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna. In this 2005 article from The Guardian, Mamet makes the case that Death of a Salesman is indisputably a Jewish text, and that claiming it is "universal" is an act of appropriation by the dominant (non-Jewish) culture.
Suggested Activity: Read the excerpts aloud with students and discuss:
- (Check for understanding.) In your own words, summarize the argument Mamet is making here.
- Do you agree that "the business, and the agony of assimilation" are specifically Jewish? And that the "struggle between hope, confusion, aspiration and circumstance," are specifically the topics of Jewish writers? Why or why not?
- In what ways might reading Salesman as a "universal" play be useful? In what ways might it be problematic?
- What does Mamet mean when he says that Allen Ginsberg's poem "America" (see resource 6 of this kit) is "a concise study guide to Salesman"? How could, as Mamet claims, the play be read as a response to the poem? Does it matter that the Salesman was written before "America"?
Source: David Mamet, "The human stain," The Guardian, May 6, 2005. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2005/may/07/theatre.davidmamet.