Book review essay: Quicksand, Death of a Salesman and As I Lay Dying

I read these three literary works the traditional way by reading them out of the anthology and also doing some research online. I read a few online summaries as well.

In Quicksand, there were many occasions that depicted materialism and spirituality. This fixation on materialism and belongings, also interesting spiritual views carried on throughout the work. Helga encountered many problems with her materialistic and spiritual values, and in the end, I believe that it finally got the best of her.

The very first moment I saw materialism depicted in Quicksand was on the first page, when I started reading, where it described Helga’s room in Naxos. Because it was filled with things such as Chinese carpets, oriental silk, long bookshelves, many illustrious depictions and “furnished with rare and intensely personal taste,” I when I read this I automatically assumed that she would come to expect a certain amount of “class” of her surroundings and the people around her. Subsequently I also found very similar themes in Death of a Salesman. In Arthur Miller’s work ‘Death of a Salesman’ is a modern tragedy; one that incorporates both the tragic genre presented in theatres and books for centuries as well as essences of the modern world that we live in. Materialism has come to be a sort of modern phenomenon, something that possibly began due to the American Dream ‘ which is an idea that is heavily criticized through implications in this play. The work is set in 50’s capitalist America, where in fact the idea of the American Dream had only just begin to gain momentum; Miller’s criticism of the American Dream resides the most in the presentation of his character’s valuations of products being higher than those things more pertinent to survival, with one character being more of the prime focus of this flaw, the stories’ protagonist, Willy Loman.

Materialism is a very much a recurring theme in this work; it over-shadows most, if not all of the characters actions and I believe that the audience is made aware of this. I found that Quicksand and Death of a Salesman were very similar in this aspect.

As I Lay Dying brought a handful of darker themes to the literary table that in my opinion were vastly different from the previous two works of Quicksand and Death of a Salesman. Faulkner’s use of multiple narrators seems to underscore one of his primary themes, which is that; every character is essentially isolated from the others. However, the characters of this novel do not communicate very effectively with one another. Although most readers are privy to the characters’ thoughts and emotional responses, essentially none of the characters seem to adequately expresses his or her dilemmas, needs or desires to others. Other than Darl, who knows Addie’s and Dewey Dell’s hidden secrets through intuition, the characters can only guess at their motivations, beliefs, and feelings of themselves and others. When these guesses turn out to sometimes be wrong, misunderstandings start to ensue. As a result of their many communication problems, members of the Bundren family live mostly alienated from each other, whether willfully like Addie or Jewel, or unknowingly such as the case with Cash, Anse, Dewey Dell, or Vardaman, or unfortunately painful like Darl. This alienation extends to neighbors as well, who also seem to misinterpret or simply cannot fathom the family’s actions. I enjoyed reading all three of these works and in a lot of ways they were similar in the fact that all three were on the darker side of the literary spectrum. In most ways though, I felt as though they were all three completely different stories that addressed completely different things. Quicksand and Death of a Salesman had a lot of materialistic themes, whilst As I Lay Dying addressed the frailty of life.

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