I can't be alone in having the occasional Willy Loman day. Arthur Miller wrote the quintessential down on his luck character in the play Death of a Salesman. Loman is the guy who believes that he can achieve the American dream of wealth and prestige through optimism and boot-strapping his way to the top, but he can't seem to catch a break. It's not as if you're going to seek out Willy Loman types when you're having that kind of day, but sometimes it's good to read about characters who put your own self-pity in perspective.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis is a funny take on the underdog story. Jim Dixon is a lecturer at a provincial college. He finds it difficult to bear the pomposity of his colleagues and as a result becomes a contortionist, trying to reconcile himself to living a life he doesn't believe in.
Whenever I'm alone in an elevator I'm tempted to make grotesque faces as Jim does in private, a physical display of his roller coaster emotional life. In most tragedies there are bodies strewn about the stage at the end of the play; in Lucky Jim, Jim implodes in an excruciatingly funny scene.
James Thurber's Walter Mitty is another character who lives an exceedingly dull life mitigated only by his imaginative fantasy world. In fact, NPR's show In Character, explores the fictional lives of both Walter Mitty and Willy Loman. If you haven't heard it yet, In Character is a fascinating look at the characters who populate the world of books, film, theater and television. Do events in your life make you hearken back to certain characters? Tell us about it in the comments section.