Death of a Traveling Salesman by R. J. Cardullo | Script Revolution

Death of a Traveling Salesman

R. J. Bowman, an unmarried traveling salesman, takes refuge from the road one evening with a Southern farm couple—who become the last people he sees on earth.



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Based On: 
“Death of a Traveling Salesman” (1936), a short story by Eudora Welty.

This script explores the lonely existence of a traveling salesman and the toll his isolated life takes on his mental as well as physical health. The protagonist is a man named R. J. Bowman. For over fourteen years, he has worked as a traveling salesman for a shoe company, traveling all over Mississippi and surrounding areas. He lives in hotels, lives out of suitcases, has no wife or romantic prospects, and makes no friends.

When the story begins, Bowman is on the road as usual, but he doesn’t feel well. He recently spent weeks in bed with the flu, and he still feels feverish. The flu weakened his heart, and he knows he won’t be the same again; what he doesn’t realize is just how sick he is. Bowman decides he can’t drive much longer; he must find somewhere to rest and sleep off the remaining flu symptoms.

Bowman had planned on reaching Beulah, which is still fifty miles away. The problem is that, because he’s feverish, he took a wrong turn a while back and now he’s lost—with no idea where the nearest town is. Bowman contemplates asking strangers for help, but he knows that people living in the countryside rarely travel far and therefore won’t know how to get to Beulah.

Then Bowman loses concentration and tries to stop, but the emergency brake fails and his car runs off the road; he finds himself at the edge of a ravine. With his car about to tip over, he climbs out and stumbles toward a nearby cabin on a hill. There a pregnant woman stands in the doorway, watching. She doesn’t say anything until Bowman introduces himself.

Although he travels a lot, Bowman doesn’t know how to make casual conversation. He almost tries to sell the woman some shoes, but then abruptly asks for help in getting his car out of the ravine. She says that her husband, Sonny, is due back soon. He can help. Then the woman goes inside the cabin to wait, and Bowman follows. Finally, Sonny turns up and devises a plan. He will use a mule and ropes to haul the car from the ravine.

Bowman is too frail to help Sonny; he remains in the cabin with the woman as her husband does the work. Sonny comes back and says that he has succeeded in dragging the car out of the ravine. Then the men have a drink and eat some food. As it is getting dark, Bowman asks Sonny if he can stay the night. Sonny checks him for weapons and, concluding that he isn’t a threat, lets the stranger sleep over.

As the night wears on, Bowman remains ill, but he thinks he has overstayed his welcome and decides to sneak away after the couple fall asleep. Leaving some money on the table, Bowman exits the cabin and walks down to his car. Before he can get inside the vehicle, however, his heart gives out and he collapses. Clutching his chest and feeling his heartbeat for the last time, the salesman dies alone—on the side of a country road.

Submitted: November 27, 2020
Last Updated: November 27, 2020

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R. J. Cardullo's picture

The Writer: R. J. Cardullo

A former university film teacher, I turned to screenwriting several years ago. I have also written film criticism for many publications. A New Yorker by birth, I grew up in Miami and was educated at the University of Florida, Tulane, and Yale. My last U.S. address was in Milford, Connecticut; I am now an expatriate residing in Scandinavia. Many of my scripts (both long and short) are adaptations of lesser-known works by well-known authors. I am happy to re-write, collaborate, or write on demand. Thanks kindly for any attention you can give my work. Go to bio

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