Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller is an anatomy of the American dream. American dream as portrayed by American government is success for all who ever excels but Willy Lowman, the protagonist of the play fails to achieve that success in the course of the play. Willy Lowman struggles and tries to achieve success through his set principles and rules but he is unable to gain that success and his failure comes to the forefront at the end of the play. The reality of American dream in actuality is exposed in the play with the representation of the character of Willy Lowman.
The character of Willy Lowman follows certain principles, which he has designed for himself by following certain other characters such as Dave Singleman and Ben but here he is unable to analyze the changing society. These characters are his ideals as they have succeeded and gained material accomplishment (Abbolson 1999). Ben, Willy’s brother gained material success by owning forestlands and diamond mine. According to Willy, Ben was rewarded and so should he but he has mistakenly not realized the changing society in which, he lives. Dave Singleman like Willy was a salesman but for him, the society was in a different state and was quite accommodative. According to Bigsby (1984), the society of Dave Singleman contained societal associations and affection. Because of his being a well-known personality, he was facilitated with loyalty, aid and love from the surrounded society. Considering Singleman as his model who succeeded in the same society, Willy declines Ben’s offer to work in Alaska. Willy also regards Singleman’s funeral as a model as he says: “When he died hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral” (63).
The notion of “American Dream” or “Success myth” is significant considering the dreams of Willy Lowman. According to Bigsby (1984), it is generally believed as an American myth that any person who is hard working and wishes to have a comfortable life and material accomplishment can get it with his own struggle and devotion. Willy is unable to understand the society and its needs and also he is unable to comprehend the transformation that is required for a business world. He sticks strictly to his set principles such as his principles of keeping personality as a source of attraction, being well liked and so on and his set principles stand in difference to people who have succeeded to a limited extent. His conviction that “Personality wins the day” can be placed in disparity with Charley’s view that “All you have is what you can sell”. Willy has induced himself that to accomplish something in the corporate world one is to be “Well liked”. He preaches his sons about his false principles as well such as: “Be liked and you will never want” (26).
Willy gives utmost importance to material wealth and for him, all dreams can be met with material wealth only. For Willy, a person can only be categorized as successful and accomplished if he has gained material wealth successfully. Without material wealth, no one can be successful in Willy’s idea of success. According to Lawrence (1983), American dream stands as a myth that promises happiness by means of material accomplishments that is quite superficial in its meaning and Willy Lowman is only a representative of a person who thinks of fulfilling this dream and gaining happiness.
Ben gained material success only but there is no mentioning of the fact that Ben was otherwise happy as well. Dave Singleman gained material success and fame as well. However, Willy has wrong concept of success as for him, happiness is only when some wealth is there. Happiness only stands as an illusion as promised by the American dream (Abbolson 1999). By analyzing the character of Willy, Miller informs about the emptiness concealed in the myth of American dream. For a man connected with middle class, there is no American dream as it is only for the bounteous and affluent class of the society. For Willy, everything is material gains and happiness depends on wealth only that is a wrong conception.
The character of Willy Lowman shows the reality of American dream that promises to give happiness to everyone based on material success, which is quite untrue. It is an empty promise with no ground reality, as happiness cannot be gained with material wealth. Even the people who struggle gain material wealth in terms of success also fail showing the failure of the dream as a whole. Therefore, Death of a Salesman is an anatomy of American dream and shows the reality of American dream in depth through the representation of Willy Lowman, the main character of the play.
Abbolson, Susan C.W. “Understanding Death of a Salesman”. A casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents. Westport: Greenwood press, 1999.
Bigsby, C.W.B. A Critical Introduction to 20th Century American Drama.Vol.2. Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Lawrence, Stephen A. “The Right Dream in Miller’s Death of a Salesman”. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Helene Wickham Koon. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking Press, 1980.