“Death of a Salesman” and “The American Dream”
An analytical study Arthur Miller, a leading playwright of America, in his play Death of a Salesman (1949), focuses on the dream of every American during the recession period of 1930’s and during the period of the war thereafter. In the play, the protagonist, Willy Loman, represents the dream of an American for material success. Death of a sales man addresses the painful conflicts in a middle class American family in particular and American values in general. The play, which examines the cost of blind faith in the American dream, is a postwar, American version of personal tragedy. Miller attacks an average American’s false myth of American dream in two acts and a requiem by convincing his readers of the notion that money is more important than truth and moral vision.
The term ‘American Dream’ got its significance in American vocabulary in 1867 when the writer Horatio Alger came out with his book Dick. Horatio Alger makes it clear in his seminal book that any person, ‘who is willing to make the journey’, can become rich and successful in life by cherishing the ‘American dream’ through “honesty, hard work and determination” (Parody of the American Dream in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman). As the play begins one can see Willy Loman coming back to his home after leaving his job at the Wagner’s company. He has been a traveling sales man for the company over thirty four years. Willy believes that to be ‘well liked is the means to being successful’ in life. His two sons, Biff and Happy, in his opinion, are well amiable. However, saddening fact is that both of them are not successful in their lives. He is more worried of his son Biff who could not find an opening in his life even though he is 34 years of age. As with American dream, it is believed that if one owns a car, has a house, a decent job with good salary and a lot of admirers around his left and right, he has achieved the American dream. Biff is very disappointed as he has no income at his hands to start a business. He expects his father to help him whereas Willy struggles a lot to pay for his appliances and for the insurance premium. He borrows money from his neighbor Charley’s. In fact, the actual life situations that Willy and his sons face in the play unearth the meaninglessness of cherishing or even accomplishing the so called ‘American dream’.
All throughout the play one finds Willy Loman struggling hard to fulfill his American dream and the benefits of being the same. Thus, being a disillusioned character in the play, he finds solace in the past and plunges himself into the foregone 15 years, where he was successful up to some extend. The frequent up and downs of his mind from present to past makes the readers feel that he never lived in a real world. His affair with a woman whom he had some acquaintance in sales often comes back to his mind. He was caught red-handed by his son Biff. This might have made some influence in the mind of Biff. Happy, the second son, lives with many women and his desires are that of flat, cars, and women. This is one of the reasons that made him fail in Mathematics. In the past Willy had assurance over the beginning of a business. He always desired to become like his neighbor, Charley at business. He believed that one day he would be opening a business bigger than that of his neighbor Charley’s. Bernard, the son of Charley would fail in his life as he is not well liked as that of his sons. But in real life it all turns upside down. Bernard becomes a successful barrister in life. By this Arthur miller lashes the ill notion of American dream. Thus, one can conclude that Willy’s attempts to escape from reality to illusion acts as a moving force in the play towards the theme of the American dream.
One needs to have a thorough knowledge of how the theme of illusion versus reality is at work in the play. When Biff and happy suggest of a sporting goods business the business mind of Will gets ushered and so he suggests a lot on getting a loan from Bill Oliver ,the former employer of Biff. Willy considers himself as a great salesman, who stood for the growth of his company. When he asked the new boss, Howard Wagner to shift from New England to New York, instead of shifting he was fired from the job. This is a clear idea of American dream of Howard Wagner. He does not want Willy as he is old and of no use. On the other hand, Willy idolizes Ben, his dead brother who became rich by mining diamonds in the jungle of Africa .He finds him as a successful man from rags to riches. He often sees him in his day dreams. He finds the success of his son Biff too in his dreams. The woman too comes and these all haunt his disillusioned mind. He ‘cannot distinguish between reality and illusion’ (Death of a Salesman, a Homework Online study guide: Themes). He considers that his sons are great men and have the potential to be successful and can beat the business world, unfortunately he is mistaken. His son Biff does not get any loan from his previous employer. This adversely affects Willy and this causes the quarrel between them. Willy thinks of getting some money. The illusion versus reality can be there even at the end too. Billy believes that a man is “worth more dead than alive.” Charlie, always the voice of reality tells Willy, “A man isnt worth anything dead.” (Death of a Salesman, a Homework Online study guide: Themes).Willy tries to live a life to achieve the American Dream but he miserably fails. This turns him to think of other means of committing suicide so that he believes that his sons would get a great amount of money and with which they can begin a business. One does not understand whether the wishes of Willy Loman gets fulfilled in his sons’ time; however as Biff rightly remarks Willy “had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong” (Death of a Salesman, a Homework Online study guide: Themes).
To conclude, one can state that the Protagonist, Willy Loman, becomes a victim of his own dreams. His death does not move anyone in the family as all in the family believe that Willy is relieved of his own problems. The term ‘American dream’ is very well explained through the major characters like Willy, Biff, Happy, and Charley. The author, thus, succeeds in criticizing the attitudes of the people in amassing money and becoming successful in life. Willy represents a real American who tries to become a business man irrespective of his inabilities and fails miserably as he is a low-man, and so the play appeals to the spectator as both thought provoking and interesting.
Death of a Salesman, a Homework Online study guide: Themes. Homework Online, Inc. 23 May 2010 .
“Parody of the American Dream in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman.” 123HelpMe.com. 23 May 2010 .