“Death of a Salesman” and Theme of the Failure of the American dream
Every human will have negative and inner urges, or if correctly said misguided ‘dreams’. These dreams or negative urges will want attention and completion. However in the process of completing these dreams, the individual who had these dreams, would wreck his/her life as well as lives of others. Both in the real life as well as in the fictional life, many persons or characters had these misguided dreams, as part of social sphere, eventually destructing because of it. Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is one of the fictional characters who had a misguided American Dream, and in turn destructed his life. So, this paper will analyze how the theme of American Dream was unsuccessfully actualized by Willy Loman and how his attempt of Anagnorisism or self-realization also ended in failure, thereby proving how the theme of American Dream ended in a failure.
Death of a salesman, written by Arthur Miller, is still regarded as one of the classical plays to come out in the American theater. It made a scathing attack on the American Dream of going only after wealth and success without giving importance to the core principles and moral standards. The play subtly focuses on this misguided American dream through the painful conflicts that occurs between four members in a family. Willy Loman, family’s patriarch and his wife Linda Loman have two sons namely, Biff Loman and Happy Loman. Willy Loman is an insecure and self-deluding traveling salesman, whose life becomes miserable as he fails both in his professional as well as in his personal life. His dismissal from the job and his resultant actions clearly shows how misguided his dreams are. In his personal life also, he did not had a good relationship with his two sons, but exhibited false happiness, even while feeling dejected inside
In Death of a salesman, Willy Loman ‘masks’ many of his failures and frailties, by falsely demonstrating that he and his sons are successful and thereby have ‘achieved’ the American Dream. From the beginning itself, he makes his life miserable by going for materialistic pleasures as part of the American dream, which actually ‘blinds’ the path of truth and morality. Truth in the sense, even though the both his sons were good in their schools, he gave them the false beliefs that everything will come to them easily and they no need to try at all. “Bernard can get the best marks in school, yunderstand, but… you are going to be five times ahead of him.” (Miller 20). This bad upbringing also had a bad effect on Biff and Happy, as they also struggled to achieve the American dream.
Morality in the sense, needing sexual pleasures, he had an illegal affair with a woman, causing him to deteriorate morally and in the mind of his son. He was not supported by his sons, particularly his eldest son, Biff mainly due to this immoral act of having an illegal relationship with a woman. So, even though Willy lived a depressed existence, he ‘masks’ or ‘persuades’ himself and others that he and his sons are successful. “Oh, Ben, I always knew one way or another we were going to make it, Biff and I!” (Miller, 104). Willy mainly masks the failures he faced while trying to achieve the American dream. To mask these failures, he even goes to the extent of borrowing 50 dollars a week from Charley and pretending it to be his salary. He even masks his original love of carpentry because he believes that it is more memorable to be an unsuccessful salesman than be contented carpenter. So, Willy masks his failures and interests to show himself a successful man and achiever of American Dream, but in the end dies tragically for a worthless cause. “what a ridiculous lie whole life has been,” (Miller, 78).
Even though, Loman lived a depressed existence due to his failure to achieve American dream, he underwent a kind of half-Anagnorisism, thereby realizing the some of the mistakes he have committed. That is, when Biff, during a scuffle with Loman breaks down into tears and says “Will you take that phoney dream and burn it before something happens?” (Miller, 102). Loman realizes that Biff still cares for him, even though he criticizes his misguided American Dream. This sets off Anagnorisism in him as he realizes the mistakes he had done, and wants to correct for the benefit of all. For that, he wants to give some kind of monetary help to his sons. He planned to achieve that by taking his own life, so that his sons would get the payout from his life insurance policy. But, it did not end the way he expected because he did not know the rule that payout will not be provided, if the insurer commits suicide.
So, Loman even though went through Anagnorisism, he did not complete it because he did not felt Peripeteia or reversal of fortunes. That is, he or his family could not change or reverse the prevalent sadness to happiness. His attempt to salvage some thing from his misguided dream through Anagnorisism also ends in failure. So, the misguided American dream which worked as a form of symbolism only had a negative effect on the character of Willy Loman leading to his eventual destruction. Even the attempt of his correct his mistakes in the form of Anagnorisism only ended in failure, giving him the tag of tragic hero.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a salesman. Edited by Val Randall. London: Heinemann. 1994.