In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the protagonist Willy Loman is shown to be chasing the quintessential American dream, the one which involves good social status, a happy family, money, and social and economic respectability. However, Arthur Miller has in fact, outlined the hollowness behind such a chase. The story of Loman on a deeper look reveals how such a chase is only to give in to the demands of the society and others, and to win respect, whereas behind all these façade is the life of an individual who leads a life of self-deceit and who does not have any chances of escape from the pressures of this American Dream.
Loman works very hard as a salesman throughout his life, and this hard work symbolizes his efforts to reach towards the American Dream. However, it never fulfils it, but instead, it leads him to an ever expanding circle of desires as evident when he says the following lines to his wife, “I’m tired to the death. (The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb.) I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda” (Miller, 1949, p 1317). Loman also always adhered to the codes and norms, and in the end gives in to dishonesty, but all these efforts are never sufficient for him to lead the life that he and his family always wanted to. Eventually he becomes his own victim and remains as a meaningless entity, far away from coming close to the American Dream. There are many reasons presented by the author for Loman’s failings, but the most prominent one that comes across is the way in which the social demands and expectations overpower him, and remain unattainable, becoming a cause for leaving the chase behind the dream. The prominent theme of being burdened by social expectations comes across evidently, be it competitiveness with the next door neighbour Charley, ‘keeping up with the Jones’ (Miller, 1949, p 1319), to the high pressure that Loman faces from the society, the family never has the hope of being happy or satisfied. Therefore, in a true sense, the play Death of a Salesman becomes an anatomy of the American Dream.
In reality, the life of a salesman focuses largely around ‘selling the dream’. To sell the dream, the first prerequisite is to believe in the dream. However, Loman does not have the belief, displaying a sharp irony to the aspiration of the American dream. The only real asset of Loman is shown to be an insurance policy that would support his wife Linda. To expose the irony of the American Dream, Miller pulls apart the character of Wily Loman, to show how he is very vulnerable and to outline the larger failures in his life as well as the highly expectant society around them, perhaps most clearly outlined when his son Biff says, “And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am” (Miller, 1949, p 1363). Thus, the play outlines the challenges thrown by the society as well as the self, in the American context. In the end, Miller leaves the readers with a sense that this chase for American Dream will not help them move head. Even though the American Dream strives as an ideal, for Miller, it is hollow and disappointing.
Miller, A (1949). The Death of A Salesman. In Perkins, G, and Perkins, B, Eds. (2007). The American Tradition in Literature, Volume II, 12th edition. (p. 1316-1370) New York: McGraw-Hill