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Arthur Miller’s Death of a salesman is a compelling stage play published in 1949. The play is considered one of the classic tragic stories of a commoner that resonates with most Americans in the quest for prosperity. Miller explores the shortcomings of the American Dream and its impact on an individual’s mental well-being and general outlook on life. The play reflects the post-war era that brought Americans hope because of a renewed version of the American Dream. The ideology that everyone, regardless of origin or social background, can achieve some form of prosperity in the United States is sometimes a far-fetched philosophy for some people. Miller explicitly explores the varied views of success in light of the American Dream through the character of Willy Loman and his family. Through Willy’s experiences and thought process, the author illustrates the impacts of a subtle dream and how the inability to accept changes is detrimental to his well-being. Miller efficiently illustrates the different ways the American Dream is achievable and how this success affects each character’s view of prosperity.
We can do it today.
The American dream contrasts with the American reality, as seen through the experiences of the Loman family. Willy is 62 old salesman who relies on daily sales to earn a commission to support his family’s needs. Despite his old age, he has to drive thousands of miles around the country to sell enough that could earn him a better commission. However, his touch with reality is far from his dream because of his unrealistic expectations and self-deception (Benziman, 2005). In one of his soliloquies, Willy states, “I have such thoughts, I have such strange thought.” (Miller, 1996). The idealistic amplification of his dream illustrates his lack of grasp of American reality. Although the audience never learns what Willy sells, it is clear that his job is miserable and unfulfilling despite presenting himself to his family as being on the verge of a huge success. His brother’s success as an adventurer in Africa influences Willy’s version of the American dream. Nevertheless, he believes that every individual who shows manly characteristics like being good-looking, charismatic, and liked by many people deserves to be successful and thus will naturally achieve it.
On the other hand, Willy falls short of the unrealistic standards of his American Dream. Throughout his lifespan, Willy presents impractical standards to his family regarding his view of success, illustrating his self-deception demeanor that overshadows his grasp of reality. He has thoroughly bought into the philosophy of the American Dream that he ignores the tangibles around his life and the dream. Willy believes that being well-liked and good-looking is just as successful as having education and financial empowerment. He tells his kids, “That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world…is the man who gets ahead.” (Miller, 1996). Willy convinces his son, Biff, that despite Bernard’s good performance in school, Biff is better off in the outside business world because of his good appearance. According to Juan (2010), Willy’s speech to his kid illustrates how self-deception boosts his self-esteem, altering his view of success as being well-liked and looking good. Although his family is not fully aware of his deteriorating mental well-being because of his financial troubles, he transfers his hopes to the kids. Willy states, “He’ll be great yet. A start like that, magnificent, can never really fade away.” referring to Biff’s prospect of getting a loan as he remembers Biff as a high school football hero (Miller, 1996). Nonetheless, his self-deception and unrealistic view of the American dream hinder his appreciation of more tangible things like family love as he is overwhelmed with his financial worth.
Belief in the American Dream
On the contrary, Ben’s success represents a more realistic and achievable view of the American Dream. Unlike Willy, who is consumed by the ideology of getting his family money even if it means sacrificing his life, Ben’s American Dream acts as a potent vehicle of ambition. While describing his brother, Willy states, “The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich!” (Miller, 1996). Although Ben died in Africa at the beginning of the play, he is the epitome of the antiquated view of the American Dream (Juan, 2010). Ben is adventurous and goes into the wilderness, where he rides his luck into a massive wealth of diamond excavation. Although he barely knew Ben, Willy regrets not following his path as he constantly converses with Ben’s ghost in times of doubt and stress. The impression that an individual can set out into the wild and return extremely wealthy reflects the old-fashioned view of the American people that prosperity can be achieved in varied forms.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman presents a perceptive view of the American Dream that varies from each person’s outlook on life and prosperity. Through Willy Loman’s character, the author illustrates how self-deception and unrealistic view of the American dream has detrimental effects on a person’s general satisfaction in life. Conversely, Ben Loman’s experiences and success in the wilderness exemplify the notion that prosperity can be achieved through any means as long as one is determined and committed. Despite the tragic ending of Willy’s life, the author epitomizes the ideology that life can be better for any individual, given the prospect and willingness to work.
- Benziman, G. (2005). Success, Law, and the Law of Success: Reevaluating” Death of a Salesman’s” Treatment of the American Dream. South Atlantic Review, 70(2), 20-40.
- Juan, Z. (2010). Corruption of the “American Dream” in Death of a Salesman: A Thematic Analysis of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Cross-Cultural Communication, 6(3), 122-126.
- Miller, A. (1996). Death of a Salesman: Revised Edition. Penguin.