Death of … the American Dream
How it works
Arthur Miller’s, play Death of a Salesman is a portrayal of the American dream and consumerism. The play relates the story of a common man whose life is devoted to chasing the American Dream.
The American Dream is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for growth and success. It is a belief that no matter how you begin life you can overcome and achieve upward social mobility for yourself and for your family. Death of a Salesman dismisses the ethos in the American Dream. Miller’s ability to display this unrealistic idea through the life and relationships of Willy Loman, the protagonist in Death of a Salesman. Although Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is a classic tragedy of the main character Willy Loman battling with the reality of his life, it is a critique of capitalism and the empty promises of the materialistic version of the American Dream.
Willy Loman had worked all of his life as a salesman. Willy’s American Dream consisted of being a well-liked and personally attractive man in business and being able to acquire all of the materialistic needs in modern American life. Willy’s quest for the American Dream leads to his failure because, throughout his life, he pursued an illusion of the American Dream and not the actual reality of it. Willy mistakes the image of popularity for the reality of success, ignoring the fact that for some wealthy men being well-liked is not the origin of their wealth but a reward from it. Willy’s next door neighbor, Charley, says of financial scoundrel J. P. Morgan, “with his pockets on he was very well liked” (Miller, Arthur 1599). Willy tries to project the image of success by exaggerating his sales and the image of success. Willy believes that this image is necessary to secure their success in the world, a world that will open its doors for men who are admired. Willy’s obsession with the American Dream, believing that being well-liked is associated with success, keeps both him and his sons in a state of emotional inadequacy and immaturity, stopping them from realizing that this behavior prevents them from success.
Even though Willy is entangled in lies, he has moments where the reality of his own self-image conflicts with his illusion of popularity. For example, Willy states, “I’ll knock ’em dead next week, I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford” (1557). Yet in the same conversation, he admits reality by saying, “You know, the trouble is people don’t seem to take to me” (1557). This statement shows that Willy has moments when he actually does acknowledge himself as an adequate salesman. However, in Willy’s eyes, this reality is and so he must lie both to himself and to others in order to live and meet his view of the American Dream.