When Dreams Overpower Reality
“In Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman, the story is told in the 1940’s of a Willy Loman who is a traveling salesman and his family consisting of his wife and two adult sons, Happy and Biff. Witten in 1948 and first performed in 1949 it has since won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony Award for Best Play three times, been performed 742 times with four of those consisting of Broadway shows (Google). Throughout Miller’s play, it’s quite noticeable to the audience of the fall of Mr. Loman. Looking back on his character from beginning to end, the evolution of Loman’s character from being somewhat successful to the feeling of nothingness leaves the audience with much desire to pick out the particular them used throughout the play. In, Death of a Salesman, Miller uses the theme of the American Dream to portray Willy Loman and his family at first but then his American Dream fades into an American Nightmare. Loman’s vision of his own American Dream turns tragic through his lack of awareness to realize his own failure decided by certain choices made throughout the play.
What is the ideal American Dream? Some would say that it includes a nice house, nice cars, a career that you love and a wonderful family. Better yet, it could be said that the ideal American Dream leads to everlasting happiness through the desire to achieve everything you want in life. In Mark Rank’s, Chasing the American Dream : Understanding What Shapes Our Fortune, he states, “In a sense, it is about being able to live out our own personal biographies. It is about reaching our full potential by being able to pursue and develop our interests and talents” (Rank 17). In Death of a Salesman we can see how Rank’s statement relates to Willy Loman. Loman wants to be successful by working hard and he wants a fair amount of money in the bank but that isn’t his man focus. Instated Willy’s true dream is to have his own sons to be successful and represent him well, this is Willy’s “own personal biography.” So, while Willy technically already fits the general description of the American Dream granted that he has a house, nice car and some cash, he still hasn’t lived up to his own version of that dream. This is what Miller wants us to see whether we are watching or reading the play, that not everyone has the same idea of the American Dream and it can differ from person to person. Everyone has their own personal biography and they are not all written the same.
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Furthermore, moving towards Willy’s downfall and the result of some of his certain choices, we see his American Dream fade into an American Nightmare. We see this a lot throughout the play but particularly when Willy’s boss, Howard, fires him after he asks to step down from being a traveling salesman. Willy at this point basically crumbles as its seen when he states, “I’m talking about your father! There were promises made across this desk! You mustn’t tell me you’ve got people to see—I put thirty-four years into this firm, Howard, and now I can’t pay my insurance!” (Miller 61). So, with Willy’s choice to ask Howard for a different position with the company it ultimately resulted in Willy failing at something he was actually good at and this eventually helps push Willy to his own demise. In Keith Newlin’s, The American Dream, he states, “Arthur miller’s Death of a Salesman demonstrates not only the enduring belief in the dream but also the dangers associated with having “the wrong” dream in mid-twentieth century America” (Newlin 4). “The wrong” dream is exactly what Miller’s goal was within the play. He was letting the audience know that yes, everyone has their own American Dream but chasing that dream could lead you down the path of being fixated on the wrong dream. Even if you’re on the right track, any choice you make at any point can lead you down the wrong path. The presentation of the American Dream in this particular section of the play works to appeals to the audience considering that everyone has their own dream and the choices they make could possibly affect it and this appeals to the audience’s emotions.
While the firing of Willy Loman could be considered somewhat of the start of his downfall it is not the only part in the play where this is seen. Towards the end of the play when Biff and Willy are arguing after Biff told his father the news of the failed interview with Mr. Oliver, we see Willy sink farther into this nightmare that is engulfing him. Willy says, “Spite, spite, is the word of your undoing! And when you’re down and out, remember what did it. When you’re rotting somewhere beside the railroad tracks, remember, and don’t you dare blame it on me!” (Miller 103). At this point, Willy is frustrated beyond the point of no return with Biff. What he is saying to Biff is actually how he feels on the inside. He is failing and falling apart, and he is the one who is “rotting.” In Sarah Churchwell’s, Requiem for an American Dream, she explains that, “Willy Loman cannot accept that his values were misplaced; he dies rather than face the hollowness of his own life” (Churchwell 4). Churchwell is saying that since Willy’s life did not go the way he wanted it to, he took the easy way out instead of hanging in there and facing the consequences from the choices he made which is completely accurate. With the combination of the quote from Miller and the quote from Churchwell its officially clear this is Willy’s Nightmare. With Willy’s lack of awareness to recognize his own failure, it has driven him completely to the edge. This lack of awareness is an important lesson told by Miller with the use of the theme of the American Dream. The frustration of not getting what you are shooting for and the to inability to realize the failure that has come upon you, leads you to a place or point that can be devastating.
In conclusion, Arthur Miller does a fascinating job of uses the theme of the American Dream to captivate his audience and pull them in for more. From taking the American Dream and Willy’s idea of his own “biography,” to the select choices he made that resulted to his own downfall and fading into an American Nightmare, everything involved in Miller’s Death of a Salesman fits together like a puzzle to keep the audience entertained and leave them thinking about their own American Dream. Willy Loman had his mind set on what he wanted in life but when that did not go as planned, he briefly lives in an American Nightmare that is one to be remembered.”