Willy Lives all of his Life Thinking about American Dream
Arthur Miller is described as “one of the greatest American dramatists” (Marianne), he wrote “Death of a Salesman” which is a tragedy play in 1949, it does a great job discussing the American Dream. In “Death of a Salesman”, Miller is developing a theme about how the greed of willy affects his life and kills him by the end. Willy always wants to achieve an American dream where he is the best salesman and the most successful family, but his love for becoming an ideal person has imprisoned him in greed and lies that he was not able to escape from. In “Death of a salesman”, Miller uses the symbolism of the seeds, the motif of the caoutchouc tube, and the symbolism of places like Alaska and Africa, to develop a theme that the American dream that is based on gaining more pride, respect, reputation and being the best will inevitably lead to lies, deceit and Willy’s death.
The events of this play happen in the house of Willy Loman in Brooklyn, New York and in other places that he visits or shifts to through his memory in New York and Boston. The stage is dark and silent and we only see a small house drowned in the color of the blue sky, then the features of the house start slowly appearing, it appears that there are no walls between the rooms, so that the audience can see everything in the house at once just like what happens in memories and dreams. In dreams, we remember the houses and rooms by what happened to us in them Including the experiences of sweet or bitter, and not by walls and doors. Facing the small house are large buildings composed of an enormous number of apartments. Willy Loman has built his house in the days of his youth when there was no existence of these large buildings. He built it next to wide fields and beautiful forests, but it was only few years when the buildings were built on top of the fields and surrounded the small house, which led for the parks to shrink and become no more than a small area. The time of this play is the present, but what is the presence to Willy Loman, it not just what he speaks and does now, but it is everything that happens in the mind of this contradicted man, all the life that he lived, all of his failures, lost dreams, the relationships that he hid away from everyone and the good days when he hanged all of his hopes of both of his children, teaching them what he thinks is the best way to succeed in this life. The past in this play overlaps with the presence, the past is constantly flowing in the mind of Willy Loman, so it attracts him away from his surroundings to a different place and a different time where he lives in, loves, argues, rumbles, and quarrels. Willy Loman is one of the men that we would see on a road, aisle or a train talking and having a conversation with people that do not exist except in their own imagination. But we in this play can see and hear these people just like how Willy Loman himself is able to hear and see them. In this play, we live in the heart of this man and expose all of his secrets.
How it works
First, the author used the motif of vast places like Africa, Alaska and the American West to show how much willy loves to gain more reputation. Willy lives in a “small, fragile-seeming home.” (Miller 4), which is an extremely narrow setting compared to the vastness of Alaska, Africa and the American west. Willy wants to travel to different areas of the world so he can earn more money and get a much better job. Willy believes that “There are several properties” in Alaska. In addition to the abundant success that he believes he would get by working in these areas, he believes that all he had to do in such places is to “Walk into a jungle” (Miller 37) and then come out rich. Willy’s inability to earn the amount of money that he always dreams of, or his inability to fully provide for his family has leads him to imagine such places where getting money would be extremely easy. That way rather than fixing his own problems he could live in this world where he can think that if he had just travelled to Africa or Alaska, he would have been one of the richest men. Willy’s greed for earning more money has leads him to start lying and deceiving himself about places that have enormous opportunities, so that he can still have the hope of always looking forward to the impossible.
In addition, the author uses the motif of the caoutchouc tube to show the desperate attempt for Willy to kill himself. The rubber pipe that Linda finds in the cellar is a symbol for Willy’s bold attempt to kill himself. In fact, every day Linda, his wife, has to “go down and take away that little rubber pipe.” (Miller 42). just to make sure that he does not use it and kill himself. She is afraid that he might use the rubber tube to kill himself, especially after she knows that he once “deliberately smashed into the railing, and it was only the shallowness of the water that saved him.” (Miller 41). Smashing into a railroad was not the only suicide attempt Willy attempts, he also tries killing himself by inhaling gas. After knowing about these two suicide attempts, Linda decides to destroy the rubber pipe, but as it turns out, Biff, his son, took away the rubber pipe, not Willy. Willy wanted to kill himself, he never removed the rubber pipe, and he was not planning on stepping back, and the only way to stop him is through taking the rubber pipe by force. Willy loses hope and drowns in lies and promises that he can never achieve, he set an ideal dream for himself to achieve and he set an ideal for his children to achieve that ideal is to earn the most money and to become the best, but since he is unable to achieve such difficult goals and since he lied about his financial status believing that he is rich, his only way to deal with reality is through escaping it.
Moreover, the author uses the symbol of the seeds to show Willy trying to prove himself and earn more reputation. Willy is trying to grow vegetables, which signifies his shame of not being able to provide for his family. Willy feels that he work hard, but he is unable to provide for his offspring. After all the years of his hard work, he gets fired from his job and has nothing left for his family. Willy says, “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground” (Miller 90), which relates to the idea of Willy not creating a stable future for his sons. Willy acknowledges that he does not have a base for his family to live upon, there is nothing that can make his offspring proud of him. He also does not want to leave his children the same way that his father left him, without any support. These seeds represent Will’s love for success and his dreams of always wanting to achieve the American dream by being the most ideal person, but more importantly to be better than others.
Lastly, the author uses Willy’s death to show how Willy’s greed for money, pride, and reputation led to his very own death. In the end of the play, Willy is talking about earning “twenty thousand dollars” (Miller 100). That twenty thousand dollars that Willy is talking about are the savings of his life insurance. Sacrificing himself for money is an important factor in his death for that he cared about giving his money more than giving actual support for his family, but money is not the only reason that leads Willy to kill himself, fame and reputation also played a factor in his suicide. Willy believed that there will be “all kinds of important people” (Miller 101) that will attend his funeral. Willy wanted to become famous by killing himself, he believed that by killing himself there would be dozens upon dozens of important people at his funeral. The amount of people at his funeral was the opposite of what Willy expected, in fact Linda asks, “Why didn’t anybody come?” (miller 103). The extremely high expectations of Willy were the opposite of the reality that there were very few people at his funeral. The lies that he told himself evolved into the truths in his head. Because Willy kept lying to himself about being popular, his mind eventually believed in that lie, but sadly reality did not reflect upon his believes. Willy believed all the lies about him having a lot of reputation, being rich, and being the best, but then these lies incentives him to commit suicide thinking that that might earn him more reputation and money.
Willy lives all of his life thinking that his American dream of being the best at his job and earn the most is the best way of living his life. But his inabilities to make enough money, look the best and to have the best job was inapplicable to his ideals, that is his American dream. Because of this contradiction, rather than living the reality of Willy Loman, he chooses to live in his own fake ideal in order to be able to become the best absolute best man with the best job. His only way to live this fake reality is through lying to himself, and the more that he lies, the worst that his mental state becomes until it leads him to commit suicide. He is one of those men who do not “accept their lot without active retaliation” (Miller 1), but he rather to always create a fake ideal for himself. Willy’s greed to achieve this American dream, that is his greed to become ideal and the best at everything has led to his own death.