The Death of a Salesman embodies the quest for the impossible American Dream. The play not only identifies and discusses problems within a particular family but also delves into wider concerns surrounding basic American ideals. Arthur Miller investigates the blind hope that most Americans have about the American dream. Death of a Salesman portrays an individual’s misfortune when chasing the American dream. Willy Loman, the lead character, embodies what many Americans believe in. Miller’s criticism of the dream’s false myth is on display in the play (Feng-tian 108). It is clear that the original American dream has been watered down by emerging capitalist materialism that has eclipsed the moral vision of America. Death of a Salesman. The play not only recognizes and addresses conflicts within one family but it also explores the broader issues concerning the fundamental American values. Arthur Miller examines the blind optimism that most Americans have towards the dream. Death of a Salesman encompasses an individual’s tragedy in the pursuit of the American dream. Willy Loman, the protagonist, reflects what many Americans believe in. The play demonstrates Miller’s critique of the false myth around the dream (Feng-tian 108). It is clear that the original American dream has been watered down by an emerging capitalist materialism which has eclipsed the moral vision of America. Death of a Salesman also demonstrates that the new America is turning out to be different from what the founding fathers had envisaged. The play exposes Willy Loman’s understanding of the American dream, his attempts to attain the dream and how his death unravels the nature of his quest.
Loman’s conceptualization of the American Dream
Everyone in the play has a separate version of the American Dream from the other. Willy Loman dreams of becoming a successful businessman in the same way as Dave Singleman (Miller 58). He believes that business can make him to prosper and generate abundant wealth and freedom. In this regard, Loman recognizes that human happiness can only be achieved through wealth and popularity. His conception of happy life premises on the high status that the society accords people who are rich and liked by others. Having been convinced that money will make him happy, Loman ignores everyone around him and becomes very obsessed with the desire for more wealth. In the process, he overlooks other important American values such as the love of family, compassion, and mercy.
Willy Loman’s failed trip overseas underscores his appetite for materialism. Miller has used the family of Loman as a suitable setting for the play. In so doing, he has revealed some of the gaps that characterize family life and the need for the members of the family to appreciate one another. Linda, Loman’s wife, is worried about a recent accident that Loman had. In order to save Loman from the agonies of long travel, Linda suggests to Loman an idea which involves asking the Howard Wagner to allow him to work in his home city (Miller 7). If Wagner agrees to the suggestion, he could spare Loman the harrowing experiences of long travel, and perhaps lower the possibility of accidents. Loman seems to be troubled by many things. Not only does he desire to fulfill his aspirations in life but he also expresses his disappointment with Biff, his son. In Loman’s world, success (American Dream) can only be achieved if one makes it in school. For this reason, Biff’s sterling performance in high school athletics is overshadowed by his failure to do well in Mathematics which has made him unable to qualify for University admission.
Loman perceives the American Dream in the form of acquisition of material comforts that the contemporary American life provides. Thus, a well-liked man in business must acquire the luxuries of life as a way of demonstrating fulfillment of the dream (Miller 19). He is obsessed with superficial qualities of likeability which is incompatible with the essence of the dream since it underscores hard work as the precursor to success. Loman’s version of the American dream departs significantly from what other people believe in. He believes that the dream can be fulfilled by mere charisma. Loman strongly believes that personality defines success. This notion is different from what people know because success is defined by hard work. In this way, Miller represents an important perspective on how Americans perceive the dream.
Loman’s lopsided viewpoints regarding the America dream extends to his relationship with his sons. He wants them to be well-liked, attractive, and popular. He is more concerned with the manner in which Biff’s classmates would react when Biff makes fun of his teacher. The play reveals a point of departure between Loman and Biff regarding the orientation of their dreams. Despite Loman’s attempts to make Biff to follow his dreams, Biff soon discovers that he can follow his own dreams and create a life different from his father’s. Miller has intelligently revealed that various viewpoints can emerge in the context of the family even if the different versions of the dream may herald different outcomes.
Loman’s attempts to attain the dream
Loman’s attempts to attain the dream are marred with myriad challenges. He lives a life of abandonment that leaves him to reel in despair. At a tender age, his father left him alongside Ben without money to take care of themselves. When Ben eventually leaves for Alaska, Loman remains behind and get absorbed in the warped vision of the dream. However, he appears to regret why his failure to accompany Ben to Alaska. Willy believes that his fortunes would have changed if he had traveled to Alaska due to the “tremendous opportunities” there (Miller 31). The resulting scenarios make Loman to develop loneliness. In response to the feeling of being abandoned, Loman develops a desire for his family to accept his notion of the dream.
The desire to raise perfect children symbolizes Loman’s inability to understand the reality of life. Children are born with different abilities and talents which constitute individual differences. Biff may not have excelled in Mathematics in high school and missed an opportunity to go to the University. However, his potential as a budding athlete cannot be ignored. It is interesting how Biff’s failure creates a sense of disappointment in the mind of his father. For Loman, Biff’s poor performance in Math may undermine his desire for attraction. It also means that Loman’s hope for a family that lives towards achieving the dream may not be fulfilled.
What Loman’s death reveals about the nature of his quest
Loman engages in a desperate attempt to discover his past. However, he fails to achieve self-realization in what has become a symbol of a tragic hero (Stanton 157). This explains why he resorts to suicide as a means of ending his life. The act of suicide only serves to discover the truth about Loman. The play establishes the many times Willy attempted to take his life. Some of the ways include inhaling gas which provides a source of heat to keep his house warm. Willy’s intention to die undermines his struggle to create a comfortable life for the family. There is a sense of irony in this decision because the death of the salesman would naturally terminate his vision, dreams, and desires for a better life.
Willy’s death illuminates his elusive search for a dream that failed to come to fruition due to his illusions about it. Loman cannot understand who he is when he desires to commit suicide. Miller has attempted to demonstrate Loman’s inability to embrace change within himself and the society in general (Feng-tian 112). He is mired in memories, dreams, arguments, and confrontations that define the final moments of his life. Perhaps, it is imperative to recognize that by choosing to die, Willy would be free from the things that make him sad including the nagging desire to provide for the family in an illusory world.
Willy’s death exposes him as a weak person who is unable to confront the reality of life. Instead, he makes a conscious decision to believe in attraction as the cornerstone of the American Dream. Miller uses the character of Willy to represent millions of Americans who are caught up in the warped dream and also to send a caution that success cannot be achieved without hard work. The playwright uses Willy’s death to educate his audience to be wary of the illusions and imaginations.
Death of a Salesman is an epic story that identifies many versions of the American dream. Analysis of the play in relation to the life of Willy Loman has revealed how a typical American family can forfeit important values in pursuit of a dream. Willy’s elusive search for the American dream is a lesson that the obsession with material gains may fail to materialize. Happiness does not necessarily reside in the material property. The true happiness resides amongst people. Perhaps, Willy Loman could demonstrate abundant love for his family to avoid the temptation to die.
Feng-tian, X. U. “Death of a Salesman and American Dream.” Overseas English 12 (2012): 108.
Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman.” Edited and with an introd. by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publications (2007).
Stanton, Kay. “Women and the American Dream of Death of a Salesman.” Death Of A Salesman (2007): 156.