The American Dream is the belief that if you work
hard you will gain success and wealth in life. In Death of a Salesman written
by Arthur Miller, the idea of the American dream is shown through the main
character Willy Loman. Willy has a flawed perception of success and the
American Dream. His desire for wealth and popularity is what eventually leads
to his downfall. His obsession with his image and his desire to be someone he
wasn’t overtime drives him crazy and leads to his death.
Willy Loman was a businessman
because he thought it was an ideal job for a man like him. He worked for the same
company for many years, even long enough for the boss’s son to become his boss.
His work required long and tiring hours, and he didn’t realize that this wasn’t
the job he truly wanted. Willy only wanted to be successful, and he thought
entering the world of business was the best way to do that. He even told his
son Biff “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who
creates personal interest is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will
never want.” (Miller, 21) Willy’s entire view on life was completely distorted.
He didn’t think he would be truly happy until he was wealthy and liked by many.
Despite the fact that he firmly believed in success coming through business it
is ironic that he wasn’t even good at his job or respected as a salesman. In
the play, it tells us that Willy was good with his hands and enjoyed repairing
things around the house, but he didn’t believe that being a carpenter was a
respectable job and opted for business instead. Willy could have been a much
happier man had he chosen to do something he was talented at and enjoyed but
again his pride and obsession with success got in the way. (Sleight)
There are many reasons why Willy failed to reach
his dream of success, for one he was lazy and weak. He never made any true
effort to chase after what he wanted. It was his hope that he would be able to
charm himself into a nice and well compensated job. Unfortunately for Willy success doesn’t just
come from popularity or personality you have to put in work to be a successful
man. He is passing his flawed perception of what being successful is onto his
sons when he says that the key to success is being “well-liked” and all that’s
necessary is “a smile and a shoeshine.” (Miller,104) His thought process is
that if he lives his life this way then it will be close to perfect. The other
belief he has for success is just pure luck like his brother who came across a
diamond fortune in Africa. This philosophy sets both Willy and his family up
for failure right from the beginning.
was a failed businessman he always tried to put on an act to make himself seem
respected and liked by the people he worked with as well as his customers. He
told his sons that he was very popular he told them that all he has to do was
say that “Willy Loman is here! That’s all they have to know, and I go right
through.” (Miller, 21), when in reality this wasn’t true he was not liked and
was struggling to bring home enough money to survive. A character flaw of his
was his constant lying. He would often lie to Linda about how much money he
made from his sales in an attempt to inflate his success. While it is somewhat
admirable that Willy wanted to give his family all the luxuries in life the
debt and stress he brought on himself in order to do so simply wasn’t worth it.
Again, it was his pride that prevented him from being able to live within his
Finances weren’t the only thing Willy was dishonest about.
It was revealed that he was having an affair with someone only referred to as
“the woman.” Throughout the story she is used as a contrast to his wife Linda. (Metzger)
Willy had a distinct and very different way of treating the two. While there is
often tension and fighting between Linda and Willy about finances among other
things he still manages to gift his mistress a pair of nylon stockings, these
were considered a rare and luxurious item for women during this time period.
(Sundin) Linda wasn’t gifted with such items and at one point Willy feels anger
and guilt when he sees her having to mend her stockings. This only reminds him
of his shortcomings as both a husband and father since he was unable to provide
his family with necessities.
As the play progresses Willy begins retreating into the past
frequently in order to distract himself and forget about the reality he faces,
this combined with the fact that he truly believes the lies he tells others about
himself eventually causes him to go mad. He tended to retreat into the past and
relive events, most often he would relive or have conversations with his
deceased brother Ben about making it big. Ben was Willy’s older brother who
became successful in Africa and it is one of Willy’s biggest regrets in life
that he didn’t accompany his brother on his trips because maybe he could have
lived a life of luxury and success as well. He believes that Ben’s pure luck is
proof that he has what it takes to make his dream come true. Ben although dead
seems to act as his conscious and plays a role in Willy’s flawed view of the
world. Since his brother is a hallucination who gives him advice Willy’s image
of success is literally delusional. (Metzger) It shows the state of mind he is
in as well as the fantasy world he lives in.
Willy Loman was a man who lived a life of disappointments.
He never reached the success he had hoped for, he failed as both a father and a
husband, after coming to terms with this he decides to commit suicide. His
flawed understanding of the American Dream is what drove him to this point.
Throughout his entire life he failed to realize that living the true American
Dream is nearly impossible, we can all arguably never reach that point where
our life is perfect. In his eyes committing suicide was a way to end his
suffering and offer something to his family, his gift to them was the insurance
money they would collect from his death. He does this so Linda can make the
last mortgage payment on their house. Due to all of his shortcomings he felt
like he was worth more to his family dead than alive, this combined with the fact
that he viewed himself as a failure caused him to purposefully crash his car.
The end of Willy Loman’s life represents the end of his
dream and the idea that work is always rewarded with success. The author chose
to portray Willy as a salesman to show us that people were being sold false
hope and empty promises when it comes to the American Dream. People become so
focused on the things that they want they are often like Willy and forget to
take time to appreciate what they already have. He had a loving wife and a
house that was soon to be his but this wasn’t true success in his eyes due to
the ideas put into his head about the American Dream.