The American Dream is the belief that if you workhard you will gain success and wealth in life. In Death of a Salesman writtenby Arthur Miller, the idea of the American dream is shown through the maincharacter Willy Loman. Willy has a flawed perception of success and theAmerican Dream. His desire for wealth and popularity is what eventually leadsto his downfall. His obsession with his image and his desire to be someone hewasn’t overtime drives him crazy and leads to his death.
Willy Loman was a businessmanbecause he thought it was an ideal job for a man like him. He worked for the samecompany 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’tthe job he truly wanted. Willy only wanted to be successful, and he thoughtentering the world of business was the best way to do that. He even told hisson Biff “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man whocreates personal interest is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you willnever 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 itis ironic that he wasn’t even good at his job or respected as a salesman. Inthe play, it tells us that Willy was good with his hands and enjoyed repairingthings around the house, but he didn’t believe that being a carpenter was arespectable job and opted for business instead.
Willy could have been a muchhappier man had he chosen to do something he was talented at and enjoyed butagain his pride and obsession with success got in the way. (Sleight)There are many reasons why Willy failed to reachhis dream of success, for one he was lazy and weak. He never made any trueeffort to chase after what he wanted. It was his hope that he would be able tocharm himself into a nice and well compensated job. Unfortunately for Willy success doesn’t justcome from popularity or personality you have to put in work to be a successfulman. He is passing his flawed perception of what being successful is onto hissons when he says that the key to success is being “well-liked” and all that’snecessary is “a smile and a shoeshine.
” (Miller,104) His thought process isthat if he lives his life this way then it will be close to perfect. The otherbelief he has for success is just pure luck like his brother who came across adiamond fortune in Africa. This philosophy sets both Willy and his family upfor failure right from the beginning. Although hewas a failed businessman he always tried to put on an act to make himself seemrespected and liked by the people he worked with as well as his customers. Hetold his sons that he was very popular he told them that all he has to do wassay that “Willy Loman is here! That’s all they have to know, and I go rightthrough.” (Miller, 21), when in reality this wasn’t true he was not liked andwas struggling to bring home enough money to survive. A character flaw of hiswas his constant lying.
He would often lie to Linda about how much money hemade from his sales in an attempt to inflate his success. While it is somewhatadmirable that Willy wanted to give his family all the luxuries in life thedebt 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 hismeans.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 isoften tension and fighting between Linda and Willy about finances among otherthings he still manages to gift his mistress a pair of nylon stockings, thesewere 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 angerand guilt when he sees her having to mend her stockings. This only reminds himof his shortcomings as both a husband and father since he was unable to providehis family with necessities.
As the play progresses Willy begins retreating into the pastfrequently 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 abouthimself eventually causes him to go mad. He tended to retreat into the past andrelive events, most often he would relive or have conversations with hisdeceased brother Ben about making it big. Ben was Willy’s older brother whobecame successful in Africa and it is one of Willy’s biggest regrets in lifethat he didn’t accompany his brother on his trips because maybe he could havelived a life of luxury and success as well.
He believes that Ben’s pure luck isproof that he has what it takes to make his dream come true. Ben although deadseems to act as his conscious and plays a role in Willy’s flawed view of theworld. Since his brother is a hallucination who gives him advice Willy’s imageof success is literally delusional. (Metzger) It shows the state of mind he isin 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 ahusband, after coming to terms with this he decides to commit suicide.
Hisflawed understanding of the American Dream is what drove him to this point.Throughout his entire life he failed to realize that living the true AmericanDream is nearly impossible, we can all arguably never reach that point whereour life is perfect. In his eyes committing suicide was a way to end hissuffering and offer something to his family, his gift to them was the insurancemoney they would collect from his death.
He does this so Linda can make thelast mortgage payment on their house. Due to all of his shortcomings he feltlike he was worth more to his family dead than alive, this combined with the factthat he viewed himself as a failure caused him to purposefully crash his car.The end of Willy Loman’s life represents the end of hisdream and the idea that work is always rewarded with success. The author choseto portray Willy as a salesman to show us that people were being sold falsehope and empty promises when it comes to the American Dream. People become sofocused on the things that they want they are often like Willy and forget totake time to appreciate what they already have. He had a loving wife and ahouse that was soon to be his but this wasn’t true success in his eyes due tothe ideas put into his head about the American Dream.