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The American Myth

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Matthew R.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Willy's idyllic life
  3. Biff the high school sports star
  4. Happy
  5. Conclusion

The American dream and the nature in which so many Americans struggle to achieve it is an omnipresent theme in Happy and Biff's journey throughout Death of a Salesman. While the brothers both struggle to achieve the American dream, their techniques in handling this struggle are radically different.. No way is this better illustrated than in author Arthur Miller's own words, ?Biff is two years older than his brother Happy, well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured. He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable than Happy's. Happy is tall, powerfully made. Sexuality is like a visible color on him, or a scent that many women have discovered. He, like his brother, is lost, but in a different way, for he has never allowed himself to turn his face toward defeat and is thus more confused and hard-skinned, although seemingly more content.?(Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman). It can fairly be argued that while Happy is indeed not happy, he of all character in Death of a Salesman best exemplifies the American values of hard work and self reliance. Biff by contrast has fallen into to depression and has lost all of his previous desire for success. Meanwhile, their father Willy, a struggling salesman past his prime, desperately works to restore his lost glory. These two radically different brothers along with their father are powerful symbols of three very different socioeconomic American groups.

Willy lived the idyllic life of American father for decades, he provided for his family, enjoyed the companionship of his loving wife and two sons, and was crucial to his company's success. Yet as the years progressed his sons grew to resent him and his professional achievements withered.

[...] Yet as the years progressed his sons grew to resent him and his professional achievements withered. Willy represents a fascinating subunit American professionals who have watched their best years come and go and are caught in a transitory phase between work and retirement. For many this is a jarring time, often leading to a midlife crisis or depression. Willy has clearly fallen victim to the latter with his constant muttering and pugnacious manner. In the end the only way Willy is forced to construct a myth of his life and the dreams of his sons, convincing himself Biff will become a businessman with the money from his life insurance policy. [...]


[...] Despite the disapproval of his father and his own failures, Happy refused to acknowledge defeat and when his father died he resolves, ?I'm gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I'm gonna win it for him.?(Miller, Arthur, Death of a Salesman). This rugged determination represents a socioeconomic class determined to achieve the American dream despite hardship or trial. In short Happy will not accept failure. [...]

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