What is the American Dream? There are as many answers to that question as there are Americans and those around the world who look to the American way as a guiding ideal. For some the American Dream might be achieving professional success, others may seek fulfillment in a life of freedom or an introspective journey to find their purpose, while some treasure a loving family more than anything. The different definitions of the American Dream are exemplified by the pantheon of characters in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Indeed, it has often been argued that, "If but one text were chosen as the embodiment of the failure of an American dream, Death of a Salesman would be it."("Death of a Salesman." Literary Themes for Students: The American Dream. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 195-208.
Literary Themes for Students. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Apr. 2013). The character of Willy clearly represents the American Dream of success. Willy's wife, Linda, wants nothing more than to return the family to their dream like days of mutual love. Meanwhile, their sons Biff and Happy both seek to live very different lives of freedom. Each of these characters represents a different unfulfilled aspect of the American Dream and throughout the course of the narrative each becomes a slave to their respective dream.
Perhaps the most beautifully tragic of Miller's characters is Willy Loman, the salesman. When we meet sixty-three year old Willy he is already a shell of a man, destroyed by his dreams and greed, lost in the magic of his yesterdays. Yet Willy was not always this tragic figure.
[...] Anne Marie Hacht. Vol Detroit: Gale 195-208. Literary Themes for Students. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web Apr 4.) Roberts, James Lamar. Death Of A Salesman : Notes: Including Introduction, Scene-By-Scene Summaries And Commentaries, Critical Notes, Character Sketches, Questions And Theme Topics. n.p.: Cliffs Notes eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web Apr 5.) Murphy, Brenda. "The Significance of Death of a Salesman." Understanding Death of a Salesman: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood ABC-CLIO eBook Collection. [...]
[...] Biff is aware of his own failures and feels great guilt at having disappointed his parents. Yet he has already begun to question his father's version of the American Dream in favor of his life of rugged individualism in the west. Ironically, this rebellious streak was planted by none other than Willy, who had worked to ensure his boys grow up self sufficient so, as to quote Willy's brother Ben, they might, “Enter the jungle and emerge rich ”(Miller, Arthur,. [...]
[...] As Willy makes the fateful decision to end his life he feels the sensation of freedom, released from his family's resentment and his own enslavement to the American dream. While Willy Loman is the tragic hero of Death of a Salesman, his wife Linda is the character that most audiences show the greatest pity. While a strong woman, Willy at one point calls her, “My foundation and support.” (Miller, Arthur,. "Death of a Salesman." The Norton Introduction to Literature. Comp. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. 10th ed. [...]
[...] Both Biff and Happy are trapped by the American Dream, yet unlike their parents they are trapped unwillingly. While the American Dream is inherently positive and promises a better tomorrow it can become an inescapable prison, as it does for the characters in Death of a Salesman. Yet the American Dream is not truly a myth. America guarantees equal opportunity, not equal success. In fact, each of the characters was granted a unique opportunity to succeed and failed to act upon it. [...]
[...] Arthur Miller Death of Salesman 50th Anniversary Edition. Pages 116-117 New York: Penguin Print.) Having never achieved the approval of his father, Willy constantly seeks to be liked, or accepted, by everyone. This notion of universal acceptance is another uniquely American inclination. As the story progresses Willy's need for acceptance and success eventual begin to blend together as, “Willy feels that he sells not his wares but himself. His self respect depends on his ability to sell himself.”(Roberts, James Lamar. [...]
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