Death of a Salesman and the American Dream
Most people in America acknowledge that there are certain standards they are expected to live up to. For many, this is a wonderful and dignified belief. Although, in some cases people can be so preoccupied with the ideal that it becomes a burden. They are thus unable to accomplish their dream. There are two specific essays that portray this idea, one is by Howard Fuller entitled “A salesman is Everybody” and another by Harold Clurman entitled “The Success Dream on the American Stage.
Both essays state opinions about the American Dream and its relation to Death of a Salesman in which the main character, Willy Loman, lives by his own ideal, which in the end causes his downfall. Willy’s life revolves around chasing his ideal of the American dream rather than actually living it. This pursuit contributes to his deficiency in finding success in his life, and why he fails to live out his American dream. Willy Loman has lived his life in a quest for the American dream. Harold Clurman states that, “Death of a Salesman is a challenge to the American dream.
The American dream has become distorted to the dream of business success. ” Willy Loman is looking for an easy way to become rich and successful. Conventionally the American dream meant freedom and prosperity for everyone and Willy is a firm believer of this. But working hard could not get him everything that he wanted or thought he deserved. He seems to measure himself as well as others by the material things they own. Unable to live his American dream in this consumer-based culture, he has a longing for things that he can not afford nor does he really need.
He thinks he should buy new stockings for his wife and a new refrigerator although she is happy with what they have. In his striving to get a hold on his vision of the American dream, Willy honors his brother Ben. Ben stumbled across his wealth, but Willy believes that Ben worked hard for it, and wants his sons to do the same: work hard and be like Uncle Ben. Willy asks Ben “What’s the answer? How did you do it? ” To Willy, Ben symbolizes the American dream to the fullest! He has gained a lot of money and all he did was get lucky.
Although Willy has lost his job he continues to lie to himself and his family hoping everything will turn out all right in the end. He is ultimately chastising himself and his son Biff, letting the dream take control and losing sight of the real goal, freedom and happiness. “The historical dream is the promise of a land of freedom with opportunity and equality for all. ” “Willy’s enthusiasm, which is manifested in the slogans he sets such great store by, is not governed by intelligence.
If he were able to determine the difference between reality and illusion his obsessions would not have taken over his life. Willy was constantly dishonest to himself as well as his family, lying about who he and Biff really were. As his job as a salesman was based upon lying and deception, how could he pursue and honest life? He wanted to live this dream so badly that he paid no attention to his real talent, carpentry, and very little attention to his family. His goals were all mixed up from the beginning and since he never actually lived his dream, it made his life worse.
If the true essence of the “American dream” is simply freedom and opportunity for all, then why do many Americans want to get rich quick? If you ask many Americans, the majority would say their ideal is to make lots of money and certainly not by working hard for it. Perhaps Willy Loman had the right dreams, but over time set the wrong goals for himself. Up until the end, he believed “life’s problems are all solved by making oneself well liked (in the salesman sense) and by a little cash. Cash” is what society revolves around, and what eventually caused Willy’s breakdown and suicide.
Willy’s quest for the American dream ultimately leads to his death but leaves us with a hope for Biff to find his place in society. Whether or not he will accomplish what society calls the “American dream” is not the point, Biff realizes his fathers ideals were false and decides to set a new path for himself. He now has freedom from his father’s spurious ideals. Opportunity lies ahead and Biff has a chance to find his “true self,” with a little inspiration from the American dream.