The death of a salesman
The death of a salesman is one of the most famous works of Arthur Miller. The play concerns itself with the painful conflicts that exist for one family and the problems that affect American national values. Ideally, it also focuses on the cost of blind faith in the American Dream. That is, it offers the readers with a post-war American reading related to the personal tragedy in the tradition of Sophocles' Oedipus Cycle. The author sheds light on the capitalist materialism that was promoted by the post-war economy. In this context, the capitalist materialism contributed to obscuring the American Dream by destroying the moral vision and personal truths that the dream was based on. However, Arthur Miller wholly believes in the promise of the American Dream through the idea that a well-liked, attractive, and successful man can acquire the material comforts offered by the modern American life. However, one thing that is odd with Miller in the presentation of the American Dream is his concentration to superficial qualities of attractiveness and likeability which goes against the understanding of the dream that quotes hard work as the key to success.
The primary argument of the American Dream is that any American can achieve financial success and material comforts of life. However, I believe that the focus is a misguided notion and goes against the original dictates of the American Dream. Undoubtedly, the American Dream has been an idea that has raised a lot of contention where a majority of people argue that it is dead while others argue that it ought to be modified to fit the current 21st century. Basically, what everyone cannot contest about is that the American Dream represents a set of ideals for the American citizens where freedom, prosperity, success and social mobility should be achieved through hard work and without many preventable barriers. In the definition of the American what is clear is that riches, or material possessions cannot characterize success.
According to, Khurram, (2013) the American dream is becoming more and more materialistic. That is, Americans are misinterpreting the American dream to mean attainment of luxury goods (Khurram). In the play, Death of a Salesman it depicts the modern and shattered definition of the American dream that lays more emphasis on material possessions rather than what it was intended to provide. Many theorists have proved the fact that Americans are living mundane lives. In another article by White, (2011) she maintains that the desire for financial security has replaced the drive for financial success. That is, Americans are focused on living the American dream by the accumulation of wealth and buying things that they do not need (White). Undoubtedly, the characters in the play achieve success wealth in different ways, and one might argue that Arthur Miller depicts the American Dream in a perfect manner. However, I maintain that success or prosperity is more than material possessions.
The characters in the play achieve financial success in different ways. For example, Ben takes a journey into the wilderness of Alaska where he discovers a gold mine. Howard Wagner attains economic fulfillment by inheriting his father's company. On the other hand, Bernard works hard in school after his brother's success influenced him and later becomes successful. The argument as put forth by Miller is that all the three live the American dream since they finally get rich. Even for Bernard who seems to have taken a long journey towards his desired destination is influenced by the notion that a man who is manly, charismatic, good-looking and well-liked deserves success and he or she will finally achieve it. However, one fact that is not put across is the definition of success in the context of the American Dream.
One character that seems to define the American Dream well is Willy. In the course of the play, Willy falls short of his American Dream. However, it is important to note that the primary focus of the tragedy is not Willy's failure to live up to his promised American Dream but rather the fact that he concentrates so much on the American Dream to ignore the intangible things around him. The elusive dreams in this context refer to the love of his family that he ignores in such of financial security. At the end of the play, he ends up sacrificing himself to give his family money from his life insurance policy. That is, he kills himself for money. Without a doubt, he proves that the American Dream can be a dominant source of aspiration and at the same time it can turn somebody into a product whose value is financial worth.
The American dream motivates Ben, Howard, and Bernard to take the actions that they take. Clearly, the American Dream is different to every one of them. Ben aims at getting to the American Dream through luck by lurking into the African and Alaska wilderness. Finally, he discovers a gold mine, and according to him, he was living the American dream. On the other hand, Howard tends to inherit the dream from his father by owning the company while Bernard becomes a lawyer through hard work and success. In this case, Howard manages to live the full definition of the American Dream that is characterized by freedom, prosperity, success and social mobility (Luttwak). Howard proves that success is not the only attainment of financial success. That is, material possession is only an outcome of hard work and determination which is the main ingredient in living the American Dream. The case of Willy acts as a focal case that sums the entirety of the work that the American Dream is not just about financial worth or tangible assets but also a focus on non-financial things such as love (Luttwak). However, one thing that is odd with Miller in the presentation of the American Dream is his concentration to superficial qualities of attractiveness and likeability which goes against the understanding of the dream that quotes hard work as the key to success.
The play Death of a Salesman is similar to The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill. The both are similar in that the death of a salesman speaks about the American Dream while The Iceman Cometh focuses on the pipe dream. Similarly, the two has characters who fight to attain a dream. In the play by Eugene, there are characters such as Paritt’s mother who considers the pipe dream as a dream of political salvation. Also, there is another character, Hickey who considers the dream to be explicitly religious.
Furthermore, the two works have characters who are so attached to the dreams that they end up taking rational decisions. Clearly, the two works have a common idea and how the characters achieve the dreams form the activities and events of the entire film.
It is important to understand why Arthur Miller decides to use the theme, American Dream in his work. In the modern time, the American dream has become iconic. In the past, the dream was easy to define since people strived to get a college degree, get a job, buy a good house and get a family. However, after the Great Depression, everything changed where people aimed at attaining financial prosperity and safety net (Bordo, Claudia, and Eugene). More specifically, those attaining the age of retirement have been said to focus a lot on attaining financial safety net. According to statistics, at least half of the American population (44%) claim that they work more than their parents when they were their age. In a survey by Metlife, at least eighty percent of the participants maintained that living the American dream is crucial although measuring it has changed over the years. In the same study, 41% of the respondents posited that the American dream is more of a personal fulfillment agenda (Bordo, Claudia, and Eugene). Based on these statistics and arguments, it is no doubt that Arthur Miller based the theme of the American Dream as the major idea in his play.
Arthur Miller goes a long way in covering the theme of the American Dream. Through different characters, he shows how people can attain and live the dream. However, as mentioned Miller's presentation of the dream where he focuses on superficial attractiveness and likeability goes against the understanding of the dream that quotes working hard as the key to success. The focus on the American Dream has also been likened to Eugene O'Neill's work in The Iceman Cometh where the characters seem to work towards a certain defined dream.
Bordo, Michael D, Goldin Claudia and N Eugene. The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century . University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Khurram, Shanzeh. “Is the American Dream Becoming Too Materialistic? .” 17 February 2013. A Huffpost Web site.
Luttwak, Edward N. Endangered American Dream. Simon and Schuster, 2010.
White, Martha C. “American Dream Deferred: We Now Embrace More Modest, Personal Goals.” 1 December 2011. A Time Web site.