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Describe how Death of a Salesman is an "anatomy" of the American Dream?

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kornicus | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:45 AM via web

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Describe how Death of a Salesman is an "anatomy" of the American Dream?



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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 27, 2011 at 12:39 PM (Answer #3)

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I think that Miller's work is an anatomy of the failure inherent in the American Dream.  Miller draws from personal experience in this regard.  He recognized Willy's failures in his own father. From his own childhood and in witnessing the failure of his father in business, Miler understood that the American Dream predicated upon wealth and continual acquisition of money is one doomed to failure.  In the end, Miller recognizes that money and the construct of success according to the American Dream is incapable of providing happiness to the individual.  It is here whereby the play operates as a dissection into the anatomy of the American Dream.  Miller is able to construct Willy as a representation of someone who follows all of the expectations laid out in the American Dream, and yet fails in his endeavor.  The anatomy that lies underneath the veneer of the American Dream is one of impossible success and inevitable failure.  In this, Miller is able to suggest that the only chance for happiness is for individuals to actively resist or redefine the matrices of their lives so that happiness and "being something" is not defined by material reality.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 27, 2011 at 12:59 PM (Answer #4)

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Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is an anatomy of the American Dream. The American Dream is what Willie Loman is trying to achieve. He believes that if one works hard enough, he will be rewarded. His brother Ben is a perfect example, having owned large sections of forest land and a diamond mine when he was alive. Willie believes that he, too, should be rewarded; however, this play is not about achieving that dream, but failing to realize it. In reality, Willie's American Dream is a "myth." He believes that this dream can be achieved through "material wealth," but it cannot be, and because of Willie's tunnel vision, he loses touch with those around him—losing sight of what really makes a man "successful."

Through his main character, Willy Loman, Miller examines the myth of the American Dream and the shallow promise of happiness through material wealth.

The American Dream is like a false façade on a movie set: underneath the surface, there is nothing. For Willie, the dream that his brother Ben realized is what Willie wants, but all we know is that Ben was materially successful. The promise of wealth and happiness is an illusion. This illusion drives Willie's downward spiral in the play. As Willie continues to fall apart, it only supports Miller's assertion of the emptiness of the dream. There is no American Dream, Miller demonstrates, for the average man. There are only disappointments, "missed opportunities" and "compromised ideals."

Much of [the play's] success is attributed to Miller's facility in portraying the universal hopes and fears of middle-class America.

In trying to achieve the "dream," Willie becomes distanced from his wife, Linda, who is completed devoted to him. Willie has a mistress for a time, and Biff accidentally stumbles upon the secret—which further isolates this father and son. The disillusionment, frustrations and failures that Willie experiences are the true elements of the dream for most Americans.The harder Willie tries, the more disappointed he is.

The play is an anatomy of the American Dream as it demonstrates one man's destruction in putting the dream before all else, and losing everything. Willie never quite accepts that the dream is "an empty promise." He fails…

...to honestly face the facts of his life.

He takes the blame, as he sees it, upon himself, and in the end takes his life in the hope that his insurance money will help his family—serving them with his death, as he feels he could not in his life.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:47 AM (Answer #5)

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I first read this work when I was an ambitious and idealistic teenager in high school.  It terrified me more than anything else.  I so desperately wanted to be successful.  I was the type of kid that had five, ten and fifteen year old plans.  I look AP classes, participated in extracurriculars, worried about my future and tried to do everything right.  It wasn't materialism, it was just a desire to succeed.  I think I was more afraid of failure than anything else.  To me, this was a story about the dangers of desperate attempts at success.  I am not sure I even understood then why it affected me so.  Now that I am older, I see it as a cautionary tale and not a nightmare.  The people in our lives are the most important thing.  Happiness is not directly linked to success.  It is linked to efforts to enjoy life and make it worth living.

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creativethinking | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:36 AM (Answer #6)

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I like the term "anatomy" because it is a biological, organic term. Death of Salesman shows a portrait of the American Dream through a full life cycle--from the early days when the dream is young and burgeoning (Biff's a big football hero and Willy's making some ok money), when the dream starts to wane (Biff recognizes his father's betrayal, Willy struggles to make ends meet), and finally through to its expiration (Willy gets fired, loses any honor he may have once had, and commits suicide). The word "anatomy" reminds us that the American Dream is not, as we all would like to think, invincible. Rather, it's as fragile, temporary, and potentially diseased as any human body, or mind, on earth.

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kornicus | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted June 28, 2011 at 10:15 AM (Answer #7)

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Thanks for the great insights into this topic!!!!

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:58 PM (Answer #8)

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I like #6's comments on the word anatomy. I associate it myself with an in depth examination that gives reasons for the object's death or decline. This excellent play does this centrally through the character of Willy Loman and its presentation of him as a "low man" who is used and abused by American capitalist society at large and the way it creates and promotes the American Dream, which, as the play suggests, is not open to all and often creates a crushing sense of failure that it is impossible to recover from.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted July 30, 2011 at 2:20 AM (Answer #9)

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The word "anatomy" in this sense means an in depth examination or analysis. Therefore the suggestion is that the play examines or analyzes what came to be known as the American dream as it stood in that period of time. If it is agreed that the definition of the American dream at that time included a house in the suburbs (which didn't exist until after WWII); a steady, dependable and lucrative job (which was much harder to come by before the end of WWII); and a prosperous family that could pursue ambitions that stemmed from interests and passions instead of pursuing the necessities of making a living through any means open to them, then Death of a Salesman is an analysis of this dream because Willy, who places all his hopes and self-esteem on fulfilling this definition of the dream life, ultimately fails to achieve success, particularly notably with his sons.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 10, 2011 at 2:37 PM (Answer #10)

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The word "anatomy" can also carry overtones implying a kind of dissection -- an in-depth look to determine the causes of the death of something. To the extent that the American dreamed seemed to be dying at the time Miller wrote, Death of a Salesman can be seen as an "anatomy" in this sense.

The term "anatomy" may also be relevant to the play in the senses suggested here: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/23093/anatomy

 

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