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

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awsutton | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted June 4, 2010 at 11:19 PM via web

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

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 5, 2010 at 3:39 AM (Answer #1)

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Death of Salesman is hardly the anatomy of the American dream. Instead, the American dream serves as the backbone of Willy's life. Still, Willy's desire for the American dream pales in comparison to the actual philosophy of it.

To Willy, being popular, attaining superficial happiness, earning instant gratification, and blowing his ego out of proportion made him feel successful and as if he had attained his so-called American Dream.

But the real American Dream asks for deeper commitments: Time, effort, sleepless nights, sacrifice, holding back on gratification, patience, and endless labor. Only THEN will one be able to reap the benefits of well-lived, and well-worked life.

In Death of a Salesman, the American Dream is hard to get, and flies by really quick. It is the same idea behind Old Man and the Sea: The search for this life of strength and sustenance gone forever. It would be hard to see the American Dream as the head and body of Death of a Salesman. It is certainly at the heart of it, but it is still topsy-turvied by Willy Loman himself.

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lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted June 5, 2010 at 4:21 AM (Answer #2)

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Death of a Salesman is an anatomy of the American Dream because it challenges the quintessentially American argument that social mobility is available to all and that the United States is a land of opportunity. The play has been often read as a response to the financial downfall of Miller's father following the 1929 stock market crash.

The story of shoe salesman Willie Loman, whose firm only pays him commissions rather than a full salary, shows that capitalism and free enterprise do not automatically mean economic success. Willie is an example of capitalist exploitation, as, after having spent his entire working-life following the precepts of the American work ethic, he finds himself in precarious economic conditions and cannot pay his family bills. Because of his predicament, Willie experiences a deep feeling of depression which soon leads him to be unable to distinguish between his own dreams of economic success and his grim financial reality. Willy's failure to persuade his boss that he is still competent salesman, i. e. that he can still be useful to capitalist machinery, eventually leads to his suicide.

Willie Loman (a possible play on "low man") is constantly frustrated by the failure of the social promises and hopes contained in the  rags-to-riches paradigm to effectively materialize. The salesman's despair is only worsened by his awareness that his two sons, Biff and Happy, will be equally unable to attain the status that he has failed to achieve.

The play points out that the characters in the Loman family wrongly believe that they can improve their lower middle class condition without any social and moral commitment. Willie and his two sons are contrasted with the character of Bernard, the Lomans' next-door neighbor's son. Bernard's qualities are precisely those which the Lomans lacks: dedication and intellect. The Lomans are trapped in the petty aspirations of a consumerist society which values money and fame over moral values.

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