Is the American Dream responsible for the tragedy in Death of a Salesman?I'm really struggling with an essay on Death of a Salesman. I was just looking for ideas of how the American Dream may be...

Is the American Dream responsible for the tragedy in Death of a Salesman?

I'm really struggling with an essay on Death of a Salesman. I was just looking for ideas of how the American Dream may be responsible for the tragedy in the play and also any other factors that lead to the tragedy and the downfall of Willy Loman?

Any help is greatly appreciated!  I have to base it around Marxist theory/critics and I'm currently just getting confused with my own ideas!

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The American Dream is a lie.  It is the idea that everyone can have everything.  We are fed this lie so that we can become mass consumers.  The inevitable result is that we are always trying to get somewhere that does not really exist.  In a sensitive soul, this can lead to destruction.

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Willy is driven by a dream, that is certain. His continuing delusion is two-fold. First, he sees himself as a person with the potential to be great, to be "well liked", and to be a successful personality. (He even makes claims to having achieved this personal success at some point in his career.)

Second, importantly, Willy believes that the only way to be great is to be a "great personality". One must be well-liked, bold, and wealthy in order to qualify as a real success. This notion becomes attached to Willy's brother Ben (at least in Willy's mind). 

The dream that Willy chooses to pursue is not in itself a damaging dream and it is not identical with the American Dream of self-determination and financial mobility. 

Willy actually achieves a good part of the American Dream. He and Linda are set to pay off their house. Home ownership is a significant aspect of the 1940s/1950s American Dream. Having a paid-off house and a healthy family, Willy could look at himself and see success in accordance with the American Dream. 

The fact that Willy does not see this in himself and instead sees only great failure says a good deal about Willy and his interpretation of success (and, if you'd like, Willy's conception of the American Dream).

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