In Death of a Salesman, what is Willy's idea of the American Dream, and how does he try to make it reality?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the surface, Willy's idea of the American Dream is not unusual; in fact, it seems very typical of his times, and our times, as well. He wants to achieve financial success in his career, and he wants to provide a comfortable home for his wife and sons. He dreams that his boys will grow up to become successful men in their own lives. That said, Willy's dream differs from some because he defines success only in terms money. His value system does not encompass honesty, integrity, service to others, or any kind of contribution to society. Willy's American Dream is not idealistic; it is solely materialistic.

To achieve his American Dream, Willy works hard, but he observes no ethical standards. For instance, he charms and bribes the secretary in Boston to gain an advantage over other salesmen. He takes pride in his house, but he builds his new front porch with lumber his sons have stolen from a construction site. He wants Biff to make good grades in school, but he encourages him to cheat. He tries to rear his sons to succeed in the world, but he does so by passing along his own corrupt values and refusing to recognize their failings--until they are grown men and the truth no longer can be ignored.

Like Fitzgerald's Gatsby, Willy Loman represents a man whose life ends in tragedy because his American Dream was corrupted along the way to its achievement.


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Death of a Salesman

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