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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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How is the American Dream interpreted in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman?

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Arthur Miller's classic American play, Death of a Salesman, is an exploration of the American dream in terms of Willy Loman's search for an answer to the question "what went wrong?" in his quest to achieve the American dream.

Willy Loman's idea of the American dream is focused...

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on appearances. Look good, be personable, and make friends. Willy believes that any man who does those things deserves to achieve the American dream and will naturally accomplish it:

WILLY: Bernard is not well liked, is he?

BIFF: He’s liked, but he’s not well liked.

HAPPY: That’s right, Pop.

WILLY: That’s just what I mean. Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.

Now in his sixties, Willy comes home with his heavy sample cases after what was supposed to be a sales trip to upper New England, but he couldn't get past Yonkers, a suburb of New York City just above the Bronx. After thirty-six years on the road, Willy is exhausted in body and spirit.

His wife, Linda, gets up from bed to meet him:

WILLY. I’m tired to the death....I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.

Throughout the play, Willy questions what brought him to this point in his life. He searches desperately for the moments when his life went wrong—when he went off the path on his way to the American dream.

He has flashbacks to moments he can remember when he thinks he might have gone wrong: for example, when he betrayed his relationship with his wife and destroyed his relationship with his son, Biff, without even realizing what he was doing.

Willy simply didn't understand that it wasn't individual circumstances that denied him the American dream. It was his own choices, his own mistakes. Willy failed himself.

Willy was hoping that even if he couldn't accomplish the American dream, his sons Happy and Biff could achieve it for him, but they failed as well, leaving Willy with no dream at all. The American dream slipped through Willy's fingers, and he had no idea how or why it happened, and he simply lost faith in himself and in the dream:

CHARLEY: It was a very nice funeral....

LINDA: I can’t understand it. At this time especially. First time in thirty-five years we were just about free and clear. He only needed a little salary. He was even finished with the dentist.

CHARLEY: No man only needs a little salary.

LINDA: I can’t understand it....

BIFF: He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.

HAPPY. Don’t say that!

BIFF. He never knew who he was.

CHARLEY....You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life....He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished....A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.

Biff doesn't subscribe to Charley's romanticized version of Willy's life:

BIFF: Charley, the man didn’t know who he was.

Willy came to realize who he was too late and that his failure to acquire the American dream was his own fault. He made wrong choices, and those choices sidetracked him, wasted his time and energy, and took him off the path toward the American dream:

WILLY. Funny, y'know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.

Figuratively and literally, Willy Loman killed himself to make money.

Arthur Miller doesn't attack the American dream, as such. He simply questions it. He questions if it necessarily applies to everyone or if it's reasonable for everyone to try to achieve it. He also questions the objective of the American dream, which is the acquisition of material wealth.

Willy's mistake—the tragic flaw of a modern tragic hero—is that he valued the American dream above everything else and pursued it at all costs. The decisions Willy made in deference to the American dream destroyed his relationships with his wife and with his sons, and they ultimately destroyed his own life.

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I agree that the traditional American Dream perceives the United States as a land of opportunity where anyone who works hard can get ahead, unlike in Europe, where the system was understood to be rigged in favor of the hereditary aristocracy and against the common man.

However, Miller critiques Willy Loman's distorted version of the American Dream. To Willy, the American Dream is easy money. He dreams that a salesman can get rich quickly simply by being likable. He doesn't want to work at learning and gaining expertise in any particular field because he has the idea that if he has a charming personality he can sit in a hotel room in velvet slippers taking orders over the phone.

Willy is more suited to gardening than sales, and he never obtains the easy life he dreamed about when younger. When the play opens, he is older and still slogging it out with a big sales territory to travel. He has never made very much money. He asks for an easier sales position and is fired instead. 

He also has encouraged his sons to be personable and to expect the money to flow in that way rather than pushing them to become educated. Miller is saying that if the world Willy fantasizes about ever existed, it is no longer the America that exists. People need to find out what their gifts are and cultivate them through hard work, rather than hang on to the idea they can find a shortcut to riches and success. 

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As was mentioned in the previous post, the American dream is the belief that through hard work and dedication individuals can attain financial success, which results in living a fulfilled, content life. Throughout the play, several characters attain the American dream, while Willy and his sons miserably fail to reach their dreams of living a financially secure, fulfilled life. Through Willy Loman's character, Miller examines the vain pursuit of attaining the American dream. Willy Loman becomes obsessed with his version of the American dream after witnessing his brother's financial success. However, Willy believes that he and his sons can attain the American dream by simply being well-liked and popular. Willy's expectations for Biff and Happy become unreachable due to the wrong guidance and advice he gave them as children. Willy becomes so obsessed with the American dream that he damages his relationship with his sons and eventually commits suicide in order for his family to receive life insurance money. Miller essentially explores what happens when individuals become obsessed with the American dream and reject other aspects of their lives in order to attain it.

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This is a great question and Miller's work, Death of a Salesman is directly related to the the American Dream in an inverse way. In view of this, it is best to define the American dream first and then show how the work addresses this.

The American dream is an ideology that says that freedom and hard work will lead to prosperity. So, anyone who has a good work ethic will make it in America. America is the land of great opportunities. The beauty of this dream is also that it is apart from a person's upbringing, nationality, or anything else. All that matters is hard work and the freedom that the United States provides.

Miller's Death of a Salesman is the dark side of the American dream. Willy is living under its dream without ever being successful. This kills him in the end as he commits suicide. His lack of success and most likely the lack of success of his children is not something that he can handle. This is why throughout the work, we hear him mumbling and living in a dream world. He has created a tragic world for himself.

So, we can say that Willy believes in this American Dream too much and this is his problem. His inability to achieve success defines his life and worth. In the end, death is the only solution he can see.

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How does the play Death of a Salesman relate to the American dream?

One of the major themes in Death of a Salesman revolves around the concept of the American dream.  Willy's ideas of success are based on popular notions of being rich and well-liked by others in his field--he dreams of being a great salesman.  But in reality, Willy scrapes by financially, and he cannot bear to accept that he is "a dime a dozen."  Near the end of the play, Biff tries to get his father to realize that none of the men in the family have what it takes to achieve greatness and that that's okay--Biff finds happiness in working outdoors with this hands and has never desired to be a "big-shot" working in an office.  Biff tries to re-define the American dream for Willy--he wants Willy to understand that happiness and fulfillment is what the American dream is about.  However, Willy does not share this definition, and he remains disappointed by not being able to live up to unrealistic standards.

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What is Arthur Miller's depiction of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman?

Willy also defines the American Dream as being well-liked and as long as you're well-liked, that will lead to success. Unfortunately, as in the other answer to this question, WIlly hasn't learned that he needs to keep up with the times in order to keep up with his profession.

Miller also, through Biff, shows that the American Dream doesn't always have to do with wealth or being well-liked. Biff's dream involves him doing what he wants and what makes him happy. Willy is so focused on material wealth that he forgoes his family and enjoyment of the wealth he's gained.

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What is Arthur Miller's depiction of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman?

The American Dream is shown through Willy Loman's desire to become wealthy and successful. It is the idea that anyone, no matter how poor, can achieve and succeed in America. For the uneducated masses, a salesman was one way to make money and achieve success. To sell, a man didn't need any special training or education, just willingness to learn how to manipulate his clients into buying what he's selling. By the 1940's, however, salesmen had changed, but Willy hadn't changed with the times. Salesmen needed to have more specialized information and training, which Willy doesn't have. He just keeps trying to use persuasion to keep his clients buying, and he can't understand why it doesn't work. Willy feels like a failure because he hasn't achieved the American Dream while his own brother, Ben, has.

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How does Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman represent the American Dream?

In Death of a Salesman, playwright Arthur Miller primarily represents the American Dream as an elusive, unattainable goal. Through Willy Loman and other Loman family members, Miller shows that desire for success, in both material and personal terms, promotes unrealistic expectations. In turn, the frustration of constant but unfulfilled striving to succeed leads to negative emotional consequences. Willy and his sons, Biff and Happy, cannot accept themselves as they really are. Linda seems fairly content because she scaled back her expectations; however, she retains an unrealistic view of her husband’s abilities. Nevertheless, Miller conveys that the ordinary person’s struggle is worthy in its own right.

The impressionistic, dreamlike qualities of the play itself contribute to Miller’s emphasis on the illusory quality of American ambition. This quality is also symbolized by Willy’s unrealized desire to have a flourishing garden. Willy’s deteriorating mental condition shows the harsh consequences of not achieving one’s goals, especially for those who constantly compare themselves to others.

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In Arthur Miller's drama Death of A Salesman, how is the American Dream portrayed in the play—specifically, what character seems to believe in it the most and what does he/she risk to pursue it?

The American Dream is one of the most important motifs in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

The essence of the American Dream is that one living in, or coming to, America can achieve his or her fondest dreams or wishes simply by working hard. Willy Loman is a man who has worked his entire life trying to get ahead as a salesman. Changing times and younger men have made it impossible for Willy to achieve the success he so desires.

Willy is the character that most believes in the American dream, the belief that anyone can be a "self-made man" and can achieve enormous success. It is safe to assume that Willy began his sales career in the late 1920s. This was during a time when survival was difficult in the face of the Great Depression what would not end for several more years. When the economy stabilized, sales might have been a realistic venture. There were famous men of the 19th Century who embodied the potential of building empires from scratch, such as Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller. During Willy's lifetime, Henry Ford had defied the odds with the creation and advancement of the auto industry.

Willy's personal hero was Dave Singleman. When Willy first chose to go into sales, he was guided by the story of Singleman who had touted himself as a great success, still working in his eighties and never having to go on the road to carry out his business. It is not certain that Singleman was as successful as he told Willy, but Willy never questioned the authenticity of the older gentleman's claims. 

Society also promoted the sales profession with training, correspondence (by mail) training courses, etc. However, success in the sales industry began to decline in the 1940s. Unfortunately, Willy never thought of anything else but sales. He never put any money away for retirement, and at the age of sixty-three, he is exhausted from being on the road all the time with no chance of retirement.

Another aspect of the American Dream for Willy is the hope that his sons will be able to realize the dream of prosperity that he could not. Happy has a regular job, but he is only interested in partying after work. Biff, who seemed at one time to have great potential, has failed to make anything of himself, and is still searching to find himself at the age of thirty-four.

While Willy has worked hard, sales was never the best fit for him. For example, he believed that making friends with customers would lead to success. He noted:

The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.

He failed to understand that in a changing world, large accounts and contracts were no longer made over dinner and sealed with a handshake.

While Willy wishes more for his sons, Happy does not have a fire in his belly to be more than he already is. Like his father, Happy is unrealistic. When Willy dies, Happy declares:

I'm gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have - to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I'm gonna win it for him.

Happy does not have it in him to do so.

Biff wants more but is not certain how to do that. He realized at particular point that he could never follow his father's path.

BIFF [crying, broken]:

Will you let me go for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?

Biff's dream is to move out West and work with his hands. He wants nothing to do with a job that requires him to slave fifty weeks out of the year with nothing more than two weeks vacation.

Of the three, Willy seems to be the character that most buys into the tenuous promises of the American Dream. When he realizes that he will never move beyond his current circumstances, he commits suicide. He tells his brother Ben (who he talks to in his imagination) that at the funeral, Biff will see what a great man Willy was, and see that Willy had been right all along. This is delusional thinking. Willy also believes that the money from his insurance policy will give Biff a second chance.

After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.

Biff does not buy into the American Dream, nor does Happy. Willy believes so fully, that he sacrifices his life so that Biff might acquire what Willy was never able to find. 

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How does Arthur Miller use style to convey the theme of the "American Dream" in Death of a Salesman?

Arthur Miller's style in Death of a Salesman can be linked to what he wrote about...

On the whole, his works are about an individual’s struggle with an oftentimes indifferent, harsh, or irrational society...

An author's style will often reflect his tone, and as Miller wrote about the "individual's struggle," we can infer that his style makes use of language that demonstrates the struggles between the characters. Words like "terse," "abrupt" and "argumentative" come to mind.

Style is defined as...

...the writer’s choice of words, figures of speech, devices,...

It deals with "expression in writing and speaking."

The use of this kind of language can be seen between Willy Loman and his son Biff. Willy and Biff interact very different than Willy and Linda: but the style is the same. Willy picks at Biff, while he dismisses Linda. There is a great deal of frustration, poor communication and resentment between the characters. Biff is torn between wanting to live up to his father's expectations and wanting to make a place for himself in a world he chooses.

In one scene, words like "nuthouse" and "crazy" are used, and an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, embarrassment and resentment run through the discussion:

BIFF:I don't care what they think! They've laughed at Dad for years, and you know why? Because we don't belong in this nuthouse of a city! Why we should be mixing cement on some open plain, or—or carpenters. A carpenter is allowed to whistle.

Biff is struggling to find happiness and self-fulfillment. But Willy wants Biff to be what Willy wants and finds fault with Biff's ideas. As much as Willy criticizes him, perhaps Biff is more realistic than everyone else: maybe he could achieve the "American Dream" with some family support.

Miller's dialogue illuminates the characters' interactions: exemplifying their weaknesses and their unhappiness. Linda is always pleading for peace. Hap is acts content, but keeps his head low because he has actually done nothing with his life. Biff is desperate to please his father, but struggles to find personal satisfaction. And Willy's fragile mental state is exposed as he moves between being the adoring younger brother (as he talks to a figment of his mind—his dead brother Ben), Biff's disgusted father, a dismissive husband, and a salesman always looking for the big score.

To Linda, he says things like, "I heard what he said!", "Will you stop?", "Stop interrupting!", and "What's the matter with you, you crazy?"

Ben was/is Willy's hero because he was financially successful. Ben is not the great man Willy imagines him to be—he advises a younger Biff:

Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You'll never get out of the jungle that way.

Because Willy has always tried to emulate Ben—he is never happy with himself. His brother "tells" Willy to leave what he has: go to Africa or Alaska. Ben has planted the idea in Willy that his life isn't good enough. Because of this, Willy is a man of wild—and unrealistic—ideas.

By the end, the anxiety that permeates the family drives it apart. Miller's style creates the tone—which leaves the reader with the feeling that the American Dream is not for everyone. Biff wants it but can't be "his father's man." Willy thinks it's there for the taking—you can talk your way into it. This is a story of broken dreams and desperation. Miller's style of writing convinces the reader that for some, the American Dream is just that—a dream.

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In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, how does the death of a salesman represent the American dream?

Death of a Salesman represents the American dream as a dangerous obsession and a delusive force.

The American dream is the idea that anyone in America can become prosperous and successful through hard work and other personal qualities. Though the term was first used in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, the idea it expresses goes back much further. It was a common trope in the nineteenth century that a poor man could become a multimillionaire, president of the United States, or achieve any other goal if he applied himself.

Willy Loman believes wholeheartedly in this ideology, and brings up Biff and Happy to believe it as well. Willy's failure to make the American Dream come true for himself and his family stunts his life and finally kills him. Because he fails in his one great aspiration to be a success in business and a wealthy man, no other aspect of life ultimately matters to him. He embitters his entire family, causing Biff to feel inferior and forcing Happy into deception through his insistence that only one shallow, materialistic way of life is worth pursuing.

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What does Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman say about the American dream? Are the salesman's sons representative of the dream and do they complicate anything? Does the relationship between the husband, wife, and others speak to the idea of the American dream in terms of the domestic sphere?

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, the American dream falls flat for most of the characters. They know of it, and they desire it, yet they fail to achieve it. Let's explore this more closely.

The American dream is all about success in life. It promotes wealth, success in business, a happy family life, a nice home, and children who find success in life. The play's protagonist, Willy Loman, finds none of this. He is a failure in his profession and actually loses his job as a salesman. His family struggles financially because of his failures. He cheats on his wife, Linda, with another woman.

Willy's sons are a disappointment to him. Biff could have everything Willy does not, at least in his father's view, yet he fails to achieve any of it. Biff chooses his own path, failing in school and striving to get out from under his father's plans for him. He wants to work in his own way and find success on his own terms. Happy is content with an empty life of mediocrity and meaningless sexual encounters. Willy wants his sons to open a sporting goods store, but they fail to get the necessary loan.

We can see, then, that the American dream fails for the Loman family in every way. Willy ends up in despair and kills himself to provide his family with insurance money, thinking that this is the only way he can give them anything.

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