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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What is the American Dream in the context of Death of a Salesman?

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The American Dream is presented in two ways in this play. We see it as a fantasy that drives Willy Loman to despair and we see it as a reality, one which Willy chooses to ignore though he has achieved it. 

Generally, the idea behind what we call the American Dream has to do with achieving economic independence, upward mobility, and empowerment through financial success.

This notion is often depicted on a grand scale, aligned with "rags to riches" tales where a person escapes poverty and achieves wealth. However, there is also a popular understanding of the American Dream that takes on a more humble definition - home ownership, the absence of debt, and raising a family. 

These last characteristics describe Willy Loman. He and his wife Linda are making the last mortgage payment on their house when the play begins. They will be out of debt. They have also raised two sons to adulthood. Claims of achieving the American Dream are open to the Lomans. 

Willy either cannot or will not accept these domestic achievements as the fulfillment of his dream. 

According to Willy's version of the American Dream, he is a complete failure.

Willy Loman is a man emotionally dedicated to the pursuit of material success and popularity. When he dreams, he dreams big.

In the play, Willy presents his ideas as to the human qualities required to attain this success as well as his ideals and his vision regarding the nature of achievement. The corner-stones of Willy's take on the American Dream are popularity, wealth, and romance.

These ideals are founded in part on Willy's view of his brother Ben.

Ben remarks: "William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!"

Ben is clearly not a representative man. His story is akin to a romantic adventure, full of the poetry of ambition. Despite the unique qualities of Ben's story, Willy sees it as the prototypical success story. He does not see his neighbor's life as an achievement of the American Dream, though Charley runs a successful business. 

Just as he sees his own life as a failure, Willy refuses to accept anything less than a grand-scale achievement as a true fulfillment of the American Dream. 

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How is the American Dream related to Death of a Salesman? How does it relate to some other characters in the book?

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How is the American Dream related to Death of a Salesman? How does it relate to some other characters in the book?

The drive in achieving the American Dream plays a large role in Miller's work.  Wily Loman is animated by the achievement of this vision, to the point where he places more primacy on accomplishing this than anything else.  For Wily, the American Dream consists of a heavy dose of materialism.  Economic success in his life through professional success as well as amassing personal wealth become the driving forces in his life.  Wily is trapped under its weight when he recognizes that he has failed at this endeavor.  The pursuit of the American Dream and the faiure of not having achieved it helps to reinforce the idea that the American Dream must be pursued in conjunction with other elements and not be pursued on solely materialist ends.

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What is the American Dream? How is it connected to the play Death of a Salesman?

The paradigm of an American dream can also refer to the "working as much as you earn"/ You work hard, you win hard. You do not work, you do not get.  It is called the American Dream because that was the very idea behind the drafting of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights - that we all will have the same opportunities to succeed and that success does not come pre-ordained, but by hard work to earn all the things that you want.

Death of a Salesman is the antithesis of the American dream in a way. Sure Willy Loman was able to achieve such dream in the beginning, but the dream came crashing down and he is taking mental risks to bring it back, leading to his death.  Therefore, the play shows you how the American Dream would look like in a sad scenario where one cannot achieve what one wants- or lost it forever.

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What is the American Dream? How is it connected to the play Death of a Salesman?

I moved your question to the "Death of a Salesman" group since I didn't see any relationship to "The Scarlet Letter."

The American Dream has several interpretations.  One of the most common deals with economic success --- the house, the yard, the car.  The Dream says that we all the "right" to this dream, although I think the dream, if it has economic interpretations, only refers to the fact that these things are possible for anyone who wishes to work for them.  For Willy, the dream is related to this.  He has the home and the car, and dreams of being the success that the old salesman on the train was.  He thinks that the recognition and the things will make him happy.

The other possible interpretation of the American Dream is that we all are free here to seek the life that we wish.  We have all the freedoms of the Bill or Rights.  It does not necessarily entail economic success, just the freedom to be whatever we wish.  This is not the sense in which it is used in "Death," but is an important interpretation of the Dream.

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