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Death of A Salesman – The change of the American Dream


From its very infancy, the American continent was often corresponded with limitless opportunity. In A Description of New England John Smith defined the early nests of 1616 as a land of economic potential, stating that “If a man work however three days in seven, he might get more than he can spend. (51 )” In America, it was possible for a guy from even the most modest of origins to rise to great wealth through diligence and the sweat of his brow, unrestrained by any social hierarchy or intellectual certifications. As the country grew, nevertheless, the structure of the American Dream began to move appropriately. By 1949, when Death of a Salesperson debuted, the United States had withstood the Civil War, 2 World Wars, the success of the roaring twenties and occurring collapse of the Great Anxiety, and was again in the middle of an economic boom. The financial and social change transformed forever the extremely meaning of the American Dream. Once a philosophical suitable, the concept had basically come under the brand name ownership of corporate America. Instead of motivating guys to greatness, the American Dream instead was used as a marketing tool, urging a country’s excited consumers to engage of system real estate, brand-new automobiles, and processed food. Wrapped and offered along with the dream was a prevalent conformity, defending against the threat of economic instability which had actually afflicted previous decades (Schwartz 111). All of a sudden, the success guaranteed by the dream was the achievements of middle class suburbia embodied in the sprawling acreage of Levittown, the perfect of unlimited wealth got through hard work having actually been slowly relegated to the rapidly disappearing frontiers. As the meaning of the dream changed, nevertheless, it left as casualties in its passing the lifeless bodies of those not able to adjust with it– people who purchased totally into one dream just to see that dream evaporate and be changed by a brand-new dream they viewed as the intangible compromise of those afraid to strive for something more. Among those bodies spread along the deserted highway of the American Dream was that of Willy Loman.

In numerous methods, Willy represented the last of the agrarian frontiersman, forced into the unpleasant fit of a corporate world. For Willy, success was something you obtained by how tough you worked and how well liked you were. This doctrine of how to accomplish success taken in Willy’s life and sealed his fate. No matter what he accomplished, Willy was constantly required, by the conflict with his own aspirations, to view himself as a failure. For Willy success suggested accomplishing the abrupt wealth of the frontier. That frontier, nevertheless, was gone. Subsequently, all Willy might do was suffer, comparing himself with a perfect which never ever actually was achievable for him and, in his subsiding years, frantically attempting to live the exact same unattainable dream vicariously through his boys in whom he ‘d instilled the very same old-fashioned idealism which afflicted him. In Biff and Happy’s failure to live their dad’s dream, nevertheless, they too were viewed as failures. The only genuine success illustrated in Death of a Salesperson is represented by three characters, one representing the extinct agrarian meaning of the American Dream, another the acceptance of the business suitable which changed it, and lastly, one representing the intellectual possible efficient in going beyond that business perfect and its accompanying conformity– thus affirming that in addition to its large capacity for failure, America still holds the capacity for accomplishing greatness. It is through the analysis of Arthur Miller’s treatment of the characters of Ben, Charley, and Bernard that the change of the American Dream can be thoroughly examined.

Ben is the only member of the Loman family to ever achieve any real success. Subsequently, and regardless of being rather of an enigma, he is essentially mythologized in the mind of Willy. Few information are referred to as to what genuine success he ever achieved but for Willy it is what Ben represents that is important. The extremely personification of the American Dream for the Loman household, Ben went off to make his fortune early in life and did precisely that. Not by the way, nevertheless, he achieved that American Dream not in America but rather, in Africa. Suggesting that possibly Willy’s idea of success in America had already been supplanted by the business ideal, Ben obtained his fortune not in the neighboring fields and byways of Willy’s world but rather, countless miles from the culture that put behind bars Willy. Nevertheless, the memory of Ben serves to supply Willy with a blueprint, albeit an unclear one at best, of what it takes to attain extraordinary success. Ben was a male’s male– rugged and positive. Even his description of his own success is stripped down to its barest essentials, summed up by declaring, “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I went out. And by God I was abundant.”( What exactly Ben performed in the jungle is a secret. The only certainties relative to him are his function as the symptom of all that Willy desires and, as such, his validation of Willy’s unattainable dreams. Had Willy chosen Ben to Alaska, when managed the chance, would he too have attained amazing wealth? The answer is unidentified however in Willy’s mind, there is little doubt. Likewise of note is that Ben is the only character in the entire play that refers to Willy as William, possibly recommending a greater level of respect managed to an effective man. Willy is the common man, relegated to the boundaries of economic weakness, whereas William remained in lots of ways the capacity for success that went unfulfilled2E It’s a large part of Willy’s dream to attain the respect and adoration of his peers, to be revered; yet he is ultimately just an useless remnant of his unsuccessful dreams, unable to increase above the juvenile moniker of Willy.

Just as Ben represents the American Dream of Willy’s awareness, Charley represents the awareness of the dream as formulated in the boardrooms of business America. Willy’s foil, Charley lives his life lacking lofty aspirations. All he wants is a pleased, steady life free of financial obligation which is precisely what he attains. Though by no indicates an abundant guy, Charley is nevertheless several rungs up the economic ladder from the bottom action Willy occupies. For Charley, there is no comparable to Ben, no imagine attaining wealth in the frontier of the past, no archetype to be compared to. Rather, Charley is a prepared participant in the corporate culture and the suburban life it involves. Unlike Willy, Charley is content with his Chevrolet, his whipped cheese, and all the other trappings that lead Willy to see himself as a failure. Most notably, Charley recognizes the shifting happening, recognizing that being well liked and athletic is no longer adequate to achieve success in the modern America. Rather of motivating his kid to be a male’s guy– like Willy does– Charley sees the value of education. In the reformulated America, a guy has the ability to set himself apart not by the strength of his muscles or appeal of his smile but rather, by the capacity of his mind and breadth of understanding. Late in the play, when Willy refuses Charley’s deals of assistance and work, the sharp philosophical distinctions of the two characters are highlighted. Willy can decline the assistance, not as a by-product of his wearing down sanity however rather, on principle. Acceptance would amount acknowledging Charley’s unambitious philosophy to be the appropriate one, best fit for the age the 2 males occupy, and that is an admission Willy’s pride would never permit him to make.

Having failed to attain his own dreams, Willy relies on Biff and Happy in the desperate hope that they can obtain that which he might not. Regrettably, Willy was so determined in his beliefs that he indoctrinated his boys in the exact same idealistic, agrarian attitudes that condemned him. As a result, Willy can not achieve success even vicariously, the harmful idealism self-perpetuating across generations. In contrast, Charley’s son Bernard– long the subject of Willy and Biff’s ridicule– represents the intellectual qualities required by the new America to obtain success. Despite being physically weak and not “well liked,” Bernard, through the consistent application of his intelligence, ends up being a noteworthy legal representative who, the really day Biff and Willy are forced to face the falsehood of their lives, embarks for Washington to plead a case before the Supreme Court. The single most substantial feat of the whole play, Bernard’s great success serves to show that America does indeed still hold the capacity of attaining achievement. However, that greatness is based upon noticeably different terms than the success that preceded it in the record of American history.

Ultimately, the America that functions as the canvas for Death of a Salesman is a greatly different America from the land of limitless opportunity explained by John Smith. Though the possibility of success still exists, the previous definition of the American Dream– personified by rustic settlers and brave frontiersmen– was supplanted by the corporate dream of countless Americans consuming the very same food, driving the exact same cars, and living in the exact same, identical system homes. That new definition of the American Dream is a conformist one; interspersed only occasional by a little minority who through remarkable intelligence have the ability to go beyond the mediocrity for which most gladly aspire. It is when the American Imagine the previous collides violently with the American Dream of post-WWII America that disaster takes place. In the words of Arthur Miller in his essay On Biff and Willy Loman, “It is the disaster of a man who did think that he alone was not fulfilling the qualifications put down for mankind by those clean-shaven frontiersmen who inhabit the peaks of broadcasting and advertising offices … he heard the roaring command to prosper as it ricocheted down the newspaper-lined canyons of his city, heard not a human voice, but a wind of a voice to which no human can reply in kind, except to look into the mirror at a failure. (Miller 1892)”


Miller, Arthur. “On Biff and Willy Loman.” The Bedford Intro to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins 2002. 1892.

Schwartz, Frederic D. “Levittown.” American Heritage 6 (1997 ): 111-113.

Smith, John. “A Description of New England.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & & Business 1999. 51.

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