American Dream Ideal in the Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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The reality in Death of a Salesman is not simply embodied in the physicality of the content, but is also carried through the values the story harbors. The status of salesman is exalted by Willy, to the extent of reverence. Willy claims that ‘selling was the greatest career that one could ever want’ (Miller 63), because like Dave Singleman, he could be ‘remembered and loved and helped’ (63) by people.

There is much significance to the idea of ‘being liked’ in the play; the concept of ‘being liked’ is then separated into two parties: Charley on one end and Ben on the other. There are many elements that distinguishes them — most significant is that Willy admires Ben while being disdainful toward Charley — both are compared and contrasted on various levels. From Ben’s appearance as a ghost and Charley’s approachability as a next door neighbor, there is a distance between two figures. The fact that Ben approaches Willy as a ghost, or a hallucination represents that his presence is distant and intangible.

Ben stands for an abstract, fabled idea of success, portrayed as nearly a ‘romantic, mythical hero’ (Benziman 16) and the places he speak of are exotic and inaccessible — that ‘is dark but full of diamonds.’ (Miller 134) He is often elusive and apathetic toward Willy’s situation — ‘And good luck with your – what do you do?’ (39) — which gives direct contrast to Charley, a down-to-earth, practical realist who genuinely cares for Willy’s predicament and offers him financial aid: ‘fifty dollars a week. And I won’t send you on the road’ (76). Charley’s physical distance from the Lomans also reflect his accessibility, that his presence is constantly felt.

Willy’s attitude toward Ben and Charley can be seen as two conflicting notions — delusion and reality. Willy is a dreamer, which accounts for his admiration for Ben. He rejects the objective, truthful reality, hence despising Charley. Willy constantly asks Ben ‘what is the answer?’ (36, 66), suggesting that the answer to his reality is delusory and mythical. Hence it can be concluded that Willy’s tragedy can ultimately be concluded as his ‘misplaced optimism’. (Martin 102) The increasing disparity between the objective and the subjective reality contributes to his downfall.

The ideals like the American Dream – that virtues and good will are a promised path to gaining success — were bandied into the workday realities from the post-war hype. Being ‘well-liked’ does not lead him to success as Willy believes, but it is rather the ‘survival of the fittest’ Darwinian concept that leads one to triumph — just like Bernard, who was ‘not well-liked’ (25) but still achieved his own success. The precision Miller gives his play has transformed mere aspect of realism in the play to a reality. Willy Loman is not a character that is argued or defended, but a character to be felt or experienced. Willy’s experience as a whole does not constitute only as a personal tragedy but a social pattern.

The precision of the nature of American Dream and the characterization Miller bestows the Lomans enables the audience to identify with him in his existential circumstances. As an omniscient observer, one sympathizes Willy’s broken dreams and fears the potential social trend where financial acquisition can be a social reality. Miller’s modern classic reflects a household that is not just specific to the Millers; there is a universal element that brushes through every family who has lived that era — the delicate bubble of the American Dream and the struggles to prove one’s worth through success.


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American Dream Ideal in the Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. (2021, Apr 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/american-dream-ideal-in-the-death-of-a-salesman-by-arthur-miller/

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