The American Dream has always been a controversial topic, whether it is considered a definition of success in terms of monetary luxury or the true spirit of America in terms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In “The Founder” and Death of a Salesman, the American Dream is a central theme. Main characters Ray Kroc and Willy Loman both have distinctive conceptions of what success and the American Dream is to them. Kroc and Loman are similar in that they are both determined salesmen, but the steps they take towards success drastically oppose the other.
As in every piece of literature or form of media, characters are portrayed in individual ways, but even more characterization is found through other characters’ relationships with the main character and the dynamic of conversations among them. It is difficult to deduct the authentic essence of a character as an external viewer, but by tracing each action one can infer a character’s true self. “The Founder” is a movie about the deceptive dawning of McDonald’s. The movie highlights core truths about the story, including the character Ray Kroc.
Kroc is the central individual of the movie. His courageous act to enlist at the age of 15 illustrates his tendency to aggressive approaches which compliments his head-strong personality. The movie rings true in various aspects such as: how Ray Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman for a company called Prince Castle. Kroc was selling Multi Mixers when he stumbled upon McDonald’s. He was inspired enough – by the hefty order of eight Multi Mixers – to fly to San Bernardino and investigate the successful operation. Kroc was fascinated at the rapid response to his order.
After delving into the McDonald brothers’ ingenious system, Kroc suggested he should aid the brothers in heading their franchising operation. The movie, “The Founder,” depicts Kroc’s advancements towards owning the company as mischievous and deceitful, but countless entrepreneurs were remarkably invigorated by his stamina. Jeremy Agnew, Founder and Director of Anew, felt he could learn from Ray Kroc’s example of “being open and aware of all the opportunities available to you.” The outlier in these comments was Maria Tanjala, Co-Founder of Big Couch, she explained, “I couldn’t relate to the human soft side of him… Good business leaders shouldn’t make choices between profits and ethics… [Ray was] lacking patience and communication skills.” Even through the eyes of entrepreneurs, Kroc can be perceived as both a hero and a villain.
Ray Kroc has a warped view of the American Dream because his ambition exponentially increases his greed. His definition of being successful in America consists of being a multi-millionaire who takes risks that pay off, but never stops working towards more until the day he dies. Kroc values monetary wealth and supreme power over every other aspect in his life. Because he is consumed by his work, Kroc sacrifices his relationship with his wife and daughter. It can be easily argued that Kroc never regretted his decision to steal McDonald’s from the brothers and his decision to divorce his first wife, Ethel.
His insatiable appetite for more is sufficient to justify these choices because he could not survive while restricted by the brothers’ authority, and he is too impassioned to stay with Ethel, someone who did not have the same dreaming essence that was crucial to his psyche. Ethel only wished for him to be satisfied enough to be at home and be present in their house, but Kroc’s selfish nature of wanting only personal success offset their relationship. Co-workers, such as the McDonald brothers, were astounded by Kroc’s presumptuous manner of business.
After “The Founder” was released, multiple critics commented on the ruthless Ray that Michael Keaton brought to life. NPR published an article concerning Keaton portrayal of Kroc and the movie which stated, “there’s still something chilling and all too familiar about how Kroc’s nastiness only super-sizes in proportion to the amount of power he gains” (Lapin par. 8). This particular stance is the most common opinion about Ray Kroc: he is an undeniable villain. Proof of his malicious intent is evident in examples such as: his treatment of the brothers, his selfish intentions, and his despicable relationship decisions.
Kroc ends his partnership with the brothers buy ultimately buying them out. Essentially, Ray Kroc agrees to give them 0.5% of royalty in perpetuity, but only on a handshake basis, which legally gave Kroc the freedom to pull out of his offer. Though Kroc did allow the brothers to keep the original store, contingent on a name change to ‘The Big M’, Kroc could not suppress his need for victory; he opened another McDonald’s a block away from their restaurant, and ‘The Big M’ went out of business six years later.
Above all things, Kroc only wished to be a successful individual whether he was liked or not, he only wished to have lush wealth. Not only did Kroc divorce his wife and neglect his daughter, but once divorcing, he wished to marry Joan Smith, who had not yet divorced her husband. In the meantime, Kroc wed Jane Dobbins Green, but after five years, he divorced Jane and the following year, he married Joan. This circumstance highlights Kroc’s disregard for women, through him regarding Jane as a disposable object.
Death of a Salesman, a classic American play by Arthur Miller, encompasses the life of Willy Loman. Willy Loman is an exhausted, overworked salesman. Loman suffers from lifelike flashbacks and hallucinations. His perception of the American Dream is to be known. Loman wishes to enter any city in the U.S.A. and be welcome into someone’s home. The culmination of his dream is for his funeral to attract sellers and buyers from the entire nation to truly prove his esteem to his sons. Loman has two sons, Bill and Happy, and a wife, Linda. His main goal is to be an example of a successful businessman to his sons. He only seeks their approval and love.
His sons realize that their father is mad because he hallucinates with his dead brother, Ben. Linda Loman recognizes “what his trouble is: the man is exhausted” (56). Linda sympathizes with Willy, and she utterly adores him. Frequently in the play, Willy can be seen having a fantasized self-image, much like that of child. He believes anything is possible, but not in an optimistic, dreamer way, rather in an ignorant, illogical view. He regards himself as being well-known and successful, but in reality, the business world views him as insane and he is going without pay.
Because he has this misleading perception of himself, he asks his friend for money to avoid Linda knowing he is without salary. Willy Loman brags to his children that he is known and that his funeral will be flooded by associates and clients from all over, but as Linda states in the Requiem, “Where are all the people he knew?” (Miller 137). At his funeral, the truth was finally exposed. WIlly Loman was an unknown salesman who spent his entire life working and unsuccessfully attempting to make a name for himself. As the protagonist of the play, Willy is a hero.
He is admirable because his main goal is to provide for his family. Unlike Kroc’s selfish desires, Willy only desires to be successful through the eyes of his family. He is admirable in that he does not need much to be satisfied himself, but his dissatisfaction comes from being unable to support his family. One major element of Death of a Salesman is Willy Loman’s affair with a mystery woman. This scene highlights one of Willy’s core flaws: he is unappreciative of Linda.
Linda is overwhelmingly patient and understanding with Willy, but he repays her only through betrayal. His unappreciation for Linda spills into his unappreciation of life. Willy is suicidal, and in various scenes of the play, Linda explains that he has been attempting ending his life. Because Arthur Miller ended the play with Willy’s death, there is an unanswered question of whether Willy killed himself or not.
- Biography.com – Ray Kroc Biography
- IMDb – The Founder (2016)
- Wikipedia – The Founder
- Cliffsnotes – Major Themes in Death of a Salesman
- The Atlantic – Salesmanship in Death of a Salesman
- Cinemontage – Willy Loman – An Occupation Profound: Director Barry Levinson Films the Aging Salesman as He Characterizes Crises Confronted by Contemporary Middle-Age Men