“Death of a Salesman” Literature review

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An illusion is an alteration of the senses, revealing how the brain normally arranges and understands sensory encouragement. Though illusions misrepresent reality, they are generally shared by most people. Illusions may arise with any of the human senses, but visual illusions (optical illusions) are the best-known and understood. The emphasis on visual illusions occurs because vision often dominates the other senses.

According to Samuel he says that “American Dream has always been a vague and fragmented idea that was associated with “familiar tropes” like “continually rising expectations, the capitalist spirit, the holiness of home, the seductiveness of wealth, the pressure to succeed, our perverse fascination with ‘hope’ and ‘change’, and the belief that ‘anything is possible’”

American Dream tends to divide itself into two separate parts: the idealistic Dream and the materialistic Dream. Liberty, justice, freedom, equality, democracy and self-realization are part of the idealistic Dream while property, wealth and material success belongs to the material Dream. Even though the material side of the Dream is opposing with the idealistic side, together they are the birthplace of the American dream of development. As further described by Caldwell in his book Cynicism and the Evolution of the American Dream “it is more than the American dream of Upward Mobility, more than the observable, measurable progress of economics, social elasticity, or politics. Rather, it is an idealized notion of progress that lies at the heart of our national Dream.” Even though Adam’s has always determined more on the spiritual nature of the dream. he does not deny the materialistic dimension to it.

In the death of a sales man, the protagonist is in deep visual illusion. The way he thinks that misleads him or misguides him from the reality.

Reality is the formal of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. Reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. The protagonist in the death of a salesman does not understand the reality rather than understanding illusion.

According to Prodhan, an Indian critic, he says “The Death of a Salesman is an attack on consumer capitalist society of America. In fact it is an attack on society of all times. Willy Loman is a product of such a psychological tragedy, showing Willy as victim of indifferent society.” “But the Arthur Miller calls it a psychological tragedy. The tragedy is almost self-made, the protagonist destroying himself.”

He continues himself and hold onto the dream the salesman’s profession is a noble one with natural worth. He also attempts to protect a self-image that is steady with the capitalist definition of achievement: “In Sartre’s terms, Willy acts in bad faith. He opts for self-deception as the means of maintaining his distorted image of himself and avoiding painful disclosures and revelations” (Centola, “Sartrean” 297). Thus, he cannot come to grips with the reality of his situation – he has been following a false dream.

Willy Loman cannot fix the dilemma between illusion and reality. The ultimate result is that he commits suicide just not getting succeeded. Moreover, when Death of a salesman is written, a great social change has been occurred. That period was time of business prosperity and a time of financial affluence for Americans. However, even in such massive transformation in the society, the classic American faith in individualism still existed in the thoughts of a lot of people. One of the main reasons that makes Willy cannot keep with the change the time is because he keeps on grasping the idea that one can succeed in the business world by being well -like and an imposing personality; “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead and they continued “to support on the old faith as if nothing had really changed at all” (Whyte, p, 05). Willy character faces this difficulty exactly. He continues to keep on and grip on that “old faith” rather than to face him with the new business culture. Willy believes his business strategy is better than new method of business. He actually does not accept the change of society. The illusion forces him to do nothing. That’s why; he cannot accept the social changes.

According to Miller “Willy always has false assumptions and believed in something unsound. He thinks that success automatically comes to the well-liked person. He never gave importance to the quality of products he was selling instead of that he supposes himself as a well-liked and so he gets buyers”. He applies the same philosophy to his elder son Biff and assumes that he will be a successful person in his life. (Miller p,21)

Willy has always believed in something that is unreliable. Willy’s main focus is of course on the material side of the Dream. He dreams of success, wealth and respect. For Willy, there is no other way of achieving his American Dream that being well liked and have personal and social attractiveness. If one is not well liked or does not create any personal attention there is no way for him to succeed in life. Willy’s illusion of the American Dream, especially the false idea of how to best achieve it, is the tragedy of the American Dream at the same time. The greatest profession to take him through to achieve the Dream is of course selling.

Zhao Juan writes about the corruption of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman. His says that the birth of the American Dream seem to have been embedded in the pioneering mentality of the 18th and 19th century immigrants, most of the people came to America because of a new and better life, especially they wanted to buy a land for their own. Home ownership is often the most wanted of the American Dream for the lower class and middle class. This is reflected in Death of a Salesman:

LINDA: Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help me Willy, I can’t cry. It seems to me that you’re just on another trip. I keep expecting you. Willy, dear, I can’t cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. (A sob rises in her throat.) We’re free and clear. (Sobbing more fully, released.) We’re free. (Biff comes slowly toward her.) We’re free… We’re free… (Miller 256)

As Linda keeps repeating at the end, they’re free. Liberty is tangled with the idea of owning their space. It is reflected in their nation’s history time and again. It is cleared that those people has nothing they are zero in America. . They hacked out of the wilderness their own homestead and became king of their respected castles. This is a critical part of the American Dream. This was a single measurable sign of success that everyone could see. (Eley, p, 23)

In that time, most of the land is rented out and so cities developed and massive variations arose in wealth, which meant that this “American Dream” changed from being a potential reality, into being a dream, like the name implies. Most of Miller’s plays are directly or indirectly about the American Dram, because ultimately this dream wasn’t going to succeed as lots of people wished. (Bently p,125). Bently explains Willy’s searches for the ‘American Dream’ lead to his failure because throughout his life, he follows the illusion of the ‘American Dream’ and not the reality of it. The result of his visionless faith toward the ‘American Dream’ leads to his psychological decline and suicide. He is unable to accept the crack between the ‘American Dream’ and the achievements of his life. According to Reeves, in America people do not want to see people as a poor and failure. People do not want to take the aid that they need from social services or other organizations because they don’t want to be looked down upon by society. The idea of the American Dream comes into play here. They are taught from a very young age that as long as we work hard we will succeed. But it is hard to belief that success does not come for everyone. Some people will be successful and some will be unsuccessful. (Reeves and Charley)

Death of a Salesman is about the American identity. It is about the everyday life of people demanding to make it but ultimately failing. The bad thing or very annoying thing is that self-blame and hatred that we have for ourselves. If they cannot make it big and successful as the American Dream dictates then there is a moral failing for them. We see the poor as morally ruined because of their status. But in truth, poverty is not from lack of desire to succeed or hard work but lack of contact to opportunities to better their life.

Death of a Salesman, written in 1949, is a moving destruction of the whole illusion. (Juan) But someplace along the course of their history there was detachment in their morals. According to Zhuo Juan, he says, through the hardworking, sincere and have desire are the ways of the American Dream. This guides you to success and gives power. But this dream for everyone develops, and encourages hunger, self-centered behavior, arrogance and enmity between one another.” We highly praised those who could make great wealth. We aspired to follow them. However we could not possibly keep up with them. Juliet Schor writes in her book The Overspent American that the post-World War Two economy had Americans trying to keep up with their neighbors. People who lives in the same neighborhoods and makes relatively the same salary. Schor contends would often try to keep up with each other. However there was a change in late seventies going into the eighties. The development of the media into our everyday lives has primarily changed this, this phase of their spending is not new–competitive achievement has long been an American institution. At the turn of the century, the rich consumed obviously. In the early post-World War II decades, Americans spend to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers. But in recent decades, the culture of spending has changed and intensified. They may have earned a little more or a little less. According to Kroll, he points out that the protagonist wily Loman has contradictions of modern life: idealism and dishonesty, honesty and deception, uniqueness and consistency. Willy talks about ‘opening new territories,’ but he’s a travesty of the American pioneer and leader. His father made flutes and sold them; Willy makes nothing and sells– what? Miller never tells us what’s in those big, black sample cases. But when Willy lugs them into his Brooklyn house it’s clear that what they really contain is his soul (Kroll, 1984, p. 107).

Murphy and Abbtson say that “lacks the courage of honesty and remains caught in the rat race, still thinking about that wealth and status are the keys to satisfaction” Willy’s lack of understanding life and confusion about the real American Dream make him teach his sons wrong, and his failure is because he never really realize what was “really needed to succeed maintaining to the end that ‘personality wins the day” (Murphy and Abbotson, p, 145).

Willy Loman is the every man of America. He is not an advisory tale of one man but of a society. One that celebrates the capital and creativity of those that successfully capture the American Dream yet scolds those that cannot reach to the enormous heights to pull themselves up to be lauded. This is something that Willy Loman never fully holds.

According to Weese, Karen, “he just thinks that there is some magic secret that can get him to that place. He keeps climbing higher and higher like Daedalus and Icarus yet he will suffer the fate of Icarus”. By never understanding that he does not have to keep reaching so high that the American Dream can be what you make of it he falls to the fallacy that is the dream. This is what makes Willy Loman a tragic figure in American drama. He continually reaches for the stars in an unsuccessful attempt to take glory and riches for himself.

On the other hand, since Willy teaches his sons about the wrong believes and ideas, Happy “does not reach the same level of awareness as his brother, and lives a superficial life which he imagines is a lot more fashionable than it certainly is”, this indications how his father influenced him in a bad way in his sons life. Willy always fabricated to be more than what he really was (Murphy and Abbotson, p, 146).

Willy is highly fascinated by his sons’ success during their high school years. Even though he loves them very much and cares for them. But Willy fails to educate them properly. Willy appreciates and highlights Biff’s physical strength but his performance at school is set apart, not being important to Willy; he rather encourages Biff to compare himself with his neighbor and classmate, Bernard, and he advises him to be like them and be successful. As Biff said, Willy thought that taking his own life will make a hero out of him, and Willy thought that “To protect his life, he has to kill himself” because he wanted that his family especially Biff would get the insurance money (Heyen p.15). “Willy commits himself to a tragic death and worthless gift. Willy didn’t realize that even though if his son gets the money, his dream is completely different than Willy’s. Willy wants a white collar job for his sons, while Biff will be happy with a job at a farm, working outdoors, so Biff wouldn’t care if he gets his dads money or not (Heyen p,16). Willy wants to become rich and prosperous. He wants to be loved and respected by everyone. He wants to have something to leave for Biff. He is looking for the answer, for the secret of success to be revealed to him by his brother Ben. Meenakshi Raman says “an ordinary salesman would have remained satisfied with ordinary pleasure of life; but Willy bore within himself a sharp awareness of his being a respectable man who wanted to maintain the well-being of his family.

Willy’s mistake is, as Charley points out at the end of the play, that he allows the dreams necessary to his work to take over his whole person” (Hawthorn 94). When it becomes evident that Willy cannot pay the bills through work as a salesman, his world crumbles because he allows his job title to shape his individuality.

Americans usually think in achievement, success and materialism. A combination of those principles with correlation of hard work, motivated and equal opportunity, this could be measured the American Dream. To work hard in order to succeed is one of the center beliefs to the ideas and those who do work hard are satisfied with fame, money, power and property; all of those are means of becoming successful in its full definition.. (Devitis L, Joseph. Rich, John Martin)

“He is definitely a professional salesman. He’s trying to sell us the wrong dreams!” but he was only one who bought (Heyen p.17). The bad part of this is that because of his fascination with the business success dream he destroyed his family in the process. According to Joshua Polster, he says that it is clear that personal attractiveness and being well liked is not the best way to take in the chase of the American Dream. Moreover, no one can give hundred percent sureties that through the hard work and industry, success comes very easily. Many people works hard but they do not get success. That is why Willy’s story does not tell about the success but about failure. Not only about his own failure but about the failure of the American Dream itself.

Miller amplifies that Willy’s chase for the American dream is the main cause of his failure throughout the life. His false assumptions about the American dream and his wrong philosophy of the success leads him towards the psychological dilemma which at the end of play become the reason of his suicide. He fails to capture his dream what he looks throughout his life. (Miller, p, 22)


Cite this paper

“Death of a Salesman” Literature review. (2022, May 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/death-of-a-salesman-literature-review/



Is Death of a Salesman a canon?
Death of a Salesman is considered a canon because it is a classic work of American drama and it has been studied in high school and college classrooms for decades.
What is the message of the Death of a Salesman?
The message of the Death of a Salesman is that the American dream is a lie. The play is a tragedy about a man who is unable to come to terms with his own failures and takes his own life as a result.
What type of literature is Death of a Salesman?
Death of a Salesman is a play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. The play is a tragedy about the downfall of Willy Loman, a man in his sixties who is in denial about his failing career as a salesman.
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