Death of a Salesman Analysis
|Topics:||Death of a Salesman, 🗽 American Culture, 🗽 American Dream, 📗 Book|
Table of Contents
Death of a Salesman is a play by Arthur Miller, whose protagonist is a salesman named Willy Loman. The younger Willy is ambitious and is chasing the “American Dream”. He dreams of buying a decent home, running a business bigger than that of his neighbor, and a high-value vehicle. He also has high hopes in his sons Biff and Happy, believing that they will grow to be more successful than the son of their neighbor. However, things do not go according to plan for Willy and the “American Dream” elopes him, much to utter distress and eventual suicide. This play makes up the last 24 hours of the life of Willy, and uses a montage of memories, arguments, confrontations, and dreams to valid his eventual suicide (Yasinski, 2001). Death of a Salesman illustrates how the idea of the “American Dream” does not necessarily guarantee satisfaction in life.
The American Dream
The American Dream is a concept based on the conventional belief that one can attain great wealth and economic liberation in America if they work hard enough. It is based on the premise that America is a land of opportunity, and that there are endless opportunities for those who work hard enough pursuing them. Willy is obsessed with this idea throughout his life. As the play begins, he has just come home from a failed business trip, but he does not admit this reality and lies that it was successful. Over the years, his son Biff has not become as successful as he had anticipated and this makes him grow impatient and unsatisfied with him. Willy lives a life of denial. He wants everyone to believe that he is a successful salesman, a loyal husband, and an invincible father because this is the image of someone who has attained the American Dream. On the contrary, he is only marginally successful in career and life in general, cheats on and fails to appreciate his wife, and is self-centered.
The Character of Willy is largely influenced by his uncles who were successful salesmen, and brother who became very rich as an explorer. These were individuals who pursued and attained the “American Dream” and Willy would want the same for himself and his sons. Now that he has grown old and realized that he is not able to achieve the dream practically, he opts to commit suicide so that his family can benefit from the insurance money. This way, he figures he will finally provide the life he has always desired for his family even in his absence. It shows how much the pressure to align oneself to the illusion of the American Dream can push one to extremes such as death.
Satisfaction in Life
If there is one aspect that is clearly brought out in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, it is what satisfaction in life is all about. Clearly, satisfaction and happiness are not necessarily brought about by being liked or possessions such as riches. The younger Willy tells his son that even though his neighbor’s son may be good at math, he will not succeed in life because he is not liked by people (Miller, 2009). He also thinks that his son Biff will achieve a lot in life because he is popular in school and at home, and is liked by everyone. However, Biff turns out to be a thief and a “failure in life” in Willy’s standards. Throughout his life, Willy is always trying to make people like him and has the illusion that he is indeed well-liked by other people. Ironically, only his family show up at his burial. Turns out people did not like him anyway, and even if they might have had earlier when he had better prospects in his career, this never translated into satisfaction in life.
Willy’s despair becomes too much that it pushes him to suicide. This all happened because of his failure to achieve the “American Dream”. However, even when things around his his career suggested that he was on track to achieve the American Dream, he still was not satisfied in life. There was a time in his career when he was moderately successful. He would gain new territories in New England, was pursuing new territories far and wide, and was viewed as a model husband and father. His wife was supportive and raised the boys well. However, turns out Willy had an affair back then. Despite the image he portrayed as a faithful husband, he indeed was having an affair with a mistress, not knowing that this would produce life-long consequences (Bloom, 2011). For example, Willy had always been the model father to his two sons. However, as soon as Biff discovers the affair, all respect for his father is lost, as well as his motivation to succeed. It shows that even if one was to acquire all the wealth, possessions, and prestige associated with the “American Dream”, this does not necessarily guarantee satisfaction in their lives.
- Bloom, H. (2011). Arthur Miller’s Death of a salesman. New York: Infobase.
- Miller, A. (2009). Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin USA, Inc.
- Yasinski, N. (2001). Arthur Miller’s Death of a salesman. Piscataway, N.J.: Research & Education Association.
Offered for reference purposes only.