Shattered American Dream in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
What is the American Dream? Some believe in the 1950's vision created through television. Successful children, perfect families, and a happy stay-at-home mother are all associated with this version. Yet, everyone knows that the children are not always successful, there are family fights, and not every mother can be at home and happy. Many families have lifelong searches for the ideal American Dreams and never find even one. These types of families are seen as failures. One family in this type of search is represented in Death of a Salesman through Willy, Linda, and their sons.
Willy Loman is the first character to represent the search of the American Dream. First, Willy has a strong belief in the American Dream because of his brother Ben. "Why boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich. (Miller 1900)" This quote by Ben is the basis of Willy's beliefs for his family and himself. Willy thinks he will never need to search for anything; it would come to him. Next, Willy instills this same belief within his sons. "Listen to this. This is your Uncle Ben, a great man! Tell my boys, Ben! (Miller 1898)" When Willy states this to Ben he wants his boys to have the same thought on life as himself. Though, like their father, the two sons are led to the idea that greatness will come to them. Finally, Willy does not ever understand his search until the end of the play. "What-what's the secret? (Miller 1921)" Willy asks Bernard this question which shows he is still searching for the key to the American Dream. At the end of the play, Willy believes that the only answer to the success of his family is through his death.
Linda Loman is the next character to represent her search for the American Dream. At first, Linda's search is for good family relationships. After the big plans are made for the sporting goods shop, Linda's spirits seem very high. Everyone in her family is getting along, therefore she is happy. These little perks of happiness are enough to keep her dream alive. Linda has a more true view of her family's search, but knowing her boy's potential is no longer existent, is what makes her far different than her husband. At last, Linda represents the realistic side of the family. As Linda is speaking of the last mortgage payment she states, "It's an accomplishment. (Miller 1911)" She has given a clue that little accomplishments such as these are enough to fulfill the dreams in her life. She has no high aspirations for being rich nor does she have it all. Linda is the one character that is content in what her family can or cannot accomplish.
The Loman boys are the final representatives of the American Dream. First, the two men represent the failure in the search of the American Dream. When the two sons make statements like, "I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future, and, "Pop, I'm nothing! (Miller 1884)" They know they have not accomplished success. The two do not have a clue about how to reach dreams above their parents. When their father puts down such people as Bernard it is no question of why the two are misled. In addition, Happy Loman believes that the key to the American Dream is through his father. As a boy, Happy would impress his father with statements like, "I lost weight, Pop, you notice? (Miller 1890)" These statements didn't end with his childhood. Even as an adult he would say, "I'm getting married, Pop, don't forget it. I'm changing everything. (Miller 1909)" These are clues that Happy only found happiness in pleasing his father. However, Biff Loman takes his own thoughts about the American Dream to a different level. His dream is surfaced around, "Working out in the open, (Miller 1884)" as he states to his brother. Without any rules or barriers Biff wants to accomplish this aspect of his American Dream.
The Loman family represents all of the searches for the American Dream in each of their own ways. Even after the loss of Willy; Linda, Happy, nor Biff ever capture their dreams. Throughout the play the families' failure is exemplified by the success of Charley and his family. The family almost seemed destined to end up the loser. As their name entails, they will be nothing short of a low man.
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