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Myths of the American Dream Exposed in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Myths of the American Dream Exposed in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman


  Willy Loman, the lead character of Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, believes in "the myths of the capitalistic society"(DiYanni 412). This essay will examine the impact of the capitalistic myths on Willy Lowman.

            Willy believes in the myth that popularity and physical appearance are the keys that unlock the door to the “American Dream”. We are first introduced to the importance of popularity and physical appearance when Willy is speaking to his wife, Linda, about their son Biff.  “Biff Loman is lost,” says Willy.  “In the greatest country in the world, a young man with such personal attractiveness gets lost.”  In this quote, not only is Willy confused about how Biff’s good looks can’t help him get a job, but also because his son can’t get a job in a country like America.

            Willy believes in appearance, in phoniness, in popularity with those he regards as important in the capitalistic machine. An example of how Willy depends on popularity to help achieve the dream is seen when Willy is having a flashback in which he’s speaking to both Biff and Happy about having his own business. The boys ask their father if his business will be like their Uncle Charley’s.  Willy responds by saying that he’ll be, “Bigger than Uncle Charley!  Because Charley is not- liked.  He’s liked, but he’s not- well liked.” 

            The most significant example of Willy’s belief in the popularity myth also takes place in one of Willy’s flashbacks.  Again, he is speaking to his sons about becoming successful.  He tells them, “...the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ...


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... slogans for his own beliefs: “Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built.” But his blind faith cannot sustain him: “That goddam Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car”. 

            Each day Willy must run faster and stretch his arms out further in his attempt to catch the dream. When he is too tired to run, Willy is spewed out of the capitalistic machine as a worn-out and useless part. Willy then gives all that he has remaining so that his son can collect the insurance money and thereby pay his entrance fee to the capitalistic machine. The same machine that destroyed Willy.

Works Cited

DiYanni, Robert. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Compact Edition. McGraw Hill, 2000. 395-530.

Miller, Arthur. "Death of a Salesman" in Literature, Reading, Reacting, Writing, Compact Fourth Edition. Harcourt, Inc. 2000.


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