Death of a Salesman: The Emptiness of the American Dream


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Any way that you state it, an American dream is a never-ending cycle of idealism. In other words, the yearning to be better than the best and to achieve perfect governmental harmony throughout society. Think about it though, if this were a possibility, wouldn’t it have already occurred?

The first character seen directly acknowledging the emptiness of the American dream was the overlooked Loman brother, Happy. Happy, although suffering from “younger-brother syndrome” and lack of fatherly attention, proved to be the only successful family member of all the Lomans. Still, any amount of success would never be enough for him. The American dream would never be enough to make Happy “happy”.

All I can do now is wait for the merchandise manager to die. And suppose I get to be merchandise manager? He’s a good friend of mine, and he just built a terrific estate on Long Island. And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he’s building another one. He can’t enjoy it once it’s finished. And I know that’s just what I would do. I don’t know what the hell I’m workin’ for. Sometimes I sit in my apartment- all alone. And I think of the rent I’m paying. And it’s crazy. But then, it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely.
It is rather ironic that the American dream that Willy strives for everyday is the very same dream Happy pushes away. Willy believes the key to life and achieving the American dream is being well liked. However, his beliefs were faulty as well as trite, as we all saw when Bernard, who wasn’t very “well liked,” achieved the American dream. “Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him…Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”(Willy P. 33) This is Willy and one of his more pompous conversations with Biff on regards to Bernard. As usual, Willy’s prediction was far off from the truth. Bernard grew up and got married, had 2 boys, and had his last appearance leaving to go argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

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This is closer to the American dream than Willy could ever even dream of achieving.
“Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.”(Willy P.15) There is not a more accurate quote that could fit the genre of emptiness of the American dream. Willy Loman worked, made money at a considerably fine occupation, had two bright and talented children, and was espoused to a kind woman. Yet, emptiness lingered until he finally cracked. He eventually saw fit to take comfort in another woman on the road, which is where his spiraling downfall began. Willy had all he dreamed of up until his affair with the other woman, but dreams get bigger as they are met, which is why the American dream is so unpromising.

Loss of Identity

We all go through trials and tribulations that make each of us stop and ask one simple life-defining question: Who am I? This question is the shadow that trails every prominent character’s thought in this breakthrough novel. Tracing the mind works of every human being, you will find insecurities and glitches that lead to fallouts in life where there seems there is nothing left to do but sulk and gripe. This is the constant attitude Biff Loman felt as a grown man, yet tried to hide. He was quite lost in general while growing up, but only realized later in life that his father had matured him into a dream life of false ideals. “I’m mixed up very bad. Maybe I oughta get married. Maybe I oughta get stuck into something. Maybe that’s my trouble. I’m like a boy. I’m not married, I’m not in business, I just~I’m like a boy.” Biff’s uneasy statement after his return home sums up the cowardness that consumes him when conflicted with a loss of identity. Biff’s home is his ultimate haven; it’s the place he runs to when obscure thoughts run rampant in his mind, or when times get too tough to handle.

Yet that was not the end of Biff’s identity crisis. When approaching a former employer, Biff had the following epiphany: “How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and~I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been! We’ve been talking about a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk. (Biff P.104)”
Biff was so deeply emerged into the lies that Willy passed off as “guidelines” to success. Willy himself believed these false statements, but nevertheless it set Biff off into a path of confusion and distraught. Biff has now been traveling this lonesome path looking for his way for years, not knowing if his memories were true or merely ideals to himself and Willy feel at ease.

It was a long journey for Biff, but far worth it in the long run. “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you (Biff P. 132).” He lost his false ideals and finally found himself amongst the clutter of deceit in his life. Biff was the only Loman who developed a true identity. Biff reached the end of his journey down that lonesome path, and found what he was looking; his answer to that simple life-defining question “who am I?”


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