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The Devastating Impact of the American Dream In Death Of A Salesman

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The pursuit of the American dream can inspire ambition. It can transform a person and cause him to become motivated and hard-working, with high standards and morals. Or, it can tear a person down, to the point of near insanity that results from the wild, hopeless chase after the dream. This is what occurs to Biff, Happy, and Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's book Death of a Salesman. In the play, Willy Loman is a traveling salesman whose main ambition in life is wealth and success, neither of which he achieves. Corrupted by their father, Biff and Happy also can not attain success. Biff fails to find a steady, high-paying job even though he's 30, and he hates the business world, preferring instead to live on a farm in California. Happy, on the other hand, has a fairly well-paying, steady job, but still suffers from emptiness and a sense of being lost, a void which he fills by sleeping around with many women, some of whom are even married or engaged. Thus, Miller uses motifs, such as deception, theft, and hallucination, to show the pathology that all three of these characters experience in the wake of the American dream.

Miller's use of lies throughout the book reveals the madness that results from the pursuit of the American dream. Happy habitually lies to others and to himself because he cannot face reality and wants to seem better than he is. When he is at a restaurant with Biff, Happy tries to impress a girl, saying that "at West Point, [people] called [him] Happy" and that he sells champagne (Miller 102). He tries to grab her attention by talking about money and he hopes that he will be more appealing if he claims that he is rich and successful. The American dream is all about money, which Happy lacks, so he pursues the dream in his own way -- by pretending that he is wealthy because he knows that he will never be. When Willy comes into the restaurant, excited to hear about Biff's meeting with Oliver, Happy encourages his brother to lie, saying "[Biff] told [Oliver] my Florida idea" (108). Once again, Happy believes that he will be worthless to his father without money. Therefore, he tries to mask his and Biff's failure with deception, in order to disguise the fact that he has not achieved wealth. Happy learns this behavior when he is a young boy from Willy, who urges Happy to "be careful with those girls, don't make any promises" (27).
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