Virginia Woolf Reality

Powerful Essays
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and ‘Death of a Salesman’ both relate to the theme of truth and illusion, by exploring the misbeliefs of the American dream and the blurred lines between reality and illusion, and past and present. The two plays feature the shattering of the illusions the characters hold on to, and the reality they then have to face. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the ridding of illusions is symbolised by peeling the label off a bottle: ‘We all peel labels sweetie.’ Albee is suggesting the layers of illusions that need to be stripped back to get to the truth. The irony is that, a bottle of alcohol is the starting point for the metaphor, as a way of avoiding reality. In Death of a Salesman Biff faces up to the uncomfortable reality of Willy’s misled dreams, as he realises they’ve been ‘talking in a dream for 15 years’. Biff recognises that for the good of the family, the illusion needs to be shattered. Both couples make up fantasies in their life together, in a somewhat unconscious attempt to ease the pains they have to face along the way because ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality’.
In both plays, the American dream and the pressures of society are a strong theme throughout. In the 1950s, the economy was improving and it was a period of prosperity and increased wealth. Those times were painted in an optimistic, almost idyllic way. However, the expectations regarding the perfect American life have a negative effect on the mental health of the characters. Willy Loman is introduced by Miller, as a long suffering, self-deluded, ‘desperate man’ who put all his faith in the wrong values. He is just an example of the typical Americans in the 1950s, who watched adverts for materialistic goods they neither need...

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...the insurance company wouldn’t pay the family any money. The play ends with Charley’s speech, which acts as a eulogy. It takes the blame from Willy and instead puts it on the ridiculous expectations of his job as a salesman. ‘Nobody dast blame this man!’ Charley observed that if a salesman fails to make a customer smile, or ‘has a couple of spots on (their) hat’ then they’re ‘finished’. Critic Michael Billington writes that ‘Willy actually has been a success’ but he believes too strongly in the American dream to realise this. This tribute to Willy contrasts with the ending of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which finishes with a series of questions that don’t answer any questions that are left. The plays deal with the theme of truth and illusion differently, but both show the power of the American Dream and how anyone can be destroyed by the ‘ideology of the deal’.
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