Willy's Obsession with the American Dream in Death of a Salesman

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In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman we see the negative effect of having an absent parent. The main character Willy Loman is a salesman who constantly struggles with trying to be what he considers “successful,” and “well liked.” He has two sons Biff and Happy and is married to Linda. Willy also struggles between illusion and reality; he has trouble defining and distinguishing the past from the present. Between his financial struggles and not feeling like he accomplished anything, he commits suicide. Throughout Willy’s life he was constantly abandoned, by both his father and his brother at very young age. Since Willy has no reference to look up to, he is somewhat left to figure things out on his own. In Willy’s mind, everything he teaches his children is perfectly ok. Willy’s moral flaws and constant idealization of the “American dream,” ultimately stem from his absent father.

We can see that Willy’s obsession with the “American dream” obviously comes from his father. When Willy’s father left, he never really left him with anything tangible or anything as far as money goes. He also didn’t leave him with any family legacy. Even though in the play, Willy says that his father was an “adventurous man,” we don’t really know that (1619). Willy’s views of his father are somewhat romanticized. All we know of Willy’s fathers is from Ben, because Willy says that his dad left when he was “such a baby” and that he never “had a chance to talk to him” (1604). All he can really remember “is a man with a big beard” (1602). According to Ben their father was “a very great and very wild-hearted man.” Ben tells him that his father “made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime” (1602). Willy’s illusion of his father being thi...

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...a math test; he tells Biff’s tutor Bernard “You’ll give him the answers!” (1597). Again, Willy believes in appearance over being smart and doing the work. At one point he even goes along with making fun of Biff’s math teacher. Stealing and cheating shouldn’t be something accepted by your parents.

Although Miller doesn’t make Willy’s absent father a big theme in the play, it is definitely something to look at when thinking about why Willy is the way that he is. If Willy Loman only got to know his father and see how a father is with a child, he might have a different approach to parenting. Maybe if Willy had a father to learn from he wouldn’t be so rough on Biff or put so much on him; he could just love him the way that he is, and be happy that he is happy. Maybe he wouldn’t have this predetermined view of the “American dream” and how it should distinguish your life.
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