Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman examines Willy Lowman’s struggle to hold on to his American Dream that is quickly slipping from his grasp. As Americans, we are all partners in the “dream” and Willy’s failure causes each of us anxiety since most of us can readily identify with Willy.
Most Americans can readily identify with Willy. As children, our minds are filled with a “marketing orientation” as soon as we are able to be propped-up in front of the television. This orientation drives us to attempt to become the person that others desire us to be. In this society we all feel, more or less, that we must sell ourselves, must be responsive to the demands of others, and must make a good impression in order to be (as Willy might say) not just liked, but well liked.
Willy Loman represents a uniquely American figure: the traveling salesman. Every week, he takes a journey to stake his bid for success. Although not all Americans are salesmen, most of us share Willy’s dream of success. It would be difficult to miss the American frontier mentality in the figure of the traveling salesman. The idea of the American dream was heavily influenced by the rush for gold and land in the nineteenth-century American West. It is no coincidence that in the 1950's, the decade most preoccupied with the mythical American dream, America experienced an unprecedented love affair with Westerns.
Willy and Linda try to build their own version of the American dream with their family. In high school, Biff was the all-American boy as the captain of the football team. True to the myth of the all-American boy, girls and admiring friends surrounded him. Willy and Linda's li...
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...e measure men by occupational attainment rather than by the more difficult process of considering the whole person. We are all partners in the American Dream and parties to the conspiracy of silence surrounding the fact that failures must outnumber successes. Perhaps the great power of Death of a Salesman is due to the fact that it breaks the conspiracy of silence and reveals to us a failure that too closely resembles our worst fears.
Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.
Miller, Arthur. The Archbishop’s Ceiling/The American Clock. New York: Grove Press, 1989.
---. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.
---. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.
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