Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman challenges the American dream. Before the Depression, an optimistic America offered the alluring promise of success and riches. Willy Loman suffers from his disenchantment with the American dream, for it fails him and his son. In some ways, Willy and Biff seem trapped in a transitional period of American history. Willy, now sixty-three, carried out a large part of his career during the Depression and World War II. The promise of success that entranced him in the optimistic 1920's was broken by the harsh economic realities of the 1930's. The unprecedented prosperity of the 1950's remained far in the future.
Willy Loman represents a uniquely American figure: the traveling salesman. Every week, he takes a journey to stake his bid for success. It would be difficult to miss the survival of 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 lives are full of monthly payments on possessions that symbolize that dream: a car, a home, and household appliances. The proliferation of monthly payments allowed families with modest incomes to h...
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...une promised by the American dream. He cannot admit doubt or insecurity because a good salesman always remains confident, and the American dream promises success to the confident, eager individual. Death of a Salesman addresses Willy's struggle to maintain his identity in the face of narrowing hopes that he or his sons will ever fulfill his dreams.
Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Corrigan, Robert W., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
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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