The Influence of the American Dream on Willy Loman's Life

The Influence of the American Dream on Willy Loman's Life

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The Influence of the American Dream on Willy Loman's Life
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Arthur Miller was born on October 17, 1915. He began to write at a
very early age and soon after graduating he began to receive
recognition as an established and reputable playwright. Many of
Miller's plays are based upon the dark nature of contemporary American
Society and many critics regard 'Death of a Salesman' as the perfect
quintessence of the modern American drama; it encompasses all the
characteristics of modern American drama at that time. On the other
hand, some view his work as mundane and dislike its colloquial tones.

'Death of a Salesman' represents the hardship and diversity that
people experience as a result of trying to pursue a dream created by a
society that does not accommodate the downfalls of man. I view the
'American Dream' as more of an expectation; a destiny that attaches
itself onto naïve, ambitious adolescents. It is a viable yet
unrealistic way of life that Americans and people around the world try
to aspire to. To be successful, rich and popular are just some of the
criteria that need to be achieved in order to have attained the
standard of living that the 'American Dream' promotes. The 'American
Dream' is gained through drudgery, honesty and parsimony.

People become rapt in other people's success in life, such as
footballers and pop stars and that is when the barrier that separates
fantasy from reality is weakened and fantasy's never ending juices

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spill over until both worlds amalgamate and a false sense of living is
created; life becomes an illusion and no real intellectual capacity of
life and its challenges is gained. It only leads to disillusionment,
susceptibility and volatility, financially and mentally. This is due
to society's ruthlessness, ambitiousness and coercion; people become
dissatisfied and begin to want more and will do anything to satisfy
their thirst and this is how people like Willy Loman are greatly
affected; they are wiped out and become exhausted due to their
inadequacies. Due to other people's successes we feel that we must
provide more for our family and that we as human beings must improve
our performance and input to life; we feel scrutinised, pressured and
burdened and that we must outperform others and their expectations.

Willy Loman's life is influenced immensely by the 'American Dream' and
he exhausts himself trying to overcome life's obstacles and
inequities; as a result of his fortitude his family suffer in his
opacity and chosen ignorance. He lacks identity as he is incomplete
and feels he has no real sense of belonging; what has he gained from
his life?

Willy Loman's goal was to be successful, popular and rich and for him
and his wife Linda to raise two independent, talented sons that would
follow in his successes; his goal was to achieve the 'American dream'.
We find ourselves asking 'what happened to this family to make them so
unsuccessful and wasted' and eventually we see that Willy becomes so
absorbed by this dream that he succumbs to the pressures of this
worldwide pre-conception of life; his efforts are futile and he
becomes a fruitless human being, another victim.

Arthur Miller has used many motifs to show how Willy Loman has become
influenced by the 'American Dream'. The first is the reference to the
jungle and diamonds. His brother Ben says,

'You must go into the jungle and fetch out a diamond.'

The jungle symbolises life and the diamond symbolises success and
wealth. This shows that Willy's subconscious is telling him that if he
does succeed soon then his life will be a failure; he will have gained
nothing. This means that even though his age has progressed and he has
gained nothing he chooses to disregard the fact that his life has been
a letdown; he still has faith in the 'American Dream'. It has
influenced his life so much that he is still not willing to accept the
outcome of his life. Uncle Ben represents his regret that he did not
take the opportunity to become partners in the diamond business.

He becomes infatuated with the dream and forces it onto his family. He
tries to force his ideals and what he thinks is important in life onto
his sons, Biff and Happy. However they are equally discontented with
their lives as Willy is with his except they do not share his
aspirations and goal to achieve the 'American Dream'. They are still
trying to find their identity and their sense of belonging at the age
of thirty-four and thirty-two but they know that they are not destined
for great things; Willy has not accepted this and that is one of the
reasons that he and Biff do not get along.

In the play Willy is always discussing the idea of planting a garden
and on page 17 he says,

'The grass don't grow any more, you can't raise a carrot in the back
yard.'

I believe the backyard symbolises his life and the fact that a carrot
cannot be raised shows that he is ineffective; he is unable to provide
for his family. At the end of the play he plants seeds in the back
yard and this shows that Willy wants to leave something for people to
remember him by; he wants to be remembered as a well-liked sales man.
It is also symbolises his last attempt to nurture his sons and for
them to be successful. The seeds never grow and this shows that he is
inept; he has failed life and life has failed him because he has
failed to achieve his expectations. The back yard is also where the
Loman problems began.

Willy's last name, Loman (Lo-man = low status), suggests his fate and
that he is not destined to be successful and this trait has been
inherited by his two sons.

Through out the play Willy contradicts himself often in his words and
actions. The first is Linda and Willy's decision to name their second
son Happy. This contradicts their situation and life; no family member
is happy and morale is low and any happiness is a false attempt to
increase Willy's hope and self-esteem. Willy's inability to
acknowledge the truth means that he and his family cannot move on past
this fallacious hope that Willy holds and until he accepts his failure
and his sons' failure there will be no chance of ameliorating their
bad situation.

Another contradiction is on page 20when Willy says,

'I go right through.'

Then as the play progresses Linda makes the following statement at his
funeral,

'Why didn't anyone come?'

The first quote shows that Willy believes that he is able to jump
queues and that he is able to walk straight through anywhere due to
his popularity and status. However, this is contradicted at his
funeral when on his family, Charley and Bernard arrive. The second
quote suggests that he is unpopular and that he has no genuine
friends. He was not remembered and made no mark on other people's
lives; he died a forgotten person only being remembered by his family.
Linda says that not many sons idolise their father like Biff and Happy
do to Willy but Biff holds no respect for his father because of the
affair that he had with another saleswomen. His sons do not venerate
him as he has not given them reason to do so. The family name Loman
contradicts the 'American Dream'.

Charley and Bernard contradict the Loman family because the Loman's
have aspired to nothing and have accomplished little, where as Charley
owns his own firm and Bernard is a successful lawyer and they have
made a lot of money. On page 28 Willy says that he' was sellin'
thousands and thousands' but on page 72 he says that he is strapped
for money. Willy is constantly contradicting himself and is unable to
distinguish between reality and fantasy/illusion. He is unable to
realise that the capacity and potential of his sons is almost
non-existent, as are his. Willy is frequently lapsing into flashbacks
and it is often hard for the audience to determine reality from
illusion as it is for Willy. He relives the past in an attempt to
mollify the pain of the present; the past held more promise because
that was when Biff was popular and was a triumphant football player.
Biff then failed math and did not graduate; he was able to retake the
exam but chose not to when he discovered that Willy had had an affair
despite him constantly saying that Linda was the best there was.

His family and others around him are aware of his failure and this is
evident in the following quote, page 38,

'Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the
paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human
being…'

Deep down Willy knows this and this is apparent in the quote below,
page73,

'Funny y'know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the
appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.'

This shows that after all his years of hard work and will to thrive;
his life appears to amount to nothing. He has attempted to commit
suicide many times but has been unsuccessful and this shows that he is
not even competent in ending his own life. He decides that the only
way for Biff to succeed is if he ends his life and Biff receives the
insurance money. He is willing to end his own life in order for his
son to achieve the 'American Dream'; a dream that has always remained
illusive.

Willy was not a likeable person and had no friends. He was
unsuccessful, was not wealthy and owned little, he did not have an
extravagant lifestyle. He died a an incomplete human being that
aspired to nothing and this is exuded at his funeral; there is a very
poignant, sombre mood lingering and it is ironic that on the day he
committed suicide Linda made the last payment on their house; the
house would have been his, his only material possession.

The 'American Dream' influenced his life overwhelmingly and he was
willing to take his own life so that his son could achieve what he was
incapable of. It made him lose sight of what was really important and
he lost sight of a human beings intrinsic worth, irrespective of
wealth and success. It overran his life and his family's life and made
everyone around him discontented yet he still remained sanguine that
he and his son would achieve the 'American Dream'.
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