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The first component of the American dream, in Willy’s eyes is a successful career. Always the dreamer, he attempts to make his mark as a salesman because “selling [is] the greatest career a man [can] want” (1492; Act 2). But when he falls short of his goals, he blames the superficiality of the business world, as evidenced in his thoughts about Bernard:
Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the
business world, y’understand, you’re going to be five times ahead of him. That’s
why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like adonises. Because a man who
makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest,
is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. (1469; Act1)
Willy has ingrained his distorted views in his sons, Biff and Happy, condemning them to failure as well. Happy complains, " I mean I can outbox, outrun, and outlift anybody in that store, and I have to take orders from those common, pretty sons-of-bitches till I can't stand it anymore" (1464; Act 1). Happy thinks that just because he is stronger than those who give him orders, he should be the one to give the orders. His father taught him that that was the way to success, and it is obviously failing for Happy.
A second aspect of Willy’s American dream is material possessions. The Loman's do not have nice things, and Willy believes that what he possesses says he is not a success. He is very aware that he has not achieved this part of his dream, and he is envious of those who have. He tells Linda, "Charley bought a General Electric [refrigerator] and it's twenty years old and it's still good, that son-of-a-bitch" (1488; Act 2). Willy Loman also believes his children would love him more if could give them more.
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The final aspect of the American dream is family. Although he has a family, they fail to meet Willy’s high standards. He is constantly seeking approval for the way he is raising his boys, but he confesses to his brother Ben, "sometimes I'm afraid that I'm not teaching them the right kind of - Ben, how should I teach them?" (1478; Act1). He has a hard time admitting his failure as a father. When he is speaking to Linda about Biff stealing the football and failing his test, he says, "I never in my life told him anything but decent things" (1472; Act1). Willy's values have directly affected his children, especially Happy. Happy has grown up to treat women in the same way his father did even though he knows nothing of his father's affair. The day Willy was fired his boss suggested he turn to his children for financial support. Willy refused, not because they were both going through big things at the time like he tells Howard, but because he knows they are not financially capable. In his eyes, they are as big of failures as he is.
In the end, Willy decides that his whole life has been a failure, so he decides to become successful in death. He commits suicide, so that his family can collect his life insurance money. But even in death he falls short of his goal. Willy never paid the premium on the policy. The irony is that even had the policy been paid up, Willy still would have failed. Throughout his life, he never learned that true success is measured in who we become rather than what we obtain. Had he learned how to love and respect himself and his family, he could have achieved the happiness he never found. His motives were good, but "[h]e had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong" (1521; Requiem).
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th
ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall,