Death of A Salesman: Shifting of the American Dream Richard Salgado

From its really infancy, the American continent was frequently corresponded with limitless chance. In A Description of New England John Smith identified the early nests of 1616 as a land of economic potential, declaring that “If a male work but three days in seven, he might get more than he can spend. (51 )” In America, it was possible for a male from even the most modest of origins to rise to fantastic wealth through diligence and the sweat of his eyebrow, unrestrained by any social hierarchy or intellectual certifications. As the nation grew, nevertheless, the composition of the American Dream started to move appropriately. By 1949, when Death of a Salesperson debuted, the United States had sustained the Civil War, two World Wars, the prosperity of the roaring twenties and taking place collapse of the Great Depression, and was again in the midst of a financial boom. The economic and social modification transformed forever the extremely definition of the American Dream. As soon as a philosophical perfect, the idea had actually essentially come under the brand name ownership of corporate America. Instead of motivating guys to success, the American Dream instead was utilized as a marketing tool, advising a nation’s eager customers to take part of tract housing, new cars, and processed food. Bundled up and sold together with the dream was a pervasive conformity, defending against the hazard of financial instability which had actually afflicted previous years (Schwartz 111). Unexpectedly, the greatness assured by the dream was the success of middle class suburbia embodied in the stretching acreage of Levittown, the perfect of unlimited wealth gained through effort having been slowly relegated to the quickly vanishing frontiers. As the meaning of the dream altered, nevertheless, it left as casualties in its passing the lifeless bodies of those unable to adapt with it– individuals who bought completely into one dream just to see that dream vaporize and be changed by a brand-new dream they perceived as the intangible compromise of those scared to aspire for something more. Among those bodies spread along the deserted highway of the American Dream was that of Willy Loman.

In many methods, Willy represented the last of the agrarian frontiersman, pushed into the uncomfortable fit of a corporate world. For Willy, success was something you obtained by how difficult you worked and how well liked you were. This doctrine of how to attain success consumed Willy’s life and sealed his fate. No matter what he accomplished, Willy was constantly required, by the dispute with his own goals, to view himself as a failure. For Willy success implied achieving the abrupt wealth of the frontier. That frontier, nevertheless, was gone. Subsequently, all Willy could do was suffer, comparing himself with an ideal which never really was obtainable for him and, in his subsiding years, frantically trying to live the same unattainable dream vicariously through his boys in whom he ‘d instilled the same antiquated idealism which afflicted him. In Biff and Pleased’s failure to live their daddy’s dream, however, they too were viewed as failures. The only real success portrayed in Death of a Salesman is represented by 3 characters, one representing the extinct agrarian meaning of the American Dream, another the acceptance of the corporate perfect which changed it, and lastly, one representing the intellectual prospective efficient in going beyond that business ideal and its accompanying conformity– therefore affirming that together with its vast capability for failure, America still holds the capacity for accomplishing success. It is through the analysis of Arthur Miller’s treatment of the characters of Ben, Charley, and Bernard that the improvement of the American Dream can be adequately assessed.

Ben is the only member of the Loman family to ever accomplish any actual success. As a result, and despite being rather of an enigma, he is practically mythologized in the mind of Willy. Few information are called to what genuine success he ever achieved however for Willy it is what Ben represents that is essential. The really personification of the American Dream for the Loman family, Ben went off to make his fortune early in life and did exactly that. Not incidentally, however, he accomplished that American Dream not in America however rather, in Africa. Suggesting that perhaps Willy’s principle of success in America had actually currently been supplanted by the business perfect, Ben attained his fortune not in the neighboring fields and byways of Willy’s world however rather, thousands of miles from the culture that imprisoned Willy. Nevertheless, the memory of Ben serves to provide Willy with a blueprint, albeit an unclear one at best, of what it requires to attain amazing success. Ben was a guy’s guy– rugged and optimistic. Even his description of his own success is disrobed to its barest basics, summed up by stating, “When I was seventeen I strolled into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I left. And by God I was rich.”( Exactly what Ben did in the jungle is a secret. The only certainties relative to him are his function as the symptom of all that Willy desires and, as such, his validation of Willy’s unattainable dreams. Had Willy gone with Ben to Alaska, when afforded the opportunity, would he too have achieved amazing wealth? The answer is unknown however in Willy’s mind, there is little doubt. Also of note is that Ben is the only character in the entire play that describes Willy as William, perhaps suggesting a higher level of regard afforded to a successful guy. Willy is the common man, relegated to the boundaries of financial weak point, whereas William was in many ways the potential for success that went unfulfilled2E It’s a big part of Willy’s dream to obtain the respect and admiration of his peers, to be revered; yet he is eventually only a pathetic remnant of his failed dreams, not able to rise above the juvenile name of Willy.

Just as Ben represents the American Imagine Willy’s consciousness, Charley represents the realization of the dream as formulated in the boardrooms of business America. Willy’s foil, Charley lives his life without lofty aspirations. All he desires is a happy, steady life free of financial obligation and that is precisely what he obtains. Though by no indicates a rich guy, Charley is nevertheless several rungs up the financial ladder from the bottom action Willy occupies. For Charley, there is no equivalent to Ben, no dreams of achieving wealth in the frontier of the past, no archetype to be compared to. Instead, Charley is a ready participant in the corporate culture and the rural life it involves. Unlike Willy, Charley is content with his Chevrolet, his whipped cheese, and all the other trappings that lead Willy to view himself as a failure. Most notably, Charley recognizes the moving taking place, understanding that being well liked and athletic is no longer enough to accomplish success in the contemporary America. Instead of encouraging his boy to be a male’s guy– like Willy does– Charley sees the importance of education. In the reformulated America, a male is able to set himself apart not by the strength of his muscles or appeal of his smile but rather, by the capacity of his mind and breadth of understanding. Late in the play, when Willy declines Charley’s deals of aid and employment, the sharp philosophical distinctions of the 2 characters are underscored. Willy can not accept the assistance, not as a by-product of his deteriorating peace of mind however rather, on principle. Approval would be tantamount to acknowledging Charley’s unambitious approach to be the appropriate one, best matched for the period the two males inhabit, which is an admission Willy’s pride would never enable him to make.

Having actually stopped working to achieve his own dreams, Willy relies on Biff and Delighted in the desperate hope that they can attain that which he could not. Unfortunately, Willy was so adamant in his beliefs that he indoctrinated his boys in the same idealistic, agrarian attitudes that condemned him. Consequently, Willy can not attain success even vicariously, the harmful idealism self-perpetuating throughout generations. In contrast, Charley’s boy Bernard– long the subject of Willy and Biff’s ridicule– represents the intellectual qualities required by the brand-new America to attain success. Regardless of being physically weak and not “well liked,” Bernard, through the relentless application of his intelligence, ends up being a noteworthy attorney who, the extremely day Biff and Willy are forced to challenge the fraud of their lives, embarks for Washington to plead a case prior to the Supreme Court. The single most significant accomplishment of the entire play, Bernard’s great success serves to show that America does indeed still hold the potential of obtaining greatness. However, that greatness is based upon noticeably different terms than the success that preceded it in the record of American history.

Ultimately, the America that serves as the canvas for Death of a Salesman is a greatly different America from the land of boundless opportunity explained by John Smith. Though the prospect of achievement still exists, the previous definition of the American Dream– personified by rustic settlers and bold frontiersmen– was supplanted by the corporate dream of millions of Americans eating the exact same food, driving the same cars and trucks, and living in the exact same, similar system homes. That brand-new definition of the American Dream is a conformist one; interspersed just occasional by a little minority who through superior intelligence have the ability to go beyond the mediocrity for which most happily strive. It is when the American Imagine the past collides violently with the American Imagine post-WWII America that disaster takes place. In the words of Arthur Miller in his essay On Biff and Willy Loman, “It is the catastrophe of a man who did think that he alone was not fulfilling the qualifications put down for mankind by those clean-shaven frontiersmen who populate the peaks of broadcasting and advertising offices … he heard the thundering command to succeed as it ricocheted down the newspaper-lined canyons of his city, heard not a human voice, but a wind of a voice to which no human can respond in kind, other than to gaze into the mirror at a failure. (Miller 1892)”


Miller, Arthur. “On Biff and Willy Loman.” The Bedford Intro to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins 2002. 1892.

Schwartz, Frederic D. “Levittown.” American Heritage 6 (1997 ): 111-113.

Smith, John. “A Description of New England.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York City: W.W. Norton & & Company 1999. 51.

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