Comparing the Destructive American Dream in Miller's Death of a Salesman and Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun
America is a land of dreamers. From the time of the Spanish conquistadors
coming in search of gold and everlasting youth, there has been a mystique about the land to which Amerigo Vespucci gave his name. To the Puritans who settled its northeast, it was to be the site of their “city upon a hill” (Winthrop 2). They gave their home the name New England, to signify their hope for a new beginning. Generations of immigrants followed, each a dreamer bringing his own hopes and aspirations to the green shores. The quest was given a name – the American Dream; and through the ages, it has been as much a symbol of America as the lady in the harbor, a promise of America’s riches for all who dare to dream and strive to fulfill their ambitions. Dreamers apotheosized fellow dreamers like Rockefeller and Carnegie, holding them to be the paradigm from which all could follow. But behind the meretricious dream lies the cold reality. A country built upon survival of the fittest has no sympathy for those who serve as the steppingstones for others’ success. For every person who reaches the zenith, there are countless others trapped in the valleys of despair by their heedless dash to reach the top. Playwrights Arthur Miller and Lorraine Hansberry memorialize the failures in their works Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun. Their central dreamers, Miller’s Willy Loman and Hansberry’s Walter Lee Younger, like children at a candy shop window, are seduced by that success which can be seen so clearly, yet is so unreachable. Ardent followers of the hype of America, they reveal that, far from being a positive motivator, the American dream and the capitalistic values it embodies are destructive forces, devastating not only the dreamers, but also those close to the dreamers and obliquely, the society in general. Each feels inadequate as the leftovers of the dream, each struggles upstream towards his unattainable prize, and finally, each is unequivocally made to realize that the inherently destructive American dream has almost destroyed the only true valuable that they possess – dignity and family.
For Willy Loman, the salesman, the American Dream is more than a passing phrase. The salesman does not merely subscribe to the American dream; he is its personification. Indeed, only a capitalistic society obsessed with commercialism can spawn his profession, for the salesman does not produce anything; rather, his job, like gilded metal, often places a premium on appearance instead of value, a principle that Willy tries to embrace in both his professional and personal life, as reflected in his choice of the refrigerator that is perpetually breaking down but has “the biggest ads of any of them!” (Miller 35). That inability to distinguish between his sales pitches and personal life leads to the point later when he is no longer able to separate his...