Failure of the America Dream in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman examines Willy Lowman’s struggle to hold on to his American Dream that is quickly slipping from his grasp. As Americans, we are all partners in the “dream” and Willy’s failure causes each of us anxiety since most of us can readily identify with Willy.
Most Americans can readily identify with Willy. As children, our minds are filled with a “marketing orientation” as soon as we are able to be propped-up in front of the television. This orientation drives us to attempt to become the person that others desire us to be. In this society we all feel, more or less, that we must sell ourselves, must be responsive to the demands of others, and must make a good impression in order to be (as Willy might say) not just liked, but well liked.
Willy Loman represents a uniquely American figure: the traveling salesman. Every week, he takes a journey to stake his bid for success. Although not all Americans are salesmen, most of us share Willy’s dream of success. It would be difficult to miss 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 hedge their optimistic bets against certain future success. The husband would surely advance to higher and better paid positions over time, so why not buy these symbols today?
The rise of consumer capitalism produced an interesting cultural psychology. The promising American frontier became the world of business. Thousands of new niches opened in American culture, and the aspiring young man with talent and a dream could not help striking gold somewhere in the jungle of economic transactions. Willy, despite his inability to advance beyond his position as a common salesman, still believes he lives in "the greatest country in the world." His dream of success for himself and his sons has an aura of American Manifest Destiny. He believes that natural charisma, good looks, and confidence are the most important attributes needed for success. Biff's failure to move ahead despite his "personal attractiveness" bewilders him. Both his sons are built like Adonises; they are "well liked" and seem destined for easy success. Clearly, Miller...