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The American Dream And Death Of A Salesman

987 words - 4 pages

The American Dream is one of the most sought-after things in the United States, even though it is rarely, if ever, achieved. According to historian Matthew Warshauer, the vision of the American Dream has changed dramatically over time. In his 2003 essay “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream”, Warshauer claims that the American Dream had gone from becoming wealthy by working hard and earning money, to getting rich quickly and easily. He attributes this change to television game shows, state lotteries, and compensation lawsuits. He also argues that most Americans are more concerned with easy money than hard-earned money, and that Americans care mostly about material goods such as consumer products, big houses, and nice cars. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman supports most aspects of the idea that Americans are now preoccupied with getting rich easily, except for the fact that some characters in the book actually work hard.
Matthew Warshauer claims that “the aftermath of World War II exacerbated the ethical shift as a consumer culture blossomed and Americans became preoccupied with material goods” (2). This is proven in Death of a Salesman, which takes place in the 1950s, right after World War II. The main character, Willy, and his wife buy expensive, brand-name products, despite not even being able to pay their bills. For example, Willy buys his sons a punching bag with Gene Tunney’s signature on it. Willy and his wife also bought a refrigerator with “the biggest ads of any of them” (Miller, 35), showing his obsession with shamelessly buying consumer goods. Also, Biff, who is Willy’s son, also has an obsession with consumer goods. However, his obsession is different from Willy’s obsession, because instead of buying items, Biff steals them. In the past, he has stolen a fountain pen, a carton of basketballs, and a football. This shows Willy’s and Biff’s obsession with material goods and consumer products, just as Warshauer claims.
In addition, in Warshauer’s essay, he observes that “rather than adhering to a traditional work ethic, far too many Americans are pinning their hopes on ‘easy money’”. The characters of Willy and his two sons, Happy and Biff, prove this. At the end of the play, Willy kills himself in a car crash in order to get insurance money for his family, hoping that Happy and Biff will use that money to start their own business. This shows that instead of continuing to work and make money, he kills himself to get some “easy money” for his family. Also, Happy and Biff plan on becoming successful businessmen, despite failing school. Biff dropped out of high school after failing math, and Happy works as an assistant to an assistant in a department store, where he makes very little money. Although Biff acknowledges his failure, Happy acts as if he had the greatest job ever. He seems to be blissfully unaware of the world around him, and seems to only be...

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