The ‘American Dream’ is the assertion that any individual can become fabulously wealthy and that fabulous wealth, in turn, produces great happiness. The idea of the “American Dream” started when the a flock of immigrants desired to live and stay in America for the commotion that it is in America where they can find better opportunities of work thus will enable them to earn more money. The term has now been used to refer for an individual’s deep desire to drastically change lifestyle by getting more money. Needless to say money has been the source and cause for everything.
This is what happened to the story of “Death of a Salesman”. A father has been so keen in becoming wealthy because he thought that money will make him extremely happy. “Death of a Salesman” talks about the dream of a father – Willy. A dream that he has had since he and his brother were left by their father when they were just kids. Willy has been having the so-called the “American Dream”, wherein he believes that he will have a better life sooner than expected. Better life for him would mean being socially accepted, owning properties, and sort of being looked-up to by his fellow men.
This research paper is aimed at analyzing the personality of the people in the story “Death of a Salesman” who have not pursued the American Dream as compared to the personality of those who were able to achieve it. In doing so, an analysis of the whole story first is done in order to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the whole story.
It is hypothesized that the “American Dream” can be achieved if the person has the right attitude and the right perspective for it. The major characters in the story don’t have the right characteristics to achieve the “American dream,” hence their failure. However, the may have failed in their quest, they have learned the best lessons in life one has to get.
“Death of a Salesman” – Analysis
“The 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”… – Willy Loman, Act 1 (Miller, 1998)
“The American Dream” is the highlight of this story. There is a wrong connotation among some people that to be “well-liked” and to wear the most fashionable items are sign of achieving the all American dream. This is the very reason why many who have aspired to become rich and/or powerful would opt to use the “short-cuts”. By going to the “short-cut” would mean getting the sympathy and/or love of other people so that they will all give anything you want.
However it can be learned from the story that the most meaningful way to achieving the American dream” is by climbing the ladder. One has to work hard for it. One has to do his share by working hard, earning a living, and having the right attitude towards different circumstances. Needless to say, those people who ware not willing to work hard will expectedly fail to reach their dreams.
The story took place on 1940’s where the idea of colonialism and Americanization was so prominent. However, the setting can still reflect today’s modern time. The idea of an American dream then and now is still the same. The people who have such kind of dreams still have their own means and ways of trying to achieve such dream.
The place where the story happened was mostly at Willy’s house, although there were instances were other places like New York and Boston were discussed. It should be noted that these places are significant in the whole concept of the story.
First, Willy’s house is where the whole family was brought up. It is where Willy’s American Dream started. It is where he had instilled to his son’s minds that they all had to fulfill the family’s American dream, no matter what happens.
Meanwhile, Boston and New York are also significant aspect of the story as these areas coincide with the overall theme. I believed that these state where among the most urbanized states in America. These areas represent where most known and rich people usually reside. These areas are where Willy and his family thought where they should be.
The People who did not Pursue the American Dream
Willy Loman: The Father, the Husband and the Great Dreamer
Willy Loman is the first person who was not able to pursue his American dream. He is the most insecure salesman portrayed in the story. He did not actually stop from wanting to pursue his American Dream, however, he opted to change tactics. He realized that he did not want to pursue his dream alone. He tagged his family – his own sons with his dream. His frequent reminders, scolding and and/or motivation to his own sons made it look like he wanted to reach and achieve his dreams through his kids.
He kept on telling his wife and his kids that they are bound to richness if they set their mind for it. He never failed to be amazed with the way the rich people wear their clothing and buy the most expensive items. He was always fascinated by the idea of being able to live in luxury, being one of the most sought-after people in the area not because he is extraordinary, but because he can afford to be one. He strongly believed that he will never be happy unless he pursued his American Dream.
That’s where the conflict among the characters – Willy versus Happy and Biff – started. Willy would not welcome any idea that will dampen his quest for his American Dream. While he felt very proud to one of his son for making his efforts in acting like a rich American, he felt so betrayed upon knowing that one of his sons was not actually pursuing the family’s dream.
Willy is the epitome of a man who is so determined but lacked in action. It seemed that his passion to achieve his dream is all in the mind, because his heart and body didn’t do anything to actually reach that dream. He was not even exerting any effort.
“And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?” (Miller, 1998)
The above-quoted statement came from Willy. He was referring to somebody (Howard) who served as his inspiration. It is very apparent in this statement that his idea of happiness and fulfillment is by being able to go around various cities and “be loved and helped by so many people.” He wanted to be liked because he wanted to be helped. He was thinking that he need not work very hard to be happy because there will lots of people who will be helping him and supporting him. That’s his idea. He failed to see the truth that behind Howard’s personality is the fact that even in his age of 84, he still had to be around the city, to actually “ask” for help.
Happy: The Son who Followed Willy’s Footsteps
Happy, on the other hand, has the exact opposite personality of his name. He was just not happy; he was frustrated and was full of pretensions. He shared his father’s American Dream but unlike his father, he was not so vocal about it. He just worked behind his father’s back and pretended that he was really into something productive. He had even pretended that he is working as an assistant buyer, when in fact, he was just an assistant of the assistant buyer. Unlike his father, Happy would not admit that he had not yet achieved anything.
Biff: The Realistic Son
Biff didn’t share his father’s nor his brother’s American Dream. He did not believe that such dream is achievable. He did not believe that one should have such kind of dream to aim higher. But unlike the two, Biff seemed to be achieving more. Biff had been trying to seek for the truth and he was indeed able to find it.
“I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” (Miller, 1998)
This was a statement of Biff as he was talking to his father. This was his way of letting his father know that he is different from him. That he has different dreams. The statement was his way of blatantly telling his father that he is not betraying his father or he just want to fail his father’s dream. What he was just trying to say is the fact that in his own way, he can do something good of his life and that he can lead a better life that what his father had.
Linda: The wife and the mother
Linda Loman is Willy’s dependable wife. At some instances, she seemed to be sharing her husband’s American Dream. She had high hopes for her family through her husband’s dreams. However, there were also instances where she acted lie she was the more realistic persona. She would be reminding herself and sometimes her husband that there are more and better things to do than to keep on dreaming.
“A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.” Linda, referring to her husband Willy Loman, Act 1 (Miller, 1998)
Also, she would be explaining to her husband that they could have other and better alternatives to be happy instead of pursuing the American dream. Because of these attitudes, Linda has become the most nurturing wife and mother in the story. She has provided the needed guidance for their kids while also providing the needed motivation to her husband.
The People Achieved the American Dream
Charley: the Successful American Dreamer
Charley is the first character in the story that seemed able to achieve his American Dream. He is a businessman. He treats Willy as his friend and would sometimes lend some money to Willy. Willy was so jealous of Charley’s success Charley was his only friend. Charley was able to achieve his dream not only because he is full of courage, determination and self-worth but also because he is industrious. He is focused and knows what he wants and how to get it. He realized even at his early age that of he would want to have a comfortable life, he should strive hard, and that is exactly what he did. He started his own business. He knew that he will not prosper if he was to stay as a paid laborer. He wanted to be his own boss, managing his own time and earning in his own business. Through self sacrifices and willpower, he became successful.
On Willy’s death, he did not blame Willy for having such “illusions”, instead he referred to Willy as a victim of a wrong dream and a misconception.
“He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine … A salesman is got to dream, boy.” (Miller, 1998)
Bernard: The Exact opposite of Happy
Bernard is Charley’s son. He is now a successful lawyer. He is able to become one through perseverance. He studied really hard and did not stop schooling. Unlike Willy’s sons, Bernard is always sure of what he wanted to become. He did not waver in working all his might just to achieve his dream. Aside from this personal attributes, Bernard also receives positive motivation from both his parents. His father is very supportive of his needs – financially, physically and emotionally. He did not receive any force from his father nor from his mother regarding his future and his life.
Ben: Willy’s Inspiration
Ben is Willy’s brother who died for an undisclosed reason. He was wealthy man and he was always in Willy’s dreams. Ben served as Willy’s symbol of success. Willy would always remind himself that he could be as wealthy as his brother was (Ben).
Howard Wagner is Willy’s supervisor. Howard is also a rich man as he was one of the receivers of the inheritance from his father. Suffice it to say, Howard will never be a rich man if not for his father. But what is good about Howard is the fact that he worked really hard to keep the money he had inherited. He did not want to put the money into waste. He chose to become wise enough into using the money in his business. That was why he was not happy upon seeing that Willy is not working really well for the company. He had to fire Willy for obvious reason that he was not even gaining anything from the salary he has been giving Willy.
The American Dream is a good starting point for a more meaningful and productive life or career. It is a symbol of success and of comfort. If one is to set high standards for himself, he must work hard to achieve it. Willy and his family have the American dream but unfortunately they are not able to achieve it. They lack the right attitude and the willpower to achieve it. They were not exerting any effort to achieve it. For them, they just want instant money to have instant success and wealth. They failed to realize that wealth and happiness should be earned. Ike what happened to the other characters in the story who are lucky enough to achieve the American Dream. They maintain the right attitude. They have the right key to the door of success and that is being industrious, having positive thinking and point of views coupled with the right attitude towards the people around them.
“Death of a Salesman” 2006. <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/salesman/summary.html>
Miller, Arthur. 1998. Death of a Salesman. ISBN: 0140481346