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The American Nightmare: Is Death of a Salesman a stanch critique of the American, capitalist dream?

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The American Nightmare: Is Death of a Salesman a stanch critique of the American, capitalist dream? In some ways, Death of a Salesman is a harsh critique of the American Dream, however, in other ways, it seems to be promoting the idea. In the past, before the play was set, the American Dream used to be a promise of a land of freedom with equality and opportunities for everyone, however by 1900, this rosy and pleasant idea had changed. The Dream featured throughout the play, set in the 1940s, is, in fact, a darker seeming dream of both financial and social success resulting from minimal effort. It claims that if you wealthy, you can buy anything you wish for: popularity, success or even love. However, as this play illustrates, it is fragile and can collapse easily. The main way in which Arthur Miller uses the play to put across the American Dream and its effects is through the way in which it governs the lives of the Loman family, especially Willy. Willy could in fact be considered to be obsessed with the Dream. For example, he is continually talking to Ben, the only member of the Loman family who ever had 'that special something' needed to achieve it. This 'special something' could perhaps be the fact that he is a ruthless manager who does not care about the feelings or opinions of others and only really cares about earning money. For example, he never actually cared about his family - just whether they were earning a lot of money. Instead of praising or encouraging Biff when he is successful in gaining sponsorship for three different universities, Ben merely makes him look stupid in front of his family. ...read more.


He cannot afford to provide his family with things such as Howard's wire recorder and he feels guilty both about this and about his affair. It would seem that the American Dream has clouded his vision, perhaps preying on his mind so regularly and persistently that it drives him towards insanity when he cannot comprehend that there is any option other than suicide. Alternatively, Willy's suicide may be a way of living the Dream - both for him and for Biff. After all (according to him) Biff would be much more successful with the money from Willy's life insurance behind him. Willy is also encouraged to commit suicide by Ben, one of the few people whom he could (in a way) talk to: WILLY: ...When the mail comes he'll be ahead of Bernard again! BEN: A perfect proposition all round. Another bad factor of the dream is that the false hopes it creates are potentially dangerous because they lead to depression. Willy's desperation to succeed caused by the Dream, leads him to make a fool out of himself by begging for his job back and talking to himself in public. He feels he had to talk to himself (or, as he sees it, to Ben) because he has nobody else to talk to about his failure in life. He cannot confide his feelings in Linda, as he did not want to concern her. Neither could he talk to Biff or Happy, as they both think that he is insane: HAPPY: Something's - happened to him. He - talks to himself. Willy had no other real friends, anyone else he could have spoken to about his problems were all successful enough to find Willy's situation funny, and perhaps look down on him forever, diminishing his much sought-after popularity. ...read more.


The audience recognises the fact that the Dream is destroying the Loman family. They can see the worse parts of Willy's dream the moment that the play begins - when Willy drags himself exhaustedly through the front door in the middle of the night mumbling about cheese. This first impression lingers throughout the play, somehow overriding the parts of the Dream that are actually good. The play uses many phases associated with the stereotypical American, such as 'Gee, Pop!', which help to portray and reflect the American Dream. The play would be somehow irrelevant if people speaking in, for example, strong Scottish accents performed it. The play does promote stereotyping. It is unlikely that everybody living in America at the time the play was set killed themselves over not fulfilling their own dreams, and those of their families. However, searching for the Dream and fulfilling it is very important to Willy. He feels he must provide for his family, be a good role model and husband, and perhaps to live up to the standards of his own role model - Ben. Also, he may be trying to rebel against his own poor up bringing. His Father leaves him as a child in order to persue wealth, Willy may feel strong pangs of dislike, possibly even hatred for his father. Therefore, he would want to do everything he can to be the complete opposite of his father, for example living in a city when he really loved the open space. To conclude, I believe that, although the American Dream does have some good points as well as the bad ones, there are more of the bad ones. After all, it was the Dream that caused an innocent man to lose his life. Therefore, I do not think that Death of a Salesman is a particularly hash critique of the American Dream. ...read more.

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