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What do you think Arthur Miller is trying to say about 'success' and the American Dream in Death of a Salesman? Is he using the story of Willy Loman to put across a message?

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What do you think Arthur Miller is trying to say about 'success' and the American Dream in Death of a Salesman? Is he using the story of Willy Loman to put across a message? Death of a salesman was published in 1949, a few years after the end of World War two. It focuses on the achievement and belief in the American Dream. During the 1940s, society was concerned with materialism and status but the 1950s was when the American Dream was at its height. America was founded by the pilgrims who were fleeing religious persecution. They wanted to create a nation where everyone was free and equal, and could be rewarded for their hard work. As America developed, these ideals continued and became known as the American dream. In other words, those who work hard will have great success and wealth. In America, anyone could achieve whatever they wanted, regardless of their class. However, in reality, the American Dream is not as straightforward as it sounds, as one could spend their life working hard and never amount to anything, but this depends on the choices made in life. Success can be interpreted in different ways. In the case of this play, money, occupation and social status measures the success or failure of an individual. For example, people believe a well paying career and having material possessions represents the epitome of being successful. ...read more.


However, Happy is not content. It is as though he is still missing something - perhaps a wife and children to complete the American Dream, which he believes in as a result of Willy installing this idea in his children from a young age. Happy can have all the women he wants, as he measures success on how many women he can sleep with, yet does not look for love from any of them. However, Happy suggests that he knows he needs a women as he constantly mentions that he is going to get married. Throughout the play, Biff does not know what to do in terms of his future. He is confused due to ideas put into his head by Willy. Since high school, Willy has always suggested that success and rewards come from natural potential rather than hard work and instils the lack of success in Biff by convincing him that good things will come from something inherent rather than something that needs hard work. Willy says that "'Bernard can get the best marks in school...but when he gets out into the business world...[Biff is] going to be five times ahead of him." This shows the corrupt values Willy feeds his sons with. Constant repetition of saying that Biff can get anywhere in life without having to work hard leaves Biff believing that he can do anything and go anywhere and it will be easy, sets Biff up for failure. ...read more.


There are parallels between Willy's funeral and Dave Singleman's - only Willy's family turn up, none of the buyers he talked about, nor his business associates whereas it was only Dave Singleman's business associates and buyers who came to pay their respects. The play can be classed as a socialist drama. Willy lives in a capitalist society which offers success as the ultimate virtue, yet undermines its inhabitants, therefore preventing them from achieving success. These values that are imposed on Willy by society, combined by his own inadequacies lead to his death. These inadequacies interfere with reality and end up replacing it. This characteristic is passed onto Happy which in turn cripples him. Happy wants Willy to love him as much as he loves Biff and so does everything he can to get his father's attention, including believing in the American Dream. I think that Miller is trying to say that you should follow your own dreams and not live someone else's. The concept of the American Dream is a good one, but in reality nothing is certain. A person, like Willy, can work so hard yet not reap the rewards they deserve, possibly due to choices they have made in life or because circumstances change. Willy believed that Biff's popularity was the key to his success. Success does not necessarily mean that you have a high powered job, a big house and a lavish lifestyle. Success is what you make it. 1 www.dictionary.com 2 www.dictionary.com ...read more.

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