Compare how Plath and Miller explore the concept of the American Dream in The Bell Jar and Death of a Salesman

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Compare how Plath and Miller explore the concept of the American Dream in The Bell Jar and Death of a Salesman

The idea of dreams is integral to the main protagonists throughout ‘The Bell Jar’ and ‘Death of a Salesman’. These ideas stem from the concept known as the American Dream, which is the belief that with enough work anyone can be what they want to be. The American Dream can often be related to the term ‘Manifest Destiny’, which is the belief in America’s ‘mission’ in the world and can often be related to expanding their control over land. There are different types of American Dreams in the texts. These include Material, academic, 19th Century (outdoors), 20th Century (business) and Happiness, which the authors use to give us an inside look into the characters.

The concept of the American Dream is presented in Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ in a similar way to Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, when Plath states, “look at what can happen in this country” suggesting that the American Dream is a predominant thought in the American minds. In contrast to Miller’s main character, Willy, that foolishly follows the American Dream, the main character of ‘The Bell Jar’, Esther, does not believe this to be true and fights against the current of mainstream ideas and belief that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. This is represented in the character, Doreen who is successful for just being beautiful, showing the shallowness of society.
The American Dream is shown in Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ through characters such as Ben. Ben is the exemplary man with the American Dream; Miller writes that he “walked out into the jungle” and that when he came out he was “rich”. This belief that the American Dream can happen to anybody eventually drives his brother Willy to the ‘tragic heroism’ of his suicide. This is a very depressing view and one that a lot of people can relate to, that the concept of the American Dream has a base of lies, deceit and luck such as Ben who “ended up in Africa” which then later made him “rich”.

Although they both have differing attitudes toward the American Dream they both seek to achieve their own goals in a different manner. Willy is much more of a protagonist; he talks about being successful and how he will take action in the “morning”. On the other hand Esther is more pro-active in the pursuit of her dream as she is very academically successful and has “never answered one test question wrong”. Both of these approaches to seeking their dreams give us an insight into how the characters should have followed their dream and where their mistakes were, such as with Willy who often reminisces that he should have gone with Ben to the mines. Willy is so disillusioned that he will do anything in order to help Biff and Happy to achieve their dreams, which is the main factor in Willy’s suicide. We also get a sense of selfishness from this act of disillusionment as Willy seems to use his sons as an excuse for him to commit this act he has been clinging onto the American Dream so tightly that it became a veil over his eyes that left him blind to see “he has the wrong dreams”.

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Plath often uses the happiness dream in conjunction with the academic and material dreams to contrast with each other and to explore what the American Dream is and how to achieve it. We see this when Esther “fed” her clothes into the “night wind” which is Plath showing the reader that in order for Esther to achieve her happiness dream she does not need material objects. Plath uses techniques such as interior monologues to give us the deep feeling of failure residing in Esther and this gives us the impression that we should follow our own dream, instead of ...

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