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Failure of the American Dream in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Failure of the American Dream in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a story about the dark side of the “American Dream”. Willy Loman’s obsession with the dream directly causes his failure in life, which, in turn, leads to his eventual suicide. The pursuit of the dream also destroys the lives of Willy’s family, as well. Through the Lomans, Arthur Miller attempts to create a typical American family of the time, and, in doing so, the reader can relate to the crises that the family is faced with and realize that everyone has problems.

Willy Loman equates success as a human being with success in the business world. When Willy was a young man, he heard of a salesman who could “pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, make his living.” (81) This salesman is Willy’s inspiration; someday to be so respected and so well known that he can still provide for his family, even at an old age. Of course, Willy is no good at being a salesman because his heart isn’t in it. The only time Willy puts his heart into anything is when he works with his hands, and his son, Biff, comes to realize this. “There’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made.” (138) Willy never comes to the realization that it is not being a salesman that he cares about, but rather being well known and, perhaps more importan…

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…or, Dave Singleman, who died the death of a salesman and had the respect of hundreds, Willy Loman died the death of a dime a dozen, bottom of the bucket salesmen.

Miller uses the misapplication and failure of the “American Dream” to captivate the audience and make them feel sorrow for both Willy and Biff Loman. It is heart breaking to see this sixty-year-old man finally come to the realization that he is really not who he thought he was. In addition to that, the fact is pointed out by his own son, who turns out to be wiser than him. Unlike Willy, Biff finds out who he is, and that the American Dream is not for everyone.

Work Cited:

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.

Willy Loman’s Lack of Morality in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman’s Lack of Morality in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, a major theme and source of conflict is the Loman family’s lack of morality. This is particularly evident in the father, Willy Loman. Willy has created a world of questionable morality for himself and his family. In this world, he and his sons are men of greatness that “have what it takes” to make it in the competitive world of business. In reality, Willy’s son Biff is a drifter and a thief, his son Hap is continually seducing women with lies, while Willy does not treat his wife with respect and lies to everyone.

Throughout the play, Willy seems unable to distinguish between right and wrong. He continually sends mixed moral signals to his sons. We first discover this when Willy finds Biff practicing football with a new ball. When he finds out that Biff “borrowed” it from the locker room, Willy tells Biff to return the stolen ball but tends to condone his action. Firstly, Willy feels that Biff needs the ball to practice. Secondly, the theft shows independence and daring. Finally, Biff can get away with it because the coach has a high opinion of him. Willy comments that the coach may even appreciate Biff’s initiative, all the while telling him that stealing will get him nowhere.

Willy’s dubious moral code is also exposed when the neighbor, Bernard, states that Biff will fail mathematics and lose his chance to graduate if he does not study. Willy is undisturbed by the news that Biff has not been studying. Willy seems to believe that the school would not dare fail anyone whose athletic achievements had led to offers of scholarships to three universities. Perhaps Willy believes…

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…roic act that would allow Biff to achieve the greatness that had always exceeded Willy’s grasp. In fact, it was an immoral act of a coward – just another sacrifice on the altar of the American dream.

Works Cited

Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.

Costello, Donald P. “Arthur Miller’s Circles of Responsibility: A View From a Bridge and Beyond.” Modern Drama. 36 (1993): 443-453.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro. Arthur Miller Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1969.

Martin, Robert A., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Miller, Arthur. The Archbishop’s Ceiling/The American Clock. New York: Grove Press, 1989.

—. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.

—. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.

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