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Mythical American Dream Challenged in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Mythical American Dream Challenged in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman challenges the American dream. Before the Depression, an optimistic America offered the alluring promise of success and riches. Willy Loman suffers from his disenchantment with the American dream, for it fails him and his son. In some ways, Willy and Biff seem trapped in a transitional period of American history. Willy, now sixty-three, carried out a large part of his career during the Depression and World War II. The promise of success that entranced him in the optimistic 1920’s was broken by the harsh economic realities of the 1930’s. The unprecedented prosperity of the 1950’s remained far in the future.

Willy Loman represents a uniquely American figure: the traveling salesman. Every week, he takes a journey to stake his bid for success. It would be difficult to miss the survival of the American frontier mentality in the figure of the traveling salesman. The idea of the American dream was heavily influenced by the rush for gold and land in the nineteenth-century American West. It is no coincidence that in the 1950’s, the decade most preoccupied with the mythical American dream, America experienced an unprecedented love affair with Westerns.

Willy and Linda try to build their own version of the American dream with their family. In high school, Biff was the all-American boy as the captain of the football team. True to the myth of the all-American boy, girls and admiring friends surrounded him. Willy and Linda’s lives are full of monthly payments on possessions that symbolize that dream: a car, a home, and household appliances. The proliferation of monthly payments allowed families with modest incomes to h…

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…une promised by the American dream. He cannot admit doubt or insecurity because a good salesman always remains confident, and the American dream promises success to the confident, eager individual. Death of a Salesman addresses Willy’s struggle to maintain his identity in the face of narrowing hopes that he or his sons will ever fulfill his dreams.

Works Cited

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

Corrigan, Robert W., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.

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.

The Cosmogonic Cycle in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The Cosmogonic Cycle in Heart of Darkness

The short novel Heart of Darkness tells a story just like any other heroic myth, except better. This novel rewards an educated reader. Many find the work to be extremely confusing, and actually quite dull. Though it is a complicated book, a reader is stimulated by the symbols and linguistics used by Conrad. The most noticeable is the flaw in the Cosmogony Cycle. This cycle is an integral part of every hero’s journey. An important step in the cycle, the second step in fact, is finding a guide, either spiritual or tangible. If one were to look hard enough in most works of canonical literature, he would find all the necessary components of the Cosmogonic Cycle on the protagonist’s journey, the travel into the underworld, confronting the father figure, meeting, and saving, a female prisoner, then the journey back into the conscious. A guide is there to lead the hero. He generally is a man or woman who has been on a similar journey and knows the pitfalls where the hero may fall. Without this figure in Marlow’s journey, he fell into the temptation of staying in the unconscious “evil” domain. Conrad never gave Marlow a guide, in essence, dooming him to fail his mission.

At the beginning of the protagonist’s journey it seemed as though the “two women . . . knitting black wool” (Conrad 13) in the trading center office were there to foreshadow the mortal death of Marlow. One may have drawn this conclusion because this is an obvious reference to the women who knitted while watching aristocrats executed by the guillotine during the French Revolution. I believe it meant something much more deep. A good writer, one of Conrad’s caliber, does not place superfluous scenes, words, or phrases in his or her book. He writes only what he needs to write. With that in mind, because Marlow did not die at the end of his journey, therefore the women then had to represent something else. They foreshadowed the death of Marlow’s soul. They knew he was without a spirit guide because they were aware the Trading Company had not offered him one. They also knew Kurtz hadn’t had a guide either.

There were multiple uses of the word soul in the final chapter, many of which talked of the inability for a man’s soul to escape the forest.

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