Criticism of the American Dream in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
In most instances, the society has a great influence on the wellbeing of an individual. The ideals and values that are perpetuated by the same often determine the behavior and ideals that are assumed by the individuals that belong to the same. The American dream that encourages pursuit of material success and the need to assume a lifestyle that is better than that of the parents is one social ideology that can be considered to have had significant impacts on the behavior of the Americans. The fact that it is deeply embedded in the social ideals makes it a desirable value to pursue. In his book The Death of a Salesman, Miller prompts the audience to re examine the American dream and the relative values, virtues and ideals. Most importantly, he presents to the audience the adverse effects of the dream as well as its inherent complexities. From his point of view, Miller ascertains that the American dream as just that, a dream and myth that can not be attained. Indeed, it can not be disputed that the American dream has had adverse effects on the lives of the Americans.
In his play, Miller presents Willy Loman who leads a miserable life because of the need to pursue the ideals of the American dream. The society plays a critical role in shaping the social ideals and expects its individuals to assume the same. Hence the lack of material wealth by Loman makes him a laughing stock of the society and as Irving notes, nothing that he says or does is pleases the society (Miller 252). He places great emphasis on attainment of this material wealth in order for him to be held in high regard by the society. However, his thoughts and pursuits are entirely psychological as opposed to practical. In other words, the protagonist lives in an imaginary world in which he believes to have attained the dream. In this consideration, it is certain that he derives his sense of satisfaction from attaining prominence that is solely defined by having material wealth.
According to Frank, Loman aligns his dreams and pursuits to the success presented by the American dream (Frank 176). The relative narcissistic thinking prevents him from appreciating the reality. He instead replaces this with his grandiose dreams that can not be attained because of lack of vital resources and self will. Thus he is compelled to his unattainable dreams that further trigger him to commit suicide. Another misconception that undermines the ability of Loman to live a healthy life is his emphasis on being liked.
In his review, Lois ascertained that he placed great emphasis on the importance of being liked and “believed that it played a critical role in the success of a given business in future” (Lois 273). In this consideration, it can be argued that Loman did not live his life objectively; rather he placed undue emphasis on pleasing other individuals. The worst part of this is that he passed on this misguided belief and encouraged his children by stating “…that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked” (Miller 79). This belief was perpetuated by the fact that the rich were always liked by a significant percentage of the population. As such, the protagonist was deceived in to believing that this is the same way through which the poor man gets rich.
In this respect, Lois believed that Loman’s undue attention on the need to enhance his personal image is aligned to the American dream (Lois 266). The American dream holds public approval in high regard and expects any individual who attains this to be approved by the public. Approval in this respect is defined by having wealth, living in a good house, attaining credible education and being able to pass on these attributes to one’s children. In addition, successful individuals in light of the American dream needed to be in active employment, whose rewards are sustainable.
The obsession to have material wealth prevents Loman from bringing up his children in a virtuous manner. Coupled with his world of imagination, he dismally fails to inculcate vital virtues in his children and provide the best example for growth and development. This is exemplified when Biff finds him with a woman in a hotel room. Notably, the pride that he had instilled in his son was drained through this incidence. Despite this, he continues to live in a world of imagination and even encourages his sons to steal so that they can attain material wealth. This significantly affects their growth and in future, they are unable to perform farm work in order to earn a decent living.
Notably, the individuals in the society who are considered to have attained the American dream are defined by having significant material wealth. Loman constantly compares himself with his brother Ben who has significant material wealth. Nevertheless, he eliminates any possibility of living with him in order to earn the relative wealth and prestige. This is due to the fact that this would require relocation from the city life and the characteristic ideals of the Americans dream. In particular, he would not have to pay rent, pay for refrigeration as well as his car (Frank 179). Seemingly, these ideals are common in the urban setting. At his point, it can be ascertained that attaining the ideal social conditions requires procedures that are in themselves contradictory.
In his critical review, Lois underscores the reasons that made Loman to cling to his dreams even when they were wrong and misleading (Lois 268). Loman believed that he was an ideal sales man and in future, he would make exorbitant profits. This was regardless of the fact that the present returns from this career were menial and further drove him in the world of desperation. Despite this reality, he did not give up on this self demeaning career but clung to the elusive vision of him attaining success in future. This blocked his creative ability and made it impossible for him to pursue other alternatives that would have been even more rewarding. In this regard, Lois argues that the American dream can be implicated for perpetuating this misleading attitude (Lois 269). Essentially, this concept believed that a child who would be able to follow in the footsteps of his parents would equally achieve economic prosperity. Notably, Loman lacked the power that stems from parental love and guidance. This influenced him to live in a world of fantasy that compromised his capacity to use his abilities effectively.
Loman’s pretence and imagination prevented him from dealing with the complexities that compounded his life. He has been cited to have had a deflated sense of ego that enabled him to perceive the life’s difficulties and challenges from an imaginary perspective. This tendency was further perpetuated by his wife who encouraged his defective way of thinking. For instance, when he complained of a negative response from his customers on the premise that he spoke so much, his wife encouraged him by saying that he is only lively. In this case, this prevented him from mending his ways with regard to marketing. Further, his wife can be considered to have contributed to his immorality because of her failure to provide the much needed emotional encouragement. This is manifested when he confides to the other woman that he does not have anybody to help him shoulder the challenges. In response, the other woman provided him with encouragement and assurance that seemingly made him feel better. In return, this had adverse effects on Biff who vowed not to continue with his education or pursue college.
The compulsive need to pursue the dream also has negative effects on the unity of Loman’s family as it divides the same along women interests. Loman himself is a victim of immorality when he sleeps with another woman in the hotel room. Thus instead of having the warmth and unity that is characteristic of a family, the dream makes the family in this regard to experience immense loss. Happy leaves home and gets his apartment so that he can be able to enjoy his women (Irving 244). Biff on the other hand decides to leave home because of the discoveries that could enable him to attain material wealth. In this respect, it is certain that the efforts employed in the pursuit of the dream compromises the unity of the family as opposed to unifying the same.
The events that force the family members to unite only seek to perpetuate the personal differences and compromise the ability of the same to work together. The fact that the members have differences with regard to material wealth and way of thinking undermines their ability to work together in pursuit of similar goals. It is in this consideration that Irving argues that the urge to provide a social home that offers warmth and acceptance by pursuing the ideals of the dream compromises the ideals of the family, that are basic to its existence (Irving 258). Since the family is the fundamental functional unit of the society, this implies that it is difficult to attain the American dream as the relevant values and virtues compromise the very wellbeing of the society.
Different authors of whom Lois is represented ascertain that the persistence that was exhibited by Loman when pursuing his dreams, regardless of their being faulty can be attributed to the ideals of the American dream. This encourages hard work to attain material wealth and live a better life than the life of the parents. However, it is worth acknowledging that Loman did not have role models from which he could derive his standards. As such, he assumed the ideals of the likes of Singleman who were successful and financially stable even in old age. In addition, the failure to assume an occupation that he had the ability to and persist in business, irrespective of the fact that he did not have the capacity to pursue it effectively can be attributed to the need to pursue the American dream.
The obsession to have material wealth is further extended to Lorman’s future and can be implicated for his committal of suicide. In this respect, it can be posited that his admiration of the funeral of the fellow sales man that was attended by persons from all folks contributed to his desire to die. Irving asserts that the suicide was contributed to by his need to flee from the glaring shame from the society and his desire to reestablish the integrity of his family as well as the his self confidence that has greatly been compromised by his lack of material wealth (Irving 255). The insurance money according to him could accord him the values and respect that Singleman and Ben enjoyed during his burial.
He believes that his ability to go top the dark would enable him to make different adventures and attain wealth in form of diamonds and have a grand funeral. He likens this to Singleman’s funeral and believes that it would surprise Biff. However, his death does not have any positive impact on the welfare of his family. Again, this is a clear indication that the urge to conform to the ideals of the society has negative impacts on the self. In this regard, this cost Loman his life and fundamental family ideals were greatly compromised.
From the analysis, it can be ascertained that the society always has significant effects on the welfare of an individual. As it has come out from the analysis, it is certain that the American dream compelled the protagonist to assume ideals that compromised his wellbeing and ultimately led to his demise. Furthermore, it is certain that the ideals that are perpetuated by the dream are in themselves contradictory and hence their attainment is more of a myth than a reality. In his play The Death of a Salesman, Miller succeeds in relaying to the audience this important message and ascertains that the American dream does not attain its stipulated goals; rather its pursuit has adverse effects on the holistic wellbeing of the citizens.
Ardolino, Frank. “‘I’m not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman!’: The Significance of Names and Numbers in Death of a Salesman.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology (2002): 174-83.
Arthur, Miller. Death of a Salesman. USA: Penguin Classics, 1996.
Jacobson, Irving. “Family Dreams in Death of a Salesman.” American Literature, 47.2 (1975): 247-58.
Tyson, Lois. “The Psychological Politics of the American Dream: ‘Death of a Salesman’ and the Case for an Existential Dialectics.” Essays in Literature 19.2 (1992): 260-80