The American dream is a gift and a curse. Many Americans want to obtain the American dream, but for most the price to pay for this dream will turn it into a nightmare. The American dream has different meanings for many people. For some people it may mean becoming wealthy, and for other it may mean living a productive life that benefits society. The one thing that they both have in common is that the individual experiencing this is usually happy. In the play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is the embodiment of what can happen to a person when their American Dream turns into a nightmare. Willy is driven to suicide after failing in life.
In this play, the readers are introduced to Willy, who is a salesman that despite his strong will to become wealthy cant seem to get a moment to rest. The life of Willy is ruled by failure and yet he still believed he had the ability to become wealthy. In the end, His life turned into a nightmare instead of his dreams, which is the cause for him ending his life. In the play, Willy illustrates the average man in the working class, who wants to achieve his American dream. This made him get so attached to becoming wealthy, and his vision on how to reach the American dream. This caused great turmoil to the people around him. The fatal flaw seen in Willy is also the fatal flaw of capitalism, which is greed. Capitalism promotes the pursuit of wealth without caring about how people’s actions can rob others of essential items. This will happen if capitalism is not controlled. Other flaws that was seen in the play that Willy shares with capitalism is his lack of serious thought, his jealousy, and his loss of integrity.
The average American dreams about getting wealthy and living a good life with a family, which is Willy’s dream. Most Americans want to get wealthy fast and this caused the get rich quick schemes popularity to jump, but most people today realize that these schemes will likely not work. An example of a get rich quick scheme is buying real estate and flipping houses to sell. Most people are not successful at this and may end up losing money instead. In the play, Willy’s dream can be seen when people talk about money in front of him and when he talks about his children. He says, “I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?” (Miller 7).
Willy was confused that the fact of him asking Biff if he was making money got him mad. Willy believes that money decides whether someone is happy, so basically, he was wondering whether Biff was happy with his life. The way Willy holds on to his brother Ben shows the readers how important family and material wealth is to him. He wants to be wealthy so bad that he will lie about the amount of money he makes. An example would be when he lied to his wife about how he made $1,200, but actually made $200. Willy believed that simply working harder would make him wealthy. His job represents this perfectly. As a salesman, the amount of money a person makes is based on the amount they sale and their performance, which essentially means that hard work will get a person more money. The big thing about the American dream is that a person needs to climb their way up. As a salesman there is not much room to climb up.
As readers read through the play, Willy’s flaws become more apparent. His rationale of wanting the American dream created his weaknesses, which were lack of thoughts, jealousy his loss of integrity. and the role a manipulator. Tyson says, according to an existential model, social factors may largely establish our initial identity, but, as we shall see, they do not freeze us at that stage without our daily consent (262). The socially accepted idea of the American dream, which supposedly leads to happiness, formed in Willy’s heart and he accepted that he will only be happy if he achieved the American dream. If Willy didnt get tunnel vision and accepted this notion, he would have realized that being wealthy is not the only way to live a happy life. Willy’s drive of wanting to achieve the American dream carved itself into his identity. Willy’s belief that someone’s looks are important and how they should be liked instead of being a good person shows his lack of thought. A person’s looks are not important when it comes to success unless they in the fashion industry. Willy says, “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.” (Miller 21).
Willy is saying that being liked will allow to get further in life. In some instances, this is true because being liked will get a person the opportunity to get further in their career fields, but they still need characteristics of a good person like trustworthiness and respect. The life of Willy’s sons proves that being liked does not equal success. His son, Biff, was popular and liked in high school, but that did not equal success. His other son, Happy, did become successful and he was not as liked as much by people compared to his older brother. Willy believed that being liked was more important than life. Ribkoff says, Driven by shame, he kills himself in order to preserve his dream of being ?well liked and a successful father and salesman (54).
Willy believed that suicide would reserve likeability among others. The irony in this is that Willy was never successful in anything including being a father and he was not liked by others. His relationship with his sons. Willy focused most of his attention to Biff and ignored his youngest son, Happy. When the readers look at Willy’s relationship with Charley, it is easy to see his shallowness. He acted like a snob when he was playing a card game with Charley. Charley offers Willy a job, but Willy rejects because he thinks he is above Charley when he is not. In the end, he realizes that Charley was his only real friend. Willy’s tunnel vision on wealth was one of the main causes of his American dream turning into a nightmare. His jealousy that stemmed from his relationship with his brother made the likelihood of dream turning into a nightmare increase. In the play, readers see Willy encouraging his own children to steal. This shows that he lacks morality. Bert says, the evidence in the play for Willy’s psychopathy is plentiful, so much so that it has led to his being diagnosed as manic-depressive before the age of anti-depressant drugs (4).
Striving for his dream of getting wealthy is the reason for him taking these drugs. His greed, jealousy, and shallowness are all causes that increase the amount of stress he deals with daily. If Willy were to find his own happiness rather than what society believes happiness is he would not need to take anti-depressants. When people look at how the media affects what people think, it is easy to see that the media thinks the good guys will finish last. Hopefully, people will come to understand that achieving the American dream does not simply mean attaining. Achieving the American dream means to achieve happiness in life, which can be achieved through many ways.
In the play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman has his dreams turned into a nightmare. This caused him to think that the only way out was death, so he committed suicide. With Death of a Salesman, Miller paints the portrait of a man who is ultimately killed by the one thing that kept him going, which the possibility of obtaining his American Dream. This play teaches the reader that setting one’s priorities too high can be dangerous.
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