Death of a Salesman addresses the quiet concerns exhibited in America during the 1940s through the protagonist Willy Loman. The 1940s ushered American citizens into the epoch of attempting to reach unattainable perfection. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller addresses such flaws that surfaced in this era by showing how believing too passionately in one notion, can lead to a person’s ultimate demise. Willy Loman’s goal was a quite common one, to live the perfect life, commonly known as “The American Dream.” The difference between him and everyone else is that his dream became an obsession. Having gown up without a father, caused him to want nothing but the best for his own family but his flawed ways to achieve this goal ended up ruining his life and the lives of those around him, specifically his eldest son Biff.Order now
America in the 1940s was a time in which citizens wanted to achieve such outlandish goals such as “The American Dream”. Willy Loman was a victim of this mentality. The phrase was first coined in 1931 in James Truslow Adams novel, The Epic of America. In his book, Adams stated that the definition of this exemplar was, “the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” A character that exemplifies this statement on a positive note was Willy’s friend and neighbor Charley, who was able to provide for his family and set his child on a path to success. Whereas Willy was so consumed by the idea of achieving that goal, he chose failure as opposed to giving up the dream. The trick was not to let it consume you, but some people, like Willy, were too caught up in the dream to face reality.
The one memory from Willy Loman’s childhood that continues to linger until his death, is how his father deserted him at the tender age of three years and eleven months. While Willy is “talking” to his brother Ben, he frantically brings up the whereabouts of their father, “Where is Dad? Didn’t you follow him? How did you get started?” (Miller 47). The order in which Willy asks the questions pertains to how Ben came about his fortune. The second question implies that Willy assumed that Ben followed their father after he left for Alaska and in doing so, became successful. Willy made the assumption that Ben was so triumphant because he knew their father better and through him he acquired information that Willy will never know. “Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel – kind of temporary about myself” (Miller 51). Willy believed the reason for Ben’s success was he had guidance from both parents. He felt that his own lackluster life was due to the fact that his father left him at such a young age. One specific example that can be sited is how Willy speculated that his father could have instilled some confidence had he been around. Through these assumptions made by Willy, the audience begins to see how his insecurities about not having a father effected how he raised his children.
Since being a good father to his children was so important to Willy because his father was not there for him, Willy decided that he would put all of his efforts into making his boys lives’ as great as they could possibly be. Willy did not want them to ever feel insecure about who they were, so he wanted to be there every step of the way to guide them onto the right path. Yet in doing so, they became inadequate on making their own decisions. “I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody” (Miller 131). Since Biff received the majority of Willy’s attention, he was sheltered the most. Nothing he ever did was considered wrong and even the most dire situations could be fixed with a simple talk. Although Willy Loman was just trying to be the best father he could, he became consumed by the idea and never even accepted the damage that he did.
Unfortunately, Willy Loman’s inability to be a proper father, or husband for that matter, also effected the few loved ones that surrounded him. Like most wives during this period, Linda was loyal to Willy all the way to the bitter end. Not once would she outright tell him something he did was wrong, but if she did, she eased it upon him. The most depressing part is, since Willy focused all of his attention on Biff, Happy basically traveled the same road his father resented so much. He exhibits the same traits as Willy even though there is an age difference. For example, Willy does not voice and actual detestation toward his father for leaving him at such a young age. He would have loved, even now, to just sit down and have a talk with him. Whenever a fight breaks out between Willy and Biff, Happy always sides with his father because for some strange reason he still looks up to him. Similarly, Happy is making money and is able to pay his rent, but he still is not content with the way his life has turned out. All in all, one man’s unattainable goal and the support of a loyal family brought down not only Willy’s life, undoubtedly it caused all of theirs to spin out of control as well.
The difference between this and many other plays written about the period, was that it focused on one aspect that related to the idealism from “The American Dream”. Never before had a play addressed such a small aspect of the 1940s idealism, the want for a complete family. Essentially, this play really illustrated the chain of events that can occur under certain events and mentalities. It also dealt with the idea that too much of anything is not good for you. Too much positive encouragement will not allow any room for improvement, and if someone cannot learn to tackle their flaws, then they are inevitably flawed as is.