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Waking Up from the American Dream

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The definition of the American Dream is “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman believes that the “American Dream is the ability to become prosperous by mere charisma.” ( Willy spends his whole life fighting for the Dream, only to realize that it is not what he truly wanted in life. As well, he is not that great a salesman, but he sustains denial of that fact to keep at the pursuit of what he thinks he should be going after.

In order to fulfill the American Dream, being a financial success becomes one’s main priority, pushing aside anything else. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman relates to this by saying, “Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? …The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell.” (Miller, 97) Willy does not have complete self awareness and lies to himself and everyone else to the point that he believes his own lies. This lie is that being well-liked is part of achieving the American Dream. Willy’s is aware of how to be a salesman. The awareness he lacks is the personal, emotional and spiritual. He has deluded himself into believing he has done all that he could in life and this is all life offers. He believes that he failed at life because he struggles to earn enough every paycheck and he is not rich. He is unaware and unable to detect the love that comes from his sons and wife give to him.

This is what lead to Willy’s death. He prioritizes success over happiness, he works endless hours driving from city to city to sell his products, properly putting his life to waste, prioritizing money before himself and and his family’s happiness. He gets too caught up trying to pursue the American Dream to make their lives worthwhile. For instance, Willy never followed his own dream. “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.” (Miller, 138) This describes how Willy Loman wasted his life trying to achieve the American Dream, when he should have seeked happiness, and to enjoy his life. Willy’s brother, Ben, is the embodiment the kind of success Willy longs for. As he states in the play, he “…entered the jungle at seventeen and came out at twenty-one and by god he was rich.” When speaking to Willy, Ben states “You’ve got a new continent at your doorstep, William. Get out of these cities, they’re full of talk and time payments and courts of law. Screw on your fists and you can fight for a fortune up there.” (Miller, Act 2) Ben is telling Willy in this quote that he has so much more potential than constantly going to cities to sell his wares. Ben is the man who Death of a Salesman criticizes the American Dream, as it shows that people should enjoy the sincere aspects of life, instead of spending years trying to gain money.

Death of a Salesman criticizes the American Dream as people prioritize money before any social or emotional values. Willy did this his whole life and his son Happy mirrored this behavior to the point that he is unable to learn any other way. The American Lie, one’s money being more remarkable than their attributes, and people spend their entire lives trying to be successful, giving up their happiness without understanding the consequences: loss of personal identity, family, and personal fulfillment. Death of Salesman continues to be relevant and has maintained its popularity over the years because it reflects both on a cultural and personal level what individuals believe about the definition of success. Biff is the embodiment of trying to break out of the lie that is the american dream and be able to access his own soul. The only way he could do that by exposing his father’s delusions and lies to himself and his family. Biff seeks happiness in the form of the territory or the “free west” away

The author of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller was born during the great depression “Which brought financial ruin onto his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) This theme of his persisted through his formative years he wrote stories and plays centered on the everyday man “working and struggling to get ahead.” (ArtsEdge) “Miller revealed, ‘I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity.’”

The American Dream lingers today. Death of a Salesman allows the viewer to see themselves in the characters of the play and shines a light on what the definition of that dream or success should be, that it can only be truly defined by the individual.

Works Cited

  1. Bradford, Wade. “How Is the American Dream a Theme of ‘Death of a Salesman?’.” Thoughtco., Thoughtco,

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Waking Up from the American Dream. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved from

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