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Selling a Sham in Death of a Salesman Essay


Selling a Sham

Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman is considered a classic for the way it criticizes social trends in this country after the Second World War, which understood that money and material objects are the standard for happiness and ultimately the measure of a man. It is because of this obsession for success and the insatiable need to be well liked and respected by others that Willy Loman is unable to be content with himself or those around him. Although he means well his actions are driven to impress others and their view on him and his family. And when he is unable to meet or exceed the standards of society, which he has adopted as his own, he deceives himself into believing he is a success so that he is able to cope with the unbelievable pressure that comes with trying to live up to his view of the American Dream, wealth and fame.

Death of a Salesman shows that to the average man the American Dream that so many at the time believed in was an unattainable myth and was as empty as those who chased it. Critical of this pursuit, Miller suggests that if one devoted their life to chasing this apparition they would die like the archetype Willy who represents the tragedy that ensues when people believe in a fairy tale. He suggests that the only way to be happy is to be hard working, humble, and ultimately content with what you have, putting energy into family and necessity rather than image.

This view is shown through the play by the Loman family, led by what some would call the tragic hero Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, who has constantly attempted to achieve fame and better his family because he is a good person and to feel better about himself. He represents the American Dream in that he places value in image rather than substance as seen when he says ...the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead (Miller 1386). He is also like the dream in that he has a face of greatness but is lacking in substance, Willy is able to put on an act of success and confidence even though he is insecure and views himself as a failure, confiding to his wife that people laugh at him and no matter how hard he works it is not enough. The irony is that the people closest to him adore him but he is unable to see this because he is so blinded by his pursuit of success and busy with what others think of him to realize that what he is killing himself chasing the impossible. This contrasts with his neighbor and friend Charley and his son Bernard in that they know exactly what they want and are content with what they have. They are also different than Willy in that he teaches his sons that appearance rather than hard work is important, even going as far as teasing Bernard for being a nerd when he tries to get Biff to study. The most tragic part of this is that Willy sells his sons into believing the same myth he himself is conned into, destining them to a life of shame as a result of their futile attempts in achieving the dreams of others.

In the story Willys son Biff undergoes a transformation from a devoted follower of his father and the American Dream as a child to a shiftless drifter who is unsure of himself and what he wants as an adult. This transformation occurs when Biff discovers his father cheating on his mom and gives up on himself and his future because he realizes that everything he has been taught by his father and devoted his life to is fake and tries to figure what he wants in life. This proves extremely difficult because Biff is forced to balance his love of his father who thinks he son is not living up to his potential out of spite when in reality it was because of the method his father laid out for him. Biff tries to let his father know that his dream of being rich and banking on the success of his sons is a mistake because they are just normal people when he says I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You are nothing but a hard working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! (Miller 1435).

After his father does kill himself Biff reaffirms his desire to go out west and work with his hands, because like his father he is happiest outdoors and wants to be able to see the fruits of his labor, something his father toiled all his life trying to do. Willys death represents the demise of the American Dream and those who follow it, although they cant be blamed for falling into this trap because like Charley says at the funeral, everyone who lives such a hard life is got to dream. In his final epiphany Biff recognizes that his father had the wrong dreams and never knew he was and states he knows who he is and that he is leaving to go to do something that will make him happy. This will most likely bring him success because like the other men Willy admired and who became successful(father, brother, Charley) he is doing what makes him happy and trusting his instincts, in essence living his dream and not the American Dream that society tells him.

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Sales Man. Compact Bedford Introduction

To Literature. Michael Meyer. Bedford/St. Martins: Boston, 2006. pg 1375 -1439

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