The American Dream has been achieved by many people in history. However, over the years, the vision and meaning of the American Dream has been distorted by a few people. Arthur Miller, author of Death of a Salesman, shows that the American Dream was to some extent distorted in some peoples minds in his play Death of a Salesman. However, to understand what Miller wanted to help people understand in his play, we must understand what the American Dream is, and how Miller showed the distortion through the characters of the play.
The American Dream was developed a long time ago. No one knows who exactly developed the theory, or vision. The dream, like any dream, has a goal. In this case, the American Dream aspires to accomplish many goals. The first and foremost goal is to be able to obtain a secure life. Meaning, that one has a job, a car, and a house. In other words, the first goal is to obtain material goods. This is the first goal needed because it is what comes first in a mans head, to be able to provide good material goods for his family. This leads to the second goal, which is providing a good life for ones family. A man aspires to provide a good life for his children in their childhood and for his wife. The third goal is having enough money to lead a normal, stable, stress-free life, and be able to retire with comfort and without any debts or worries. This has been an especially hard goal to accomplish for many people in the past and present. The last goal is that the man has finally reached the end of his pursuit of happiness and found happiness and is able to provide a better life for his children. However, how are these accomplished? These goals are accomplished by three factors: hard work, education, and community support. Of course a subset of the American Dream is that all these are accomplished without class or racial distinction.
In Death of a Salesman, playwright Arthur Miller shows that the American Dream has been to some extent distorted. Miller questions the concept of the American Dream in his two act play using four characters: Willy, Charley, Ben, and Bernard. He shows that some people are able to accomplish this goal with a bit of hard work, and some people just do not have the right concept or vision of the American Dream. Many of the characters have the right goals, but their vision of how to get there is distorted and Miller clarifies this with these the four characters.
The first character, Willy Loman, is the main character in Death of a Salesman. Willy is an aging, travelling salesman who sells equipment to department stores in New England. In Death of a Salesman, the audience sees that Willy is a troubled man and lives in the past. He doubts his abilities, is exhausted, and is ready, but unable to retire. Willy and his wife Linda are unable to pay their bills because he is unable to sell anymore. In other words, they are not financially secure which is why Willy is unable to retire from his job. Miller shows that Willy wants to become a success and that he cares about his family so much but does not know how to go about accomplishing his dreams of making Biff Loman, his older son, a success. Miller mainly depicts that Willy has completely excluded the idea of hard work to obtain success and to fulfill the American Dream. Also, he depicts that Willy has the goals of getting a good life, retiring with money, and securing a better life for his children in his mind; however, Willy does not have the right means of obtaining these goals. Miller shows this in many ways. The first way is that Willy makes up lies and borrows money from Charley when he says, When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that its his pay?(57). Miller shows that Willy is getting money, but not through his work, but by borrowing money from his neighbor Charley. This completely excludes the idea of hard work in obtaining the American Dream. Alongside borrowing money from Charley, Willy also implies that he wants to be like the salesman Dave Singleman who was one of the biggest salesmen of his time. He implies this when he says:
And old Dave, hed go up to his room, yunderstand, put on his green velvet slippersand pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, he made his livingCause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?...-when he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral(81)
Willy has a distorted vision of the American Dream because he wants to be like Dave Singleman. Based on Willys perception of what Singleman did to earn a living, Singleman did not have to work a day in his life. Willy wants to be like Singleman, not wasting his time with work and being able to make money without moving a muscle. Willy does not understand the concept of the American Dream and still did not understand it at the end. Willy wants to go into his death, willingly and lovingly, because he hopes that maybe Biff and his wife Linda would get the twenty thousand dollars and it would put an end to Lindas troubles and help launch Biff to become something great.
The second character, Charley, is Willys neighbor. However, unlike Willy, Charley is successful. Charley has his own business. Charley shows that the American Dream is possible as he obviously worked his way to where he was. Although this is not mentioned in the text, it is implied by Charleys bad grammar. He lends Willy fifty dollars every week, and keeps offering him a job but Willy keeps on refusing because his pride will not let him take a job from Charley. Charley shows that the American Dream is possible when he is talking to Willy after Bernard mentions that he is going to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. He shows that his son, Bernard, made it so far after high school that he is now going to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. He also shows that he was able to secure a better life for Bernard than himself. Bernard is now able to travel and go around the country (U.S.A.) to argue cases, and has a wife and two kids that he is clearly able to support comfortably. Charley shows Willy that the American Dream is possible with just a little hard work. Charley shows that he did his job in the morning and still had time at the end of the day, because he is always able to shoot some casino with Willy. Charley is the exact opposite of Willy in Death of a Salesman. Miller created Charley because to some extent, he may be considered a foil of Willy Loman.
The third character Miller uses to get his point across to the audience was that of Ben. Ben Loman is Willys rich brother. Ben is the imagination of Willy, because he has already died. Ben can also be considered to be an encouragement of the whole get rich quick schemes. It is not said what means Ben used to get the diamonds in Africa. All that was explained was that he walked into the jungle at the age 17, and came out of it rich at the age of 21. However, Ben encourages Willy to take an easy way out of his miserable life and go to Alaska where all he has to do is take care of some property and he could be rich. He also had a distorted dream of the American Dream. The only reason he went into the jungle was because he meant to go to look for his father thinking he was going to Alaska. I discovered after a few days that I was heading due south, so instead of Alaska, I ended up in Africa(48). Ben did not work hard to get where he was, it was just an accident. However, by his formal language, one could conclude that he was well-educated.
The fourth character used by Miller was Bernard, Charleys son. Bernard is the perfect vision of the American Dream. He worked hard to get where he is, he got a great job, he gets married, and has two kids who he is able to support. Bernard is the perfect example because he built himself from nothing. This is shown when Willy asks Charley if he ever took any interest in Bernard and Charley replies, My salvation is that I never took any interest in anything(96). This shows that Bernard did not have a parent like Biff to keep on pushing him and showing him support. Although deep inside every parent wants their son/daughter to succeed, they just may not show it. Bernard has fulfilled the American Dream and Miller uses him to show that one must train himself for more than just one thing other than his hobby in case he does not succeed. He never trained himself for anything.(92). Here Bernard talks about Biff and how Biff never trained himself for anything but football. Whereas Bernard studied for the Regents and scored well on them which got him into a good college and therefore leading him to success.
Over the years, the American Dream has been twisted and turned. Some goals have been added on and some removed. Nowadays, most of the population thinks only about material goods and physical prowess, that none of the family comes first matters anymore. Miller showed that in his two act play Death of a Salesman. He showed that mostly through Willy. Willy knew that he wanted a good life. He knew that he wanted his children to succeed. He knew that he wanted Linda to be able to rest because he thought she suffered too much. What Willy did not know, was how to go about obtaining these goals he spoke of so much. Willy had the wrong vision, and so did Ben. Charley and Bernard are the perfect examples of the American Dream. Charley and Bernard are the examples that should be set for the American people and the world in general. Maybe then, we would not have so many distorted visions and shattered dreams.