The character Willy Loman in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman goes on a desperate quest to achieve the American Dream. The American Dream can be defined as the opportunity to achieve success and prosperity. Willy Loman so badly wants so badly to achieve this success that he forgets his own reality. His obsession with the idea of success leads him to be mentally absent from his family. He is the perfect example of how people who care solely about success and fortune can end up. Willys drive for wealth is his personal downfall, proving that striving for something so high sometimes brings out the lowest point in a persons character.
During the beginning of the play in Act I Willy is having a conversation with his wife Linda about their son Biff when Willy says How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? (Miller, p.5). This is the first time the audience sees Willys idea of success. Willy is a money hungry person that cannot fathom Biff working on a farm. Working on a farm is bad to Willy because the farm has no social status. A farm life to Willy means no recognition from people and no success. There is nothing to get out of a farm life except failure. According to Willy, Biff is a failure who has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week (Miller, p.5), making Biff lazy and unmotivated. Is money a measure of a persons success? Does happiness matter to Willy? To Willy, Biff is a disgrace and a lazy bum. Many Americans, just like Willy, measure their success by the amount of money they make, forgetting why one does what they do.
In Act I while Willy is talking to Biff and Happy he says America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding peopleand they know me, boys, they know me up and down New EnglandThe finest people (Miller, p.19), intending to make himself seem popular and recognized. Willys illusion of success is exhibited here in the play. He fantasizes about being recognized and known by many people, because to Willy, this would mean he is successful and has reached the social status he has long desired. He wants Biff and Happy to understand what success means. Willy says finest people, as if to say he is known by the best, which makes him the best. Willies illusion of this success is what keeps him going as a salesman. Although Willy has had constant failure throughout his career he still believes if he wants to be the best then he can actually become it. Willy takes the reality out of his conscious in order to make himself acknowledge his potential as a salesman. Telling Biff and Happy about Willys illusion lets the audiences know what Willy really cares about. He does not say that being honest is important, neither hard work, but that being recognized by the finest people is something to be proud of. Willy lets the audience know that how a person reaches the top does not matter, whether it is done by lying and deceit, the only thing that matters is making it.
In the middle of Act I Willy explains to Howard why he chose to be a salesman, and when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. Cause what could be more satisfying to be able to gobe remembered and loved by so many different people (Miller, p.61), the same way people look upon Dave Singleman is how Willy wants to be looked upon. Willys infatuation with Dave Singleman is his motivation to becoming a salesman, being in love with the idea of gaining recognition for traveling as a salesman to many different cities. Willy is so blind with this measure of success that he fails to understand that although Dave Singleman is well liked and traveled, he was an eighty-four year old man. At the age of eighty-four, any person should be well retired and enjoying life. Willy does not think about working at an old age; to him, as long as he is working with the recognition of others he will be another Dave Singleman.
In Act II, Willy is speaking to Stanley about planting saying Ive got to get some seedsNothings plantedI dont have a thing in the ground (Miller, p.96), portraying Willys life work as meaningless. Willys garden is a metaphor for his career. His career has been a failure that has not lived up to his expectations. Through this conversation between Willy and Stanley it seems that Willy is realizing that he has no proof of his lifes work. He has nothing to show for it. His career as a salesman is one of selling his image to be successful. Being a salesman requires the confidence of success, but also the belief that what you are doing is realistic. Willy is so caught up with gaining attention from others that it tears him apart. Willy connecting his garden with failure is symbolic to career as a failure. Willy is acknowledging this fact through his statement about the garden. His career is a poor choice that broke him down as a man. His personality set him up to be misled with fortune. Willy set himself up with hopes that did not come true. In a garden, roots either grow or they do not. Willys entire career as a salesman is the roots that never developed how they could have.
Again in Act II, the play reveals this continuing theme of success and the American Dream. Biff admits to Willy his style of life is different saying I saw the things I love in this worldThe work and the food and the time to sit and smokeWhat am I doing in an officeI know who I am (Miller, p.105), which is different than Willy. Biff finally admits his true self to Willy. He does not want the same things as Willy does. Biff is fine with living a simple life with only necessities. Willys views on life have been pounded in Biffs head his entire life, making Biff go in the opposite direction. Willy cannot comprehend what Biff is telling him. To Willy, this is not life. Living simply is not true success. Willy cannot live simply; he needs the attention that goes along with being well liked and looked up to. Biff makes an attempt to change Willys views on life but it does not work. Biffs realization that he cannot change his fathers view reinforces Willys blindness to reality.
During the Requiem Charlie defends Willy saying Nobody dast blame this man. You dont understand: Willy was a salesmanand for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life (Miller, p.111). Although Willy fails at being a salesman, Charlie speaks of Willy as if he were successful. Charlie makes it seem as though Willy is brave and courageous in some way by being a salesman. Charlie has sympathy for Willy; the audience understands at the end of the play that Willy portrayed a man who lacked the confidence of salesman. Willy simply did his job; his only choice in life was selling.
After reading this essay some people may see Willy as a success because he did everything possible to achieve the American Dream. He worked hard throughout his career and did everything in his power to reach a certain level of success. His journey did not stop after one failure; he continued to fight and fight. While all of this may be true, the evidence I provide in my essay proves that Willys journey for success broke him down. Willys failure made him weak and fragile; he strived his whole life, which made himself miserable. This Essay teaches the evils of greed and what an obsession with material objects can do to a person. Willys lust for a high social status did nothing but break him down as person, putting him at the lowest point a man can go, which is dead six feet under the ground.
Willys character stands firm on the idea of the American Dream. Even at the age of sixty-three, Willy never seems to let go of what he so desperately wants. His quest continues until he can no longer go on as a failure. Having a family was not enough for Willy Loman; he continued to make his life more and more tough, putting pressure on himself and the loved ones around him. He dug a grave for himself, constantly digging deeper and deeper into his fantasy of success. Willy teaches us that while on the quest for a something with high value, we can elude away from what is really important, blinding ourselves from what we are trying to achieve. The American Dream is sometimes unattainable at certain heights. Willy Loman proves that ones own lust for certain standards can be his own downfall, making life itself a life long struggle.
1. Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.
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