Go back to the Miller page for more texts and other resources.

Misguided Dreams in Death of a Salesman

it will tackles the the false dreams that led willy to his tragic downfall

Miller portrays his main character, Willy Loman, not as an evil selfish person, but as a well meaning yet misguided person. Willy's character is one of a common man, he isn't anything special, nor ever was he. He chose to follow the American dream and he chose to lead the life it gave him. Willy made the American dream his culture, and the American dream made Willy its victim.

The American dream is the belief that through sheer hard work alone, any man can gain professional success and thus receive personal gain (wealth, brand name goods etc.). The major flaw in this 'dream' is that it produces selfish individuals who will go to any extent to receive personal gain. To show how different this dream is to any other and what this dream can do to people if they take it too seriously, Miller gives Willy two sons, Biff and Happy.
Biff's the opposite of Happy and Willy. Biff doesn't care about the amount of money he earns, all he really cares about is that he enjoys his work. All he really wants is to be outside working with his hands. Biff rejects the American dream and makes one up for himself. Biff defines his own idea of success and takes control of his life.

Happy however takes the American dream and eats it all up. He becomes just like his father but is more greedy and cynical. He wants everything for himself and wouldn't spare a dime to anyone else. In the end Happy will probably take a road similar to that of his father and perhaps killing himself as well.
The death of Willy at the end of the play is a death caused by the flaws of the American dream, the one that killed Willy is the one that says that some people will work hard all their life and end up with nothing, this is what happened to Willy. The American dream sucks people in and doesn't let them leave. The American dream becomes the American cult. This cult will sucker people in by promising riches and success and then won't let them leave simply because it states that if you quit a job you become a quitter and, according to the American dream, quitters are failures. Willy's demise was one of a common man. It was not anything special. Miller's book is one about the tragedy of a common man, unlike Sophocle's Oedipus Tyrannos or Shakespeare's King Lear Miller portrays this tragedy as something common rather then something unique. This play is a play about an unlucky man who had no real career whereas Oedipus Tyrannos is about a specific man who killed his father and married his mother. As you can see Miller's play is a lot more common then Sophocle's play.

Biff's character is one of a popular nature. When he was at school he was always popular, athletic and full of potential. All this changed however when he went to see his father in Boston. This is when Biff found out about Willy's affair. Finding this out crushed Biff and destroyed his image about his father, he discovered that his father was a phony he says, "You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!? This shows how devastated Biff was when he found out about his father's affair. Before Biff discovered about his father's affair Biff believed in the American dream, but when he discovered that his father, who relied so heavily on the American dream, had deceived him and his whole family, he realized that the American dream was as phony as his own father. This is where Biff rejects his father's dream and his relationship with his father begins to deteriorate.

The idea behind the whole play is to show up the numerous flaws in the American dream and to show that you must define success for yourself else it will define you. Willy believes sincerely that wealth is happiness and your wealth is shown by the number of brand name goods you have. Willy then looks around and notices he has little brand name goods, thus little money and thus he is a failure. Willy also believes that failure cannot be tolerated in his family so he then lies to his family about how popular and successful he is. His lying then gets his children to lie, thus having a continuing circle of lies. This is pointed out when Biff says "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!? to this statement Happy responds, "We always told the truth!? This shows how that even when faced with the truth, the Loman family still can't accept it. Biff however refuses to lie any more and he accepts the truth, he accepts that he was never anything big and that he "stole his way out of every job since high school". Willy however still wants to be a big success; he wants it so much that he starts living in his own fantasy dream world. He lives in the past because then there was hope for him whereas know there is no hope for him and he is doomed to failure.

Willy's demise was one that could only have been avoided by him changing his dream and Willy was not going to do this. Willy would stick by his dream until the end, in the hope that it would eventually pay off. In the end the dream did not pay off and nor did his plan for Biff to have his life insurance money since his death was written off because it was suicide. As said by Biff "he had the wrong dreams".

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us