Arthur Millers play The Death of a Salesman shows the struggle of a typical American familys rise from the depths of mediocrity to chase the ever-elusive American dream of wealth and prosperity. By criticizing and exposing the shortcomings of American life in the modern era, Miller shows how easy it is for one family to lose sight of the American Dream, and what one man will attempt to do, or not do to keep it.
Millers main argument about the social shortcomings of contemporary America is that the life of Willy Lowman is a representation of the transitional period between the Good Old Days and the modern era. America was changing and Willy was clinging to pleasures and hindrances of the past, while completely neglecting the present. For example, when Howard questions whether Willy has a radio in the car, Willy replies, Well, yeah, but who ever thinks of turning it on? (Miller II.ii.). The whole time Willy is on the road, the radio is in the car with him, but he remains subconsciously asleep to the technological advances of the day and never thinks to use it.Because Willy lived in the past and dreamed of the future, he was completely neglecting the present. This allowed him to stagger socially and in the business world, making it almost impossible to recover.
The way in which business was conducted was also changing, along with the value of the dollar. Willys failure to adapt from selling to family-owned businesses to corporation-controlled businesses played a major role in his demise. He based his entire sales pitch and strategy on someones word and a handshake which was as worthless as a garbage dump. At his age this (traveling) begins to take a toll on his health as he tries unsuccessful to sell his goods. (Dalglish). Willy and his family needed more and more money to get by. Willy even complains about not being able to pay his insurance. It is so bad that he even approaches Charlie about a loan so he could pay his insurance: Charley, look…I got my insurance to pay…I need a hundred and ten dollars. (Miller II.i.). His company was also feeling the crunch of the times. They completely disregarded his thirty-four years of service, as lackluster as they may have been, and let Willy go because of his drop in pro!ductivity. America was definitely becoming less personal and more of a corporate entity. Miller shows Willy Lowmans personal shortcomings by allowing the audience to see his false hope in his children. This is where his aforementioned dreams of the future come into play. He sees Biff as a football hero and successful businessman, when in actuality Biff was a journeyman criminal. Happy, on the other hand was, compulsively competitive in sex and business for no reason at all. (Parker 39). It was almost as if he had to compete to receive his fathers affection. He ultimately realizes his children will never be as he wishes and believes when Biff confronts him and explains about his life. Youre practically full of it!…You know why I had no address for three months? I stole a suit in Kansas City and I was in jail. (Miller II.v.). This makes Willy realize the only way to leave his mark is to take his own life, so that Biff can get his insurance money. Willys ultimate conviction to go through with his plan was, a legacy of twenty thousand dollars is a!ll that is needed to save his beloved but almost equally damaged offspring. (Clurman 3). This thought showed that his unreal expectations had also taken the toll on his children, thus making him not directly responsible, but a contributing factor in the way they turned out.
By exposing these shortcomings found in modern day America, Arthur Miller shows how it is Willy Low-mans fault that he does not leave a grand legacy behind or achieve that, so called, American dream that he imagines in his fantasy world. Willys death does not represent a form of redemption, it represents taking the easy way out of a situation that should have been handled with a very considerable amount of care and consideration. He shows that going out in a blaze of glory may have been heroic in the old west, but like with many other aspects of life, Willy was not with the times. Miller shows that if there were any victims in the story, they would be his children who turn out to be permanently affected by the warped influence of a hapless dreamer.