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Escaping Reality in Death of a Salesman and The Things They Carried

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    Everyone wants to escape reality and live their lives the way they dream their life would be. Due to disappointments, people tend to day dream, loose reality and start imagining, they think that life is easier in dreams that in reality, they get to plan your life and live it like it was real, no resentment, no heartbreaks and no disappointment, they have full control of their life, not like in reality where everything is uncontrollable and people are subjected to failures.

    The Death of a Salesman, tackles a man who is wanted to reach the American dream no matter what, even if it means lying to his own family. Willy Loman wanted to live the American dream, he lied to his family about his work, and he lied to his co-worker about the status of his family. Willy Loman wanted to be important and popular, he wanted people to like him and think of him as someone who has done something, when he grew older and realize that his dream is slowly disappearing, his obsession for his dream brought him depression and later on because upon realizing that he couldn’t afford the American dream he committed suicide in order to pay his debts and for his family to claim his insurance money.

    In The Things They Carried, the soldiers also imagines and escape reality, they have been imagining their life back home or what they life could have been if they were back home. The setting of the story goes back to Vietnam War, where soldiers are drafted to fight for the country. These soldiers are still considered young, they are usually older teenager and boys who are in their early twenties, they are sent to defend the country of America. They have been separated from their previews lives and forced to fight for the dignity of America, most of these boys are still immature and still longing for the love of the girls they fancy, girls to be their inspiration to continue on with the war.

    The illusion of getting out of reality and entering a state where you tend to imagine things that might have happen and could have happen often happens to people who want to escape their reality, like in the case of Willy. He is getting older and he fears that he can no longer achieve the dream he wanted, the American dream. Willy’s kids, Biff and Happy also want to escape reality, they are both not satisfied in their life and when they reunited, they often talk about leaving everything and go leave in the west, “BIFF (with enthusiasm): Listen, why don’t you come out West with me?” (Miller 13).

                The same thing happens when a person is in war, they tend to imagine thing so that they can leave the harsh realty even for a second. In The Things They Carried, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries the burden of a dead man when he wasn’t paying attention to the war; he was day dreaming the moment Ted Lavender was shot, because he was day dreaming about Martha, a girl he recently dated before going to the war.

    Being in the war often makes soldiers lonely, leaving their love ones home and being sent to war makes these soldiers vulnerable and often drift from the war itself to imagine the life they could have been if they weren’t drafted, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross escaped reality by imagine Martha on their date, “remembered telling her that one evening. How she nodded and looked away. And how, later, when he kissed her, she received the kiss without returning it, her eyes wide open, not afraid, not a virgin’s eyes, just flat and uninvolved” (O’Brien 5).

    Like the soldiers who escape reality because they couldn’t have what they want, Willy also feels the same way and Willy has a hobby of talking to himself, he often drift from reality and go through his fantasy. Willy goes in and out of his reality and imagination, he did it even when talking to Linda, his wife, and he goes in and out of the conversation. When Linda was complementing him and assuring him that he looks handsome, he drifted to imagination and imagined his mistress, “From the darkness is heard the laughter of a woman. Willy doesn’t turn to it, but it continues through Linda’s lines” (Miller 24).

    In the novel The Things They Carried, when soldiers were drafted, they are not given a choice, they are oblige, the narrator did not share his country’s vision of the war and when he got drafted he wanted to escape, he imagined things he might do when the war starts and doing thing he is not use to doing, “I imagined myself doing things I could not do—charging an enemy position, taking aim at another human being” (O’Brien 12).

                The escape from reality does not only pertain to these people, a lot of the population drifts from reality once in a while. When Willy wants to escape reality, he often talks to his dead brother Ben, when Howard was firing him, he often slips in and out of reality, “Willy stares into space, exhausted. Now the music is heard — Ben’s music — first distantly, then closer, closer. As Willy speaks” (Miller 60).

                They are all the same, they wanted to forget the present situation and go someplace else. The war was not easy for any of the soldiers, watching their friends die; they all wanted to get out of war as soon as possible, go home and be with their family. It is also not easy living and not achieving what a person has planned, watching their life deteriorate even when they are still alive.

    Arthur Miller’s play and Tim O’Brien’s novel has shown its readers different situations men wanted to escape reality, they have delicately built their characters and for readers to understand the situations they are in and why they need to escape their current situation. The glimpse to their imaginations allows readers to understand their heartbreaks more and sympathize to the characters.

     Willy, Biff and the soldiers in the Vietnam War, they wanted to escape their present situations and live in their dreams or in their moment for a few seconds, they wanted an escape, since their present life seems to be a dump. When they day dream they get to live their life the way they wanted to happen, whether its Lieutenant Jimmy Cross pretending to be with his college sweetheart Martha or Willy pretending to have achieved the American dream. They wanted something else, they were not satisfied with their current situations, and they all wanted to escape reality.


    Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: The Viking press (1949).

    O’Brien Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin (1990).


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