The idea of an American Dream is older than the United States, when people began to come up with all sorts of hopes and aspirations for the new and largely unexplored continent. It was the thought of by emigrant escaping to America from other countries that are experiencing hardship. For example, the Irish were in the middle of the Irish war of independence, the Germans were poor after world war one, Italy were being ruled by a fascist and was totalitarian country. These people were looking for a free life, America.
Many of these dreams focus on owning land, social mobility and establishing prosperous businesses, which would theoretically generate happiness. The president of the time Franklin D. Roosevelt he was a firm believer in the American dream. Willy Loman’s failed life isn’t quite symbolic of the failure of the American dream, because Willy’s dreams and aspirations do not follow the American dream. Willy is focused on being well liked. He thinks you need a special personality to get anywhere in life, and that he and Biff have that.
Biff says, “He had all the wrong dreams all, all wrong”. He wants to be a self made man but is not going the right way. He says, “I’m not a dime a dozen. ” He tries to break out of the barrier stopping him, he is not special but this attempt at showing the world he is not an average man, actually makes him special. He is refusing to accept it. He becomes a tragic hero. They have a downfall, but there is a small light of hope. The audience are hoping for a happy ending, but it is obvious that it cannot end that way.
Willy brought his kids up to think they are special and they can accomplish anything, until they grow up and reach the real world. For example, Years ago at Biffs football match before his maths exam. Bernard tells Willy that Biff needs to study, but Willy is focused on football. Willy says, “Bernard’s not well liked is he. ” Biff says, “He’s liked but he is not well liked. ” Willy says, “Well there you go, Bernard can get top marks in all the exams but when it gets to the business world you will be five times ahead of him. Biff realises this is not true.
He fails and does not go to summer school, because Biff finds Willy was having an affair with a woman. Bernard becomes Supreme Court justice, which shows how wrong Willy was. Biff’s problems are largely due to this over inflated fantasy of his life. This makes Willy’s sons, Biff and Hap, failures also, but Willy doesn’t want to believe this. He wants his sons, especially Biff, to succeed where he has not. He believes his boys are great and cannot understand why they are not successful. This is a major source of conflict throughout the play, until the end, where they confront Willy.
Willy has deluded himself to the point where he cannot tell the difference between reality and aberration. It is also difficult for the audience to know the difference, because he changes so quickly. Willy could be in the same place, with the same people but start talking to someone who is not there. Miller said in his autobiography, timebends, “Memory inevitably romanticizes, passing reality to recede like pain”. Willy has lost at trying to live the American Dream, the play can be viewed as commentary about society.
Willy was a man who was worked all his life by the machinery of Democracy and Free Enterprise and was then spit mercilessly out. There is a vital quote, when Willy was in Howard’s office, Willy said, “You cannot eat the orange and throw away the peel” It symbolises how Willy feels he has been manipulated, and how they have taken his best years and he barely even realised it. All that is left is an old man in debt and no way of making his way out. He feels useless and trapped. He feels too embarrassed to tell Linda or his sons.
He has not moved up in social status. “There is no such thing as a man who is a hired labourer, of necessity, remaining in his early condition” The dream has worked for some characters, such as Charlie, Bernard and Ben. In one of Willy’s visions Ben says, “When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle. And by twenty-one, I walked out. And by God, I was rich! ” The jungle is a metaphor for the business world, it is dangerous and risky. The diamonds are a symbol for the treasure and richness of the world. They are solid, beautiful and most important tangible.
When asked about how he did it, he was vague, which could imply it was luck or he doesn’t want to share. It is possible that the way he did it was slightly immoral. They are all successful. Diamonds are tangible which works for Willy, as he believes in this ideology. Willy has used his hands to create things in the past, such as the improvements on his house. For example the front porch But the American dream has failed some characters, Biff, Happy and Willy. Happy says, “My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women, and still, goddamit, I’m lonely. ” He has most aspects of the American dream and he is lonely, he ants something more. The dream is insufficient and is not as black and white as it sounds and there are grey area that do not fit and Happy is that grey area. Biff is has failed, but that might not be due to the American dream. He is quite lazy and hasn’t worked but he says, “To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation. ” He recognises the absurdity of the system. He has avoided every part of the dream he has no desire to do anything except being free. He can see that the people working for corporations are trapped. He has almost the opposite problem to Willy.
He sees the absurdity of life and does not see the logic, therefore he does not want to join it. He does not believe in his father any more after he found out about the affair, before he admired his father. Willy felt guilty about the affair and felt shame when Linda couldn’t afford new stockings, but he bought the women new stockings. Mathew C. Roudane says, “He hopes the insurance money will somehow expiate, or at least minimize, the guilt which he feels for his affair at the Standish arms Hotel a lifetime ago” The American dream might be a bit out dated.
It is not about working hard, as the split between the rich and the poor is too big. People like Howard are just born into wealth. Also the garden is symbolic of nothing growing on the Loman plot. In 1920 the official US census showed that for the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on farms. It was a statistic that was widely discussed because it showed how the U. S had changed. The stage directions describe this change at the beginning, when they describe the house, “solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. It shows how Willy is just a small fish in a big pond and he is struggling to survive. Willy is desperate to leave an impact on the world, something for the world to remember him by. Planting seeds in the garden his last attempt. “The grass don’t grow anymore, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard. ” This shows there is nothing he can do. The carrot is a symbol for money, he cannot raise any more money. In his eyes he has reached his full capability and the only way he can help his family, is killing himself. The play was finished in 1949, but it was set a lot earlier.
Miller said that the play was autobiographical of his father who lost everything in the depression. So it was the end of the booming 20’s and the great depression was soon to start. The play had a few hidden metaphors inside warning, such as, “You gotta get out quick the woods are burning”. This was referring to the stock market going up ready to crash. The woods burning symbolise they are burning, but it will soon all turn to ash. Everyone will lose everything. It was said near the end, when Willy’s mind was cracking and his world was crashing and there was nothing he could do.
It showed the frustration within the play, as they know his psyche has already started to break down and the damage has happened and will continue until nothing is left. In timebends, Miller said, “I wrote Salesman at the beginning of the greatest boom in world history but I felt that the reality was Depression, the whole thing coming down in a heap of ashes. There was still the feel of Depression, the fear that everything would disappear. ” Willy’s life is symbolic of the American dream’s failure. Some characters have done well, but the Loman’s have been let down by the dream. Death of a salesman was Arthur Miller’s way of expressing this.