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Themes of Family and American Dream in "The Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller

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The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Milleris a piece of social drama as it reflects the struggles of protagonists in their personal relationships in terms of the particular social issue. The play depicts the personal drama of the salesman Willy Loman that is caused by his perception of the American Dream, which ultimately results in family relationship controversy. The present paper will argue that the family theme serves as a supporting argument in developing the idea of the fatality of the American Dream obsession.

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The play deals with a social problem of the American Dream’s perception by Americans. In general, the American Dream means the possibility of achieving success by any person without considering their initial financial and social status. However, there is a more detailed definition: the American Dream is a dam before the land of opportunities: here everyone is equal in their attempt to succeed according to their achievements and abilities. This idea is not connected with the notion of big houses and expensive cars, but with the social conditions where each person can obtain social recognition regardless of their initial position (Artan 5). Considering only the surface of the image, most of people think that it is enough only to live in America to obtain the wealth without working hard. In fact, the play reflects the way the greater part of the society interprets the concept of the American Dream (Abbotson 46). The play proves that the American Dream can provide the success only in equivalent to one’s abilities or personal traits of character. Willy Loman does not possess these traits. The play represents a distorted understanding of the American Dream, as Willy does not take into account the importance of hard work and personal features of character, as well as the concept of appearance as necessary conditions of achieving the success. All his philosophy is centered on the notion of good looking, which is for him the only factor of achieving the merican Dream. Will even personifies his American Dream in several people, namely David Singleman and his brother, Ben.

In order to prove the erroneous Will’s perception of the American Dream, Miller introduces the character of his neighbor Charley and their mutual relationship. While Willy’s version of the American Dream is totally misunderstood, Charley perceived it ironically. He is realistic towards his opportunities and obtains essential business sense.. In the play, he may be called a “doer,” while Willy is an “observer.” In opposite to Willy, Charley is a perfect example of the correct interpretation of the notion of success. According to him, one has to work hard to get something. Nevertheless, Willy does not understand it and continues to treat Charley arrogantly, using every opportunity to humiliate him and conceal his fear of inferiority.

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The theme of fatality of the wrong interpretation of the American Dream is detailed in the Lomans’ family relationships. Lomans’ marriage corresponds to the way Willy is creating his version of the American Dream: he makes an illusion of the successful family where the wife has to sit at home as her husband earns enough money. In reality, he cheats on her wife showing the affectation of his values. In addition, it is Linda who maintains empty Willy’s dreams and points of view. With the example of their marriage, Miller wants to show that there is a type of people who does not have enough courage to insist on their ideas and after their failure begins to blame everybody except themselves. In fact, their marriage is seen to be as showy as Willy’s vision of the American Dream.

Father-son relationships are also influenced by Willy’s perception of reality, which causes different problems with each of the sons. For instance, Biff finds out that Willy’s vision of reality does not coincide with his own one, which results in confliicts. While Willy continues to believe in the possibility of becoming rich and recognized, Biff is annoyed with such unreasonable believes. Subconsciously realizing that he has not succeeded in his life, Willy places all his hopes into Biff because he is “good-looked.” He expects Biff to be outstanding salesman (Miller 16), while Biff considers working on the road the best career he could obtain. When their two opposite visions of the American Dream meet, the social conflict becomes obvious. Miller wants to show that there is a moment in father-son relationships when father has to become an observer and not a player. If he misses this moment and continues to control son’s life, sooner or later it will lead to the conflict.

On the other hand, his relationships with Happy influence the son in a different way. Being not the favorite son, he tries to attract father’s attention following his vision of the American Dream. In attempts to favor his father, Happy becomes even more miserable than he could be following his own way of life. Happy is a representative of Willy’s values in the play under consideration. He is sure that Biff will get the job because of his appearance. However, as it is supposed to be, Happy realizes the wrongness of such an understanding of the American Dream and the miserable way of life he leads.

Willy subordinates the whole upbringing of his sons to the idea of the American Dream and does not pay attention to the shaping of the essential moral values of his children. As he is obsessed with the idea of popularity, one of his main dreams is to see his sons becoming popular. In order to achieve it, he neglects the morality in some situation and idolizes Biff and Happy. He justifies Biff’s stealing, considering it normal as long as he is popular (30). He does not make Biff study because of the son’s pleasant appearance as he will not need any education. Such a position shapes an unreasonable self-esteem in Biff.

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