Brittany W Mr. Flinchbaugh Academic English 11 May 7, 2012 Willy Loman and the American Dream The term “American Dream” is used in a number of ways, but essentially the American Dream is an idea which suggests that all people can succeed through hard work, and that all people have the potential to live happy, successful lives. One of Arthur Miller’s most recognized characters is Willy Loman, who is an average American trying to live out the American Dream.
Yet, Willy Loman has come to represent the opposite of the American Dream: as hard as he works, he does not get very far; and he is haunted by his fatherless past and his brother going to Africa and becoming rich. When Arthur Miller wrote the play “Death of a Salesman” most people took “Willy Loman as representing the forgotten ‘little man’ in America” (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). According to Matthew Broccoli and Judith Baugman, “There was the reality and there was a myth of solidarity during the Depression.
The latter was beautiful, but the most of the time it was dog-eat-dog in reality” (1). Eventually Willy comes to realize this when he notices the handshake is meaningless, and all the deals he made with former owners do not mean anything because the new owners do not care (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). Miller suggests that for many Americans- such as Willy Loman and his sons- the American Dream that Dale Carnegie, who wrote the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ claimed is within easy reach is an ideal goal that may never be realized (Bruccoli and Baugman 1).
In Arthur Miller’s play of “Death of a Salesman” he makes Willy out to be the American Everyman and the Lomans as a typical American family (Bloom 8). Bruccoli and Baugman stated, “If Willy Loman’s dream is the American dream, it is alos a dream shared by all those who are aware of the gap between what they might have and what they are” (1). Most people believe Willy Loman decides to “bring tragedy down on himself, not by opposing the lie, but by living it” (Williams 15). Eric Bently, the drama critic, believes the tragedy of Willy Loman centers on the “politics f sex” (Bloom 7). “Ironically, the form of his defeat, but now for no liberating end; simply to get by, to see himself and his sons all right” (Williams 15). “Something in him knows that if he stands alone he will be overwhelmed” (Miller 27). Arthur Miller did not want to make Willy Loman out to be a passive character (27). “Willy’s insistent mantra is ‘be liked and you’ll never want” (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). Willy Loman was abandoned by his father by the age of four, making him feel ‘kind of temporary” (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). The connection between parents and children, seen as necessarily contradictory, is again tragically decisive” (Williams 15). Despite Willy’s failures what he really wants to be is a good husband and father. He also want to give the sons the best they can get which may not seem fair in his sons eyes. According to Miller, “But I want you to see that the impulses behind him are not foolish at all. He cannot bear reality and since he can’t do much to change it, he keeps changing his ideas” of the American dream (27). By blending Willy and the Lomans into a common grayness, so that they lack all color or exuberance and yield much of their pathos to a vision of social reductiveness, as if they were victims purely of the false dreams of their nation”(Bloom 8). Some feel that the excessive love Willy uses is to cover up his loneliness (Bloom 8). “So my point is that you must look behind his ludicrousness,” Miller states, “to what he is actually confronting, and that as serious a business as anyone can imagine” (Miller 27).
Willy Loman choose to end his life during one of the greatest economic booms in American history (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). Willy Loman has become not a man selling things but selling himself. He then is another product to be bought and sold and ultimately, “discarded by the laws of the economy” (Williams 15). “Miller, in contrast, wants to give us a Willy Lomaan who is destroyed by social energies” (Bloom 7). “These lies and evasions around of his are his little swords which he wards off the devils around him” (Miller 27). Something deeper than Miller’s political polemic pervades the play and makes it more than a parody of ‘the American Dream’ of upward of mobility, so that Willy Loman finally escapes the dubious fate of being a poor man’s Jay Gatsby” (Bloom 7). Eventually he comes to realize,“He is often laughed at and openly wonders if it ‘takes more guts to stand here the rest of my life ringing up a zero’ or commit suicide, his ultimate choice” (Bruccoli and Baugman 1). Bloom thinks that “Willy Loman’s American dream is rescued from aesthetic banality precisely because it is possessed by the enigmas that mark a guilty dream” (9).
Willy Loman represents the opposite of the American Dream: as hard as he works, he does not get very far; and he is haunted by his fatherless past and his brother going to Africa and becoming rich. Willy Loman his life has been destroyed by the environment around him. Willy just wants to see the best for his family but his past haunts him. Willy wants to give his sons the best he can to make up for his fatherless past. His ultimate decision in the end is suicide because he wants to give his son, Biff, money by the insurance company. Works Cited Bruccoli, Matthew J. , and Judith S. Baugman. “Willy Loman. Student’s Encyclopedia of American Literary Characters. 2009: n. p. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Web. 28 March 2012. Miller, Arthur. “Salesman in Beijing” (1984). Rpt. in Major Literary Characters: Willy Loman. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991. 27. Print. Bloom, Harold, ed. “Introduction. ” Bloom’s Guides: Death of a Salesman. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 2004. 7-9. Print. Williams, Raymond. “Modern Tragic Literature: From Hero to Victim. ” Modern Tragedy (1996). Rpt. in Major Literary Characters: Willy Loman. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991. 15. Print.