Death of a Salesman
The term "American Dream" has many diverse meanings. For some, it may be to become
wealthy and live in big houses. For others, it could be to simply live a productive life that
contributes to society. Wanting to live the "American Dream" is the conflict in this novel that
opens the doors to many interpretations that can be related to wanting to be successful.
The setting of "Death of a Salesman" takes place in 2 major time frames. The story
is told mostly from the present memory of the main character, Willy Loman. However, there
are numerous times in the novel when he has flashbacks to when his two sons, Biff and
Happy, were children. Something else that was also deemed important to the setting is in the
opening of the book when Willy comes home and complains about the cramped atmosphere
of his home. He has a flashback to when there were two trees and a garden before the
population of the area bloomed and row after row of apartment blocks were built. It shows
that Willy had a longing for green and to be outdoors, not be cramped inside. To be open
and able to roam represents being free, largely what the "American Dream" is to many
foreigners. Ironically, the need to be outdoors was shared by one of his sons and paved the
way for the symbolic meaning of the story considering that his sons were happy to work
outdoors yet Willy pushed them to pursue what he wanted out of them.
The theme of this story is that of having values, or lack thereof, in pursuit of the
"American Dream". Willy's values are almost nonexistent. The few values that he did have,
which obviously were not good ones, were instilled into his sons. An example of this is in a
flashbackearly on in the novel where Biff "borrowed" a football from the school to practice.
Willy was well aware that the football was stolen, but failed to punish him. Biff was very
popular in high school, and is the way he is presented throughout the novel because of
Willy's "it's not what you know, it's who you know" business attitude that was his hypothetical
nail in the coffin. Willy thought that being successful in a job was being successful in life; that if
you were well liked then you would automatically become successful. Unfortunately for Willy,
he was neither liked nor successful and this was because of his misdirected value system.
Willy wound up killing himself in order for Biff to collect on the $20,000 life insurance and start
a new business. However, it is unkown if Biff can even collect on the money considering that
most life insurance policies do not cover suicide and that no suicide provision in the insurance
contract is mentioned. In a sense, he took his own life over guilt for the wayhe brought up his
There was an irony in the setting prior to Willy taking his life. Generally, green represents
prosperous and free. In this novel, there were numerous references to nature and they symbolized
positive values. The two trees that were demolished by the builders to build apartment rows can
be looked at as a time that can be associated with a more clean way of life before people were
forced into fighting tooth and nail for the sake of pure competition. Perhaps the most noticable
symbolic meaning in the novel are the seeds which Willy attempts to plant in an area that
receives no natural light. This was a way for Willy to leave something fruitful in his wake, but
just like most of the things he did, it made no sense whatsoever. The symbolic meaning of this
is that the seeds cannot grow in conditions that do not favor them, just as Willy has put both of
his sons in situations that would not allow them to grow. If it weren't for Willy's upbringing of
them, they would have had the knowledge required to be a real success in life. Ironic, indeed.
In conclusion, if Willy had taught his...
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