Art of Sacrifice: American Beauty vs. Death of a Salesman

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Sacrifice and the American Dream are closely linked in Death of a Salesman and American Beauty. Discuss. Sacrifice and the American Dream are inextricably linked in the play, Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, and the film, American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes. The pursuit of achieving the American Dream ultimately leads to the sacrifice of individual values and morals to achieve the societal expectations of the 1940s urban context and the 1990s suburban context. The American Dream is a social dream that is underpinned by its materialism where the individual must decide whether to follow its societal values or personal ideals, and face the consequences of their decision. In the play, Death of a Salesman, which examines the lives of the Loman family in 1940s urban America, the American Dream is believed to be achieved by projecting a false image. The protagonist, Willy, is caught up with the notion of “personal attractiveness” and being a “self-made man”. His perception of himself as being “well-liked” forces him to sacrifice Charley’s job offer instead of his pride, despite his borrowing money from him. On the other hand, Lester has already achieved the American Dream in the film, American Beauty, which examines the detrimental effects of the suburban dream on the Burnham family. The irony is that his success does not create his happiness. Viewers are introduced to Lester’s success in the wide-angle shot of his picturesque suburban neighbourhood, indicating his success, but his voiceover reveals that looks can be deceiving. The symbol of his imprisonment is present in metaphorical bars created by windows and text on a computer, making him feel “dead already”. Similarly, Willy feels “boxed-in” by the “towering” apartments over his “small, fragile-seeming home” where it is not possible to grow seeds, a recurring motif of opportunity and a proof of labour for Willy’s lost dreams of success. In American Beauty, Angela is a symbol of Lester’s lost adolescent...
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