Compare/Contrast Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman) and Walter Lee Younger (a Raisin in the Sun)

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“May I never wake up from the American dream.” Carrie Latet describes the most sought after dream: the dream of a house surrounded by a white picket fence, the dream people work their entire lives for, the dream people fight wars for: the American dream. However, America’s rise to industrialism in the 19th and 20th centuries replaced this dream with the desire to get rich fast. This change led people to believe that it is possible, common even, to obtain wealth rapidly; yet this is not the case. Sometimes, when an individual is unable to acquire such extreme wealth, he create a sense of false reality for himself, his common sense is blurred, and he sees opportunities where there are none. Characters Walter Lee Younger and Willy Loman are prime examples of this, both pinning their hopes on unattainable dreams to hide the feelings of failure. The theme of illusion versus reality is present in both Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman through the portrayal of main characters Walter and Willy in their struggles for happiness and prosperity. Although the two characters have similar dreams, Walter, a dynamic character, breaks through the fantasy while Willy, a static character, remains trapped in his illusion.

Willy Loman has a very specific dream, a contorted version of the American dream. Willy dreams of being successful and providing for his family, but also to be popular and well liked: a spin off the classic American dream, which is generally just to have a happy life. Driven by his need for success and popularity, Willy ignores his calling for nature and throws all his heart into becoming a salesman. Willy is enthralled by the story of Dave Singleman, his inspiration and idol. “I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ‘Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people” (Miller 81). This story is the sole reason for Willy’s desire to be a successful salesman, but what he does not realize is that Singleman’s case is one in a million. Although he doggedly pursues a career in selling, Willy also recognizes his need and desire for nature in his retirement plans. As he tells Linda, “Before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens . . .” (72). However, his failure to acknowledge nature as his true passion fuels his failure in the business world as well. Denis Diderot concludes, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Tempted by success and money, Willy veers from his passion for the outdoors towards business, for which he has little passion. The theme of nature is prevalent from the play’s beginning as, “A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon.”(11). This specific tune is often associated with Willy’s character, distancing him from the environment, but emphasizing the connection Willy has to it. Many would argue, Willy has set himself up for failure by choosing the business career.

In order to escape the feeling of dejection, Willy reverts to his falsely joyful past and creates multiple illusions for himself, seeing the world through a glass clouded with desire and failure. One of Willy’s greatest regrets is refusing to accompany Ben to Alaska. “If I’d gone with him to Alaska that time, everything would’ve been totally different” (45). Ben’s success in Alaska not only presents Willy with the possibility of money, but it would also satisfy his connection with nature. Ben’s voice in the play continually represents Willy’s resentment of his decision to stay, and his longing for a second chance to take the opportunity. Next, Willy fondly retreats to his past, a past glossed over in gold. Willy imagines a happy and cheerful...
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