Miller’s Critique of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman

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Isaac Newton’s third law of thermodynamics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By use of logic and metaphorical value one might argue that this could be transposed to the basic concept of the American Dream. Therefore for every American Dream there is also an American Nightmare. However Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is in no way, shape or form such a thing. Miller is meeting us halfway and describes the life of a man who is unconsciously disillusioned and who lives in denial, nurturing the wounds society has inflicted upon him with the memories of better times and who is, in the end, driven to suicide in what he considers to be his way of making up for all the wrongs that had plagued him. The final moments before chooses to opt out he justifies himself by saying that “he’ll worship me for it!”… Imagine? When the mail comes he’ll be ahead of Bernard again! … Oh, Ben, I always knew one way or another we were gonna make it, Biff and I! (Death of a Salesman 100-101) Willy does not achieve his version of the American Dream, but he dies hoping that his sons will, with his life insurance as collateral. Willy becomes a sacrifice and also a martyr; his death becomes a symbol for Miller’s views on the American Dream.

Throughout the play Willy becomes somewhat of a mystery to the audience. His mannerisms are weird and he also shows a great deal of bipolar behavior. In Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations, Bloom argues that “You cannot know a man half lost in the American dream, a man who is unable to tell past from present … self-slain, not by the salesman’s dream of America, but by the universal desire to be loved by one’s own, and to be loved beyond what one believes one deserves.” (4-5) Willy is in a state where he is increasingly distancing himself from his loved ones while paradoxically wanting to be loved and respected. He does not want to be read, analyzed or judged. He is not the kind of man who would stop at nothing to...
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