The American Dream as It Relates to Death of a Salesman

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The American Dream as it Relates to Death of a Salesman
The theme of the American Dream is extremely prevalent in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. It is so prevalent that there are literally hundreds of different to ways to analyze how the theme is used in the play. One interesting perspective is that the different characters in the play represent different versions of the American Dream. Biff represents the 19th century version of the American Dream, Happy represents the 20th century version, and Willy represents a combination of the two, and is torn between them. In the 19th Century the American Dream was symbolized by the ownership of rich farm land or the attaining of independent craftsmanship. Biff is representative of this as he works with land and horses out in the American West. It is interesting to note that Willy was initially supportive of Biff's idea to work on a farm, but felt that by the age of 34, Biff should have accomplished his dreams. He asks how Biff could find himself on a farm, stating that he supported it when Biff was young but he should have found himself after ten years. The irony of this of course is that Willy himself, in middle age is also floundering. Perhaps realizing this, Willy then says that "certain men don't get started until later in life", (Miller, 833) giving a vague citation of Thomas Edison or B. F. Goodrich as an example. In accordance with this 19th Century Dream, Biff was a man of "many dreams and plans". He has tried to build himself up but really wants to be out of doors with his shirt off. He's worked in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Arizona and Texas, among beautiful mares and new colts, but he still finds himself unhappy. He still wants to go out west with Happy and buy a ranch but his plans always seem to fall through. The elusive dream is always beyond his grasp. Happy is the character used to represent the 20th century version of the dream. He is the one who wants growth in his career. He wants to be the merchandise manager, and yet still feels that despite his name, he is not content. When Biff questions him on this point he says that he doesn't know why he is working and that he is waiting for the merchandise manager to die. He seems hell-bent on getting at others who he perceives to be more successful than himself. This can be observed when it is revealed that the girl he had been with that night was engaged to be married to the guy in line for the vice presidency of the store, and that this is the third executive to whom he has done this. Happy is also somewhat of a dreamer but wants success as it is he who hatches the idea of the selling of sporting goods. A combination of the two above versions of the dream is represented by Willy. In Willy we see the personification of the past infiltrating the present. Present events bring to mind past memories and Willy spends a lot of time actually speaking to Young Biff and to a degree to Young Happy. He also has dreams and goals, including wanting a hammock to swing between trees and being able to build things (19th Century American Dream) and wanting to pay off his house and have other material things (20th Century American Dream). His job as a salesman is the quintessential 20th Century American Dream job. He swings like a pendulum between the two versions of the dream and often finds himself in a very unclear middle ground. Miller himself observed in a notebook entry "Life is formless … its interconnections are formed by lapses of time, by events occurring in separated places, by the hiatus of memory" (Miller, 130). Willy's belief in the success promised by his somewhat confused version of the American Dream is not limited to himself – he wants it for his sons and believes in them. One instance of this is the excitable discussion of the sale of the sports goods idea, when he says with enthusiasm, "I see great things for you kids" (Miller, 861). There is again irony in this situation, as Willy, who was their...
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