The Illusion of the “American Dream”

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The phrase “American Dream” has often been ascribed to the prosperity of the United States, but the explication of this expression lacks consistency amongst the citizens in this country. The diversity of opinions comprised in the American society causes significant variation to the interpretation of this term from person-to-person. An example of these discrepancies is depicted in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. In this play, Miller uses several different characters as a function to illustrate the widespread disparity of beliefs regarding the appropriate philosophy for the pursuit of happiness in America. Willy Loman (the central character in the play) is used to represent a highly capitalistic society. On the other hand, Willy’s son (Biff) is symbolic for socialist ideals. Charlie (a longtime friend of the Loman family) exemplifies a moderate point of view between the two aforementioned ideals. By presenting three contrasting perceptions of the “American Dream,” Miller suggests that a unified view of this concept is an illusion, due to the dissimilar sentiments spanning across the United States concerning this matter.

A defining characteristic of a highly capitalistic society is the notion that success is directly related to monetary value, a concept that Willy believes is essential for the attainment of happiness in America. Miller makes the reader aware of Willy’s feelings about money early in the narration, which sets the stage for a recurring theme throughout the whole play. The first instance where Willy establishes his viewpoint about this topic is when he is talking to his wife (Linda) about a confrontation he had with Biff earlier that morning. The argument began as a result of Willy’s irritation regarding Biff’s shortage of money: “I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that criticism?” (Miller 15). Questioning a person’s absence of money can often be seen as offensive, but Willy thinks this is a perfectly acceptable inquiry to...
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