The Myth of the American Dream

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Many American writers have been successful in shattering what they consider to be the myth of “The American Dream”. Discuss this in relation to the texts you have studied.

“…It's absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don't like in order to go on doing things you don't like…we're bringing up children, and educating them to live the same sort of lives we're living…that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing…therefore it's so important to consider this question...“What do I desire?”” (Tragedyandhopeproductions) This essay explores literary works that effectively shatter the myth of American Dream, whose message equates wealth with self-worth and raises dysfunctional values in society, resulting into a vain existence of a life. These texts are Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, “All My Sons” and Edward Albee’s “The American Dream”. Critics have chided earlier productions of all Miller’s plays due to its “heartfelt condemnation of capitalist greed and its concomitant lack of moral responsibility” (Ben Brantley, NYTimes) as well as Albee’s “immorality, nihilism and defeatism”. (SparkNotes)

Both playwrights were born into a rich family – Miller’s father owned successful clothes manufacturing business and Albee was adopted by millionaires. Miller’s privileged early life diminishes during the Great Depression in 1929; he was compelled to work numerous menial jobs to pay his tuition for University, allowing him insight for his character Biff and Willy in “Death of a Salesman” and Joe Keller’s ruthless business instincts in “All my Sons” where the three-act drama is based on Greek tragedy focusing on “wilful blindness, loyalty and betrayal” (Helen Epstein, of a “self-deluding, guilt-crippled American family” (Ben Brantley, NYTimes). Albee however chose to lead a then-unconventional life by joining the world of artists and writers as he deflected the social restraints inflicted upon him by his adoptive parents, who triggered his animosity towards artificial values. Thus he masters the Theatre of the Absurd, exposing the “experiences of alienation, insanity, and despair inherent in modernity”. He describes his play as "an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society…a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen" (SparkNotes). “Death of a Salesman” is a tragic drama mostly set in the Loman house in New York City and Boston of 1949. It falls under tragedy as it consists of a main character diminished as a “consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavourable circumstances” (TheFreeDictionary). In Miller’s 1949 essay (Tragedy and the Common Man) he defended (and continues to, with his classic plays) the average Joe’s potential as a character of self-sacrificing heroism (Ben Brantley, NYTimes). This applies both to Miller’s plays. The modern tragedy of the common “low man” permits a sense of timelessness and universality in the play – the worth of a man is not defined by his status, but by “the intensity of the human passion to surpass his given bounds” (Val Randall). The play was supposed to be entitled “The Inside of His Head” as Miller intended to expose the psyche of a man living a lie whose dreams are never realized and the damage it can cause to one’s mentality. The play consists of two acts and a requiem and illustrates Willy’s life throughout one day as Miller's mobile concurrences permit the audience to experience Willy’s lifetime of failure and delusion which ultimately which “grab the audience by the throat and not release them” (Miller). We identify ourselves with Willy as he “embodies hopes, dreams and fears…typical of all of us” (Val Randall). On the other hand, “The American Dream” is a one act absurdist play that satirises the American status quo and...
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