The Failure of the American Dream
The vision of a successful life in a perfect society was a goal for many middle class Americans in history. It was an ideal that most people of the twentieth century focused on and that they tried to attain for themselves. The controversy of the American Dream has been a prominent discussion in the eyes of many critics, especially when attesting to the fact on how it affects those that believe in it. Certain characters in literature develop a false sense of reality in the American Dream that it tends to swallow them whole. In both Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and “The Average” by W.H. Auden a common theme of the “American Dream” addresses the necessity of an individual to conform to society and how the dream as a whole leads to imminent failure. During the 1900s, Americans wanted to attain a better standard of living, thus resulting in this so-called “dream’. It was a strong desire of many low and middle income individuals to appear more fortunate than they were in the essence of reality. After World War I, America experienced a time of growth, wealth and prosperity. The “Roaring ‘20s” occurred when consumer goods, such as; radios, cars and homes, became readily available to the public. With the use of mass media and communication, Americans felt like a more largely connected society. There was sense of pride in their country and they had a new-found desire to conform to the expected norms and values of society (“Death of a Salesman” 71). Rather than a country of individualists, the US became a nation of people who desperately wanted to be accepted by their peers which meant they needed to appear to be “well-liked” and successful in the eyes of society.
America then had an economic crippling during the 1930s when the Great Depression occurred. Americans were poor, upset, and angered at the fact that employment was at an all time low and the rates at which they were making money were infrequent. This affected many people’s attitudes about everyday life and their success in society. World War II came about in the years following and after the conclusion of that war, America prospered again, mainly as a result of the increase in the industrial production markets brought about by the war. There was a sufficient amount of goods, products and services to choose from and the finances of many families were increasing, therefore they were able to make such purchases (“Death of a Salesman” 69). However, this economic success placed the unwealthy citizens of America at a disadvantage. Inflation prevented lower class Americans from saving any money and the use of credit to purchase big ticket items also had a negative effect on the American people. They were spending money that they necessarily didn’t have, and using credit to buy items that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. Relying too much on credit was a setback for many middle class Americans during this time; they wanted to appear more successful than the reality of it (“Death of a Salesman” 70). Born in the early 1900s, American author and playwright Arthur Miller lived in the heart of the time period of the “American Dream”, which was highly influential in his writing. He was an upper-middle class city dweller, who generally focused more on his social life than his academics. However, Miller became very successful in his writing in the mid 1900s. His realistic dramas touched on social, psychological and physiological issues and often focus on the tragedy of characters that are not necessarily in tune with the world around them. Many reoccurring themes in his work dealt with the battle of an individual to preserve their reputation in the eyes of the cruel world that surrounds them (“Arthur Miller” 4). Millers writing in Death of a Salesman has been viewed as a parallel to his own life by some critics, but mainly is viewed as a denouncement of the obsession of wealth and popularity in relation to the American Dream...
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