The American Dream in Death of a Salesman

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The “American Dream” is based on the “Declaration of Independence”: “We believe that all men are born with these inalienable rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Thomas Jefferson, 1776). This “dream” consists of a genuine and determined belief that in America, all things are possible to all men, regardless of birth or wealth; if you work hard enough you will achieve anything. However, Miller believes that people have been “ultimately misguided” and Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman”, is a moving destruction of the whole myth. The origins of the American Dream seem to have been rooted in the pioneering mentality of the 18th and 19th century immigrants, most of whom came to America because of a promise of a new and better life. In particular, the opportunity to own one’s land. But land “ran out” and so cities developed and massive variations arose in wealth, which meant that this “American Dream” changed from being a potential reality, into being a dream, like the name implies. Most of Miller’s plays are directly or indirectly about the American Dream, because ultimately this dream wasn’t going to succeed as lots of people wished. Death of a Salesman written in 1949 is a moving destruction of the whole myth. To be hard working, honest and have ambition were the ways of the American Dream. This lead to success, wealth and in due time - power. But this dream for everyone developed, and encouraged greed, selfish behavior, pride andrivalry between one another. This explains exactly what he had in mind for Willy to be - as he was, “trying to achieve his lost self.” The things that are meant to happen in business are success, wealth and esteem. This is what Ben has achieved and done. Miller stressed his success and material reward in Ben. He does this by Ben repeating himself a lot, “I walked into the jungle, and when I came out I was rich.” But Ben also has emptiness in spite of his success. In the eyes of the audience, he has no real happiness.

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