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Death of A Salesman - The change of the American Dream
In numerous ways, Willy represented the last of the agrarian frontiersman, forced into the uncomfortable fit of a corporate globe. For Willy, good results was some thing you attained by how hard you worked and how well liked you had been. This doctrine of how to attain good results consumed Willy’s life and sealed his fate. No matter what he accomplished, Willy was continually forced, by the conflict with his own aspirations, to view himself as a failure. For Willy achievement meant reaching the sudden wealth of the frontier. That frontier, however, was gone. Consequently, all Willy could do was suffer, comparing himself with an ideal which by no means genuinely was attainable for him and, in his waning years, desperately trying to reside the very same unattainable dream vicariously via his sons in whom he’d instilled the very same antiquated idealism which afflicted him. In Biff and Happy’s inability to live their father’s dream, even so, they also had been viewed as failures. The only real achievement depicted in Death of a Salesman is represented by 3 characters, a single representing the extinct agrarian definition of the American Dream, an additional the acceptance of the corporate excellent which replaced it, and ultimately, one representing the intellectual prospective capable of transcending that corporate excellent and its accompanying conformity—thus affirming that along with its vast capacity for failure, America still holds the prospective for achieving greatness. It is by means of the analysis of Arthur Miller’s therapy of the characters of Ben, Charley, and Bernard that the transformation of the American Dream can be comprehensively evaluated.
Ben is the only member of the Loman family to ever attain any actual good results. Consequently, and despite being somewhat of an enigma, he is practically mythologized in the mind of Willy. Handful of specifics are known as to what genuine achievement he ever achieved but for Willy it is what Ben represents that is critical. The very personification of the American Dream for the Loman family, Ben went off to make his fortune early in life and did precisely that. Not incidentally, however, he achieved that American Dream not in America but rather, in Africa. Suggesting that perhaps Willy’s concept of accomplishment in America had already been supplanted by the corporate best, Ben attained his fortune not in the nearby fields and byways of Willy’s planet but rather, thousands of miles from the culture that imprisoned Willy. Nevertheless, the memory of Ben serves to offer Willy with a blueprint, albeit a vague one at very best, of what it requires to obtain extraordinary success. Ben was a man’s man—rugged and optimistic. Even his description of his own accomplishment is stripped down to its barest essentials, summed up by declaring, “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-a single I walked out. And by God I was rich.”( What exactly Ben did in the jungle is a mystery. The only certainties relative to him are his part as the manifestation of all that Willy aspires to and, as such, his validation of Willy’s unattainable dreams. Had Willy gone with Ben to Alaska, when afforded the opportunity, would he as well have achieved extraordinary wealth? The answer is unknown but in Willy’s thoughts, there is little doubt. Also of note is that Ben is the only character in the entire play that refers to Willy as William, maybe suggesting a greater level of respect afforded to a profitable man. Willy is the common man, relegated to the confines of financial weakness, whereas William was in a lot of methods the potential for greatness that went unfulfilled2E It is a large part of Willy’s dream to attain the respect and admiration of his peers, to be revered however he is ultimately only a pathetic remnant of his failed dreams, unable to rise above the juvenile moniker of Willy.
Just as Ben represents the American Dream of Willy’s consciousness, Charley represents the realization of the dream as formulated in the boardrooms of corporate America. Willy’s foil, Charley lives his life devoid of lofty aspirations. All he desires is a pleased, stable life free of charge of debt and that is specifically what he attains. Although by no implies a rich man, Charley is nevertheless many rungs up the economic ladder from the bottom step Willy occupies. For Charley, there is no equivalent to Ben, no dreams of achieving wealth in the frontier of the past, no archetype to be compared to. Alternatively, Charley is a prepared participant in the corporate culture and the suburban life it entails. As opposed to Willy, Charley is content material with his Chevrolet, his whipped cheese, and all the other trappings that lead Willy to view himself as a failure. Most importantly, Charley recognizes the shifting taking spot, realizing that becoming effectively liked and athletic is no longer enough to achieve achievement in the modern America. Instead of encouraging his son to be a man’s man—like Willy does—Charley sees the importance of education. In the reformulated America, a man is in a position to set himself apart not by the strength of his muscles or appeal of his smile but rather, by the capacity of his thoughts and breadth of understanding. Late in the play, when Willy refuses Charley’s provides of aid and employment, the sharp philosophical differences of the two characters are underscored. Willy can not accept the assist, not as a by-item of his eroding sanity but rather, on principle. Acceptance would be tantamount to acknowledging Charley’s unambitious philosophy to be the appropriate a single, very best suited for the era the two males occupy, and that is an admission Willy’s pride would in no way permit him to make.
Having failed to accomplish his own dreams, Willy turns to Biff and Happy in the desperate hope that they can attain that which he could not. However, Willy was so adamant in his beliefs that he indoctrinated his sons in the very same idealistic, agrarian attitudes that condemned him. Consequently, Willy can not achieve success even vicariously, the destructive idealism self-perpetuating across generations. In contrast, Charley’s son Bernard—long the subject of Willy and Biff’s ridicule—represents the intellectual qualities essential by the new America to attain good results. Regardless of getting physically weak and not “well liked,” Bernard, through the persistent application of his intelligence, becomes an eminent lawyer who, the very day Biff and Willy are forced to confront the falsehood of their lives, embarks for Washington to plead a case just before the Supreme Court. The single most considerable feat of the entire play, Bernard’s great success serves to demonstrate that America does certainly nonetheless hold the prospective of attaining greatness. However, that greatness is based upon markedly distinct terms than the achievement that preceded it in the annals of American history.
Eventually, the America that serves as the canvas for Death of a Salesman is a vastly diverse America from the land of boundless chance described by John Smith. Even though the prospect of greatness still exists, the earlier definition of the American Dream—personified by rustic settlers and courageous frontiersmen—was supplanted by the corporate dream of millions of Americans consuming the identical meals, driving the same vehicles, and living in the identical, identical tract properties. That new definition of the American Dream is a conformist one particular interspersed only occasional by a little minority who through superior intellect are capable to transcend the mediocrity for which most happily aspire. It is when the American Dream of the past collides violently with the American Dream of post-WWII America that tragedy occurs. In the words of Arthur Miller in his essay On Biff and Willy Loman, “It is the tragedy of a man who did believe that he alone was not meeting the qualifications laid down for mankind by those clean-shaven frontiersmen who inhabit the peaks of broadcasting and marketing offices…he heard the thundering command to succeed as it ricocheted down the newspaper-lined canyons of his city, heard not a human voice, but a wind of a voice to which no human can reply in kind, except to stare into the mirror at a failure. (Miller 1892)”
Miller, Arthur. “On Biff and Willy Loman.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins 2002. 1892.
Schwartz, Frederic D. “Levittown.” American Heritage 6 (1997): 111-113.
Smith, John. “A Description of New England.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Business 1999. 51.
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