Arthur Miller dramatizes not only the longings and disappointments of a little man in America and the inhuman attitude of the business world towards a man not useful to the organization, but he focuses readers’ attention on the gap between the American dream and the American reality. One of the qualities of this play is that it does not visualize the consumer society as a backdrop to be used for focusing the inadequacies and failings of Willy Loman: the play visualizes his life and the social forces within which Willy operates. The true statement about Willy was said by his son, Biff who claims that all his life he valued false dreams and ideals: “He had the wrong dreams… He never knew who he was” (Miller).
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Biff is right stating that Willy’s values and hopes were false and unrealistic, because most of them did not value human dignity and self-identity soc important for every personality. The tragic vision is associated with the abstraction of human values in conflict with the social experience. He sees in the society a tendency to level the individual into a faceless non-entity. Willy’s greed for profit in business, his care for a job, his sexual passion are only different expressions of his search for dignity. Miller, by and large, equates their search for financial security with the search for identity of a modern man. Through the character of Willy, Miller portrays that the businessman’s ethos dominates the American mind so much that only money gives a citizen social distinction, and money seems to be the prime source of status. The state does not confer titles or honor, nor does society recognize the superiority of birth or family. All citizens being equal, the only distinguishing mark between them is financial success. The Lomans are only following the lead their culture provides them with: one is a mediocre credulous salesman and the other a businessman who believes to be following the business ethic of maximum profit. The American dream had once been realized, when the house had been located in a section of Brooklyn. So the house comes through as the external manifestation of Willy’s dream of the future, a successful Biff Loman, scion of the house of Loman.
The main problem is that Willy’s dreams do not reflect the American dream and American values. The American dream is a prosperity based on personal growth and development, unique ideas and values which help a person to gain financial success. For instance, his brother Ben, his neighbors Charley and his son Bernard prove that the American dream is a reality but a person should be realistic in his assumptions and be a hardworking. Willy dreams about prosperity but he does little to achieve these dreams. Charley is right that “Willy was just a salesman”; the mistake is that Willy gives no chance for his sons to fulfill their dreams and develop their abilities. Americans enjoy the highest standard of living, and it costs more to live in America than in any country in the world. Willy, in his own sphere, has misread the future of his house. He failed to gain the minimum sense of security and prosperity in his profession, and he lost the respect and affection of his children for whom he cared so much. Willy Loman, however, is largely responsible for his failure. And his failure sums up the case of a misfit who cannot comprehend the intricate mechanism of the modern business world, and believes in a desperate way in its goodness and justice.
Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.