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“Death of a Salesman”: The American Dream by Arthur Miller

Introduction

Even though many readers consider the American Dream as one of the core ideas in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, there is always a chance to find some new interpretation. In his article, Majid Salem Mgamis explains the American Dream as a part of social values “that changed because of development in life” (71). When a person is unable to understand the worth of changes, he or she fails and feels abandoned even by the closest relatives. A similar situation happens to Willy, the main character of the play, who cannot distinguish between real and illusionary opportunities but challenge his family relationships and whole life. To explain the worth of the American Dream defined by Miller in Death of a Salesman, Mgamis evaluates multiple techniques, including personal attitudes, social parameters, and the differences between past values and modern requirements.

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The Story and Its Critique

The strength of Death of a Salesman is based on the ability of Miller to develop a variety of important themes within the story of one family or even one person. This play was written in the middle of the 20th century but seems to be applicable for many people, living today, in the 2020s. In their intentions to achieve personal and professional success, individuals are not always able to set priorities correctly and continue making mistakes or wrong decisions.

The Loman family, including Willy, Linda, and their two sons, Biff and Happy, is stuck in the circle of dreams, denial, abilities, and established standards. Sometimes, they have enough experience and power to recognize and complete their tasks, but, as a matter of fact, they just misunderstand their responsibilities, provoking another disorder and confusion. Mgamis makes a good attempt to examine the chosen masterpiece and the idea of the American Dream with its “considerable level of the shift from individualism to social conformity” (69). Instead of following their dreams and discovering their potential, the characters become obsessed with obligations and complex goals.

Worth of Personal Attitudes

Death of a Salesman is a story about family ties and how personal attitudes determine the quality of human life. In the modern world, as well as several decades or centuries ago, the same idea of children and parents relationships exists. It is expected that parents provide their children with some financial background and emotional support to develop their skills and understand their priorities. At the same time, children should demonstrate their respect for their parents. In the situation described by Miller, the concept of family differs due to the impossibility of a father and a son to find out a consensus.

One of the most serious conversations between Willy and his older son, Biff, occurred in Act II. Biff admits that he cannot understand why he tries to grab for something and do in an office “making a contemptuous, begging fool” of himself when he is just “a dime a dozen” (Miller 105). In his turn, Willy cannot accept such a painful fact that he is no one but “a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash” (Miller 106). Various personal attitudes toward life prevent reconciling between the characters.

The relationships between Biff and Willy get worse with each phrase being told to each other. Mgamis, as well as other critics, focuses on this conflict and explains it as an outcome of the inability, to tell the truth, or create solutions (70). Biff expects the father to identify a problem and help his children and the wife to improve the situation, and Willy “is does not have the potential to confront the dilemma” (Mgamis 70). Although the man has his beliefs and philosophy, his personality is weakly developed regarding current expectations.

Importance of Social Parameters

Another significant challenge to following the American Dream is the necessity to meet specific parameters and norms. According to Mgamis, the problem of the main character is “his adherence to the idea that one can succeed in business by imposing his perspective without heeding other concerns” (70). Willy cannot understand why after achieving business success, Howard does not find it necessary to help him the way he helped Howard’s father several years ago.

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Miller uses strong literary techniques to underline the level of injustice Willy experiences, saying that “you can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit” (61). Social parameters have been changed, and Willy evidences all these changes but is not ready to accept all of them. Society cannot be stopped or manipulated, and if some members of a family understand this truth and others do not, a crack in their relationships starts growing. Social and family values are closely related, and the Lomans were not prepared for such standards.

Past Values vs. Modern Requirements

The idea of the American Dream is to be daring enough to break the rules and change priorities. Willy is blind with his belief that past values cannot be changed because they feed personal and professional progress. His brother, Ben, has another position according to which a person should “never fight fair with a stranger” (Miller 34). Mgamis emphasizes that Willy does not understand this point and follows the example of his brother to combine past values and modern tendencies (70). It seems that Willy has some general understanding of the American Dream when a young man leaves a family and returns with money and success.

However, because he does not know what should be done outside the home practically, he fails and disappoints his family. Willy is an example who idealizes the American Dream and relies on his fantasies only, and Ben is a rationalist who uses facts, numbers, and current achievements. Both personalities have their positive and negative sides, but success is at stake, modern requirements and social standards should prevail over personal attitudes and past values.

Conclusion

Death of a Salesman is a story of one man that becomes a serious lesson for millions of people. Some readers could find similarities between the Lomans’ situation and their own lives. Someone should realize that despite their desire to gain control over people and society, failures are hard to avoid. Miller uses the American Dream as a factor according to which human actions and decisions are evaluated. Mgamis investigates the worth of personal attitudes, social parameters, past values, and modern requirements to prove that it is normal for people to develop their versions of the dream. Therefore, this story does not have an expiration date but remains a credible source of current interest throughout the centuries.

Works Cited

Mgamis, Majid Salem. “Death of a Salesman: Critique of the American Dream.” International Journal or Language and Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 2017, pp. 69-71.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Penguin Books, 1998.

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