What Is Arthur Miller Message In Death of a Salesman?

Last Updated: 21 Apr 2020
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The theme of dreams plays a very important part in ‘Death of a Salesman’. They consist of ‘the American Dream’, daydreams and hopes for succeeding. Willy Loman was the main victim in this play as he ended up losing his life by trying to achieve the ‘American Dream’. Although, this dream was the main reason for Willy’s early death, this wasn’t something that he wanted to do; it was the dream that the American society wanted him to do. This dream is known as ‘The American Dream’ and it played an important role in disappointing the characters of Willy’s family.

In the majority of the play, Willy Loman is seen to be following the American Dream. The American Dream is the idea that everyone can become successful, rich and popular in America, but this is mainly based on luck. Willy Loman tries to achieve this, but seeking this artificial happiness that was set by America only ended with his life being taken away. Throughout the entire play, Willy Loman was chasing this false dream that was given to him by the society surrounding him, but he never wanted to do this.

He wanted to live in the country and support himself in the great outdoors, “Me and my boys in those grand outdoors” (Act 2), but this never worked out because of the American society, which made Willy forget about his true dream and forced him to spend his entire life chasing ‘the American Dream’ which in the end, brought him to an early death. Another theme of dreams that Arthur Miller used was ‘hopes and ambitions’. Willy’s flashbacks link to this theme as he has still not achieved his ambition to become successful; instead, Willy used his flashbacks to hide in the past where his life was cheerful and pleasant.

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A perfect example of this was at the beginning of the play where he said that his son, Biff was not achieving anything with his life, but then, he fell into a flashback where Biff was popular in school and was adored by everyone around him. Willy keeps on reminiscing this time because it shows that he was trying to use the past to cheer himself up when he was going through a hopeless time in the present. Hopes and ambition are very important because it showed that Willy ‘hoped’ to be well-liked which was the reason for him becoming a salesman because he thought this was the best job for an American.

This theme links to the American Dream because Willy thought that being a salesman would make him rich and successful as it was the ‘best job’, but it didn’t, instead it was dictating and playing with his life. He told his two sons that, “Uncle Charley is liked, but not well-liked”. The reason for this was to prove to Biff and Happy that he was important to other people, but in Willy’s mind, he knew he would never be able to match the level of success of his brother, Ben and Charley achieved, instead Willy was living under their shadow leading him into another disappointment.

The American Dream makes the Loman family very acquisitive, they think that buying the newest technology on the market is the best way of showing that they are rich and successful, for example, they bought a new refrigerator because “it had the best ads on them”. This sort of buying spree led the Lomans into severe debt and was one of the main sources to Willy’s death as he tried to pay off the debt by killing himself in the end.

Arthur Miller also uses the name ‘Happy’ for the use of irony because the character is getting no real fulfilment from his work or life. “My own apartment, a car, plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely”, this shows that goods cannot fill his soul therefore his happiness is limited. Arthur Miller added this type of character into the play because it shows us that the American Dream is not what we think it is, it is in fact added to show that money cannot buy happiness which is why Happy is lonely, leaving him disappointed with his life.

However, Arthur Miller portrays Willy Loman as the main tragic hero because the American Dream has both mentally and physically destroyed Willy, causing his death at the end of the play. His obsession with success led him to his breaking point; all his ideas and views were twisted by the American Dream. For example, when Willy was playing cards with Charley, he kept on daydreaming about his brother Ben and how much of a great success he had become, Willy almost felt jealous of him because of that.

The fact that he could’ve shared the wealth with him if he had gone on the journey also leaves Willy distraught. During the life of Willy Loman, he was seen as the tragic hero who could not reach the standards of the American Dream. In fact, he was so focused on achieving success; he failed to notice the love his family was showing him. Willy was so severely in debt, he had to kill himself to provide money for his family from his life insurance. This shows that the American Dream can make a normal human being kill themselves just to gain a little money.

Arthur Miller also shows signs of hope in some parts of the play,” Sure, certain men just don’t get started till late in life. Like Thomas Edison, or B. F Goodrich. One of them was deaf. I’ll put my money on Biff”. Willy still has some sort of ‘hope’ that his older son, Biff, can still become a successful businessman. This reliance put Willy under a lot of pressure which eventually lead to his death because his son had multiple failures throughout the play. He died with a false belief that his son would become famous and well-liked (like he was) but we all knew this was never going to happen.

There is also another theme used by Arthur Miller in ‘Death of a Salesman’ and it is ‘Dreams versus Reality’. The Lomans could not pick out the difference between what was a dream and what was reality; Willy suffered from this theory the most because he always dreamed that his two sons would be very successful in the future, but we knew this was never going to happen because Biff was still unemployed at the age of thirty-four and Happy hated his colleagues at work who were always one step ahead of him.

This caused disappointments to them both in the end because they knew that Willy would never let them achieve their true dream which was to work in the outdoors, instead, they were forced to follow Willy’s false dream which was to pursue the success of a salesman. Willy Loman’s situation as a character is supposed to make the audience feel sorry for him because he is very hard-working and determined and yet, still cannot achieve any success. The American Dream has made him into a complete failure.

The author of the play tells the audience that the American Dream is a lie and not everyone can achieve a good amount of success just from hard work, instead, it requires a certain amount of skill and intellect to become successful and in this play, it is shown that Willy does not have any skill or intellect which is why he cannot achieve the American Dream. The theme of dreams is very important ‘Death of a Salesman’ as they affect every character whether it is a daydream, the American Dream or one’s hopes.

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What Is Arthur Miller Message In Death of a Salesman?. (2017, Feb 19). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/how-does-arthur-miller-use-the-theme-of-dreams-to-convey-the-hopes-and-disappointments-of-other-characters/

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