Death of a salesman primarily deals with the importance of consumerism and materialism, surpassing seemingly antiquated views and in this case, destroying a man who has failed in the attainment of “The American Dream. ” The fact that Willy dies in the play shows the effect that the delusion of unattainable greatness has on society and contradicts those who endorse it. Willy’s financial status leads him to madness, talking constantly to himself and switching constantly between images of the present and past.
He is more at ease with the potential and the once opportunities of the past than the difficulties and now missed opportunities of the present. He tells Charley in act 2 that after all the trains, and the appointments, and the years, “you end up worth more dead than alive. ” Willy seeks to justify everything in monetary terms, going as far as putting a price on his life. Charley tells Willy that no man is worth “nothin’ dead,” showing that a successful man can see that there is more to life than money, yet a man like Willy is constantly reminded of his inadequacy and can see nothing beyond material gain.
Willy, who has failed to achieve what he wanted, lives vicariously through his sons, encouraging them to pursue money rather than happiness. When Biff tells Happy that, with their physiques, they should be mixing cement on the open plains or be carpenters, Willy says, “even your grand-father was better than a carpenter. ” Willy also sarcastically remarks that Biff should “go back west and enjoy” himself. Both these remarks, ironically, highlight a sense of snobbery within Willy. Willy is determined that Biff “will be magnificent,” and will not accept the idea of a tradesman, or the priority of happiness above money for his son.
Willy tells Linda that, “before it’s all over they’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and they’ll raise some vegetables, or a couple of chickens. Miller romanticises the rural-agrarian dream, showing how the American Dream has been misinterpreted in modern society. Willy’s ability to be a good parent has also been shattered by the unattainable goals that Willy has set himself. In his flashbacks he tells the boys that one day, he will “own his own business and never have to leave home again.
Willy brings the boys into his delusion, promising them something he can never achieve, and instigating within them a sense that the “middle way” is tantamount to failure. Biff pours his heart out to Willy just before Willy’s final tragic act but Willy still maintains, even after Biff has underlined that he is merely average, that “he will be magnificent. ” This is another example of how, disillusioned with the world, Willy is still overcome by the dream that he can’t quite reach and refuses to accept his view of failure in his son: “I am not a dime a dozen!
I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman! ” Willy’s attitude towards Ben helps us to see the extent to which he values Ben’s financial achievement. When Willy introduces his sons to his brother he says, “This is your uncle Ben, a great man! ” The truth is however, that Ben represents everything that Miller highlights is wrong with society, shown by his injections throughout the play of: “William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God I was rich! ”
Ben has lived up to the slogan of the American dream but never makes any time for his brother and is always more concerned with his trips than his family; epitomising the change that society has gone through. Linda is used in the play to remind us that, as frustrating as Willy’s choices may be, he is still only a man. She is used as the sympathetic wife through whom we can see the corrupting influence of the American Dream. When talking with her two sons in the opening act, she reminds them that: “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.
He works for a company thirty-six years… nd now in his old age they take his salary away. ” Here Miller emphasises that the corruption of “The American Dream” has led to such competition for wealth and success that the average man is brutally cut down in the race for success. Linda also says: ” But he’s a human being and attention must be paid. He’s not allowed to fall into his grave like and old dog. ” This stresses the political point that in the attempt to fulfil the American Dream we should not be allowed to sacrifice the well being of the average person. When Willy dies, Happy says: “He fought it out here and that’s where I’m gonna to win it for him.
This gives the play a rather hopeless felling and shows that even with one mans tragic downfall at the hands of the unassailable “American Dream,” we have not learned from his death and his sacrifice was unheard. Unlike Biff who shows that some men can “look up at the sky and realise what a ridiculous lie their whole life has been,” Happy represents the somewhat inescapable pursuit of societies dreams and not your own. Miller shows that the most important thing in life is to know your own limitation and be content with success within those boundaries.