"The Death of a Salesman" is a play that fully explores the idea of American Dream. Besides Arthur Miller, many other writers such as Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Scott Fitzgerald have touched on the subject of idealized expectations, future goals and unsuccessful accomplishment of them. So what exactly does the American Dream represent? First, it is an idea where freedom includes a promise of opportunity in success according to one's ability or achievement, and second it is so widely accepted that it has become a treasured national value. Arthur Miller plays with this concept of dreams, prosperity and success and creates characters that are vague and very relatable. He also defines the American dream, and depending on each character the answer is very different. Through Willy, Ben and Biff Arthur Miller shows charismatically unrealistic, hardworking and suppressed attempts at reaching success and recognition in life.
Willy Loman is essentially "everyman" who could be selling building supplies or paper goods. The author leaves it for imagination and avoids mentioning what this salesman sells to not take focus of the character's life threatening desire of success. Willy's dream is not an isolated one, and his way of achieving it is based only on charisma. And although this is fatal for Willy, his whole life is pointed at becoming popular. He believes that no hard work is necessary and not everything will need to be earned. He also wants to make sure to pass it on to his children and make them popular and well liked in school. "BIFF: Yes, sir! See, the reason he hates me, Pop - one day he was late for class so I got up at the blackboard and imitated him. I crossed my eyes and talked with a lisp. WILLY: (laughing) You did? The kids like it? BIFF: They nearly died laughing!" (p. 1610). Even after his son makes fun of the teacher's lisp, Willy's only question is if the students like the joke. Because Willy's idea is so weak it not only does not bring him money and respect, but ends with his suicide. Decreased sales end in lost job, children's failures in disappointments and his big dreams of popularity culminate in his poorly attended funeral. Everything is lost, and Willy has failed.
There is a big contrast between Willy and his brother Ben. Although the dream is the same, the way to get there is very different for the hard working Ben. He starts with nothing and becomes very prosperous. He does not solely rely on any chances or personality traits, he eares everything he has. It is beautifully described in his statement to his brother: "Why, boys, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty one. And by God, I was rich!" (p. 1575). Arthur Miller uses Ben's character to show that to achieve the very high material gains, one must become very determined and fierce and be unstoppable on his way.
Both of Willy's and Ben's characters represent the extreme sides of the American dream. These characters are overpowering in a certain way and have a big presence. However the ideal way to become successful must be directed toward happiness and not the material objects. This is exactly what Arthur Miller has hidden in somewhat unnoticeable character Biff. He is portrayed in the story through his father's eyes and is failing at following in Willy's steps. His self-discovery begins with learning of his father's disloyalty to their mother. That is the time that Biff's awakening begins and he slowly understands his own dream. "There is nothing more inspiring or - beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it's cool there now, see? Texas is cool now, and its spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I'm not getting' anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty eight dollars a week! I am thirty four years old. I oughta be makin' my future. That's when I come running home." ( p.1562 ). Biff finally understood that his father's life was worthless and he certainly was not willing to make the same mistake.
Although the story ends with Willy's death, there is a good feeling and happiness about the real dream found for Biff. He raises high, and his dream is not achieved yet, but already he is the closest to it than anyone else in the story. He is lost and suppressed by his father's dream and can have had a similar life to Willy, but he chooses to have a different future. Biff is the creator of his own dream and stands strong with it even though it is not based on charisma or very hard work to earn every penny and become rich. Biff's American dream is finding success through happiness, and for him it is the life in the country side and working on the land.
Miller, Arthur. "The Death of a Salesman." The Norton Introduction to Literature.
Eds. Alison Booth et al. Shorter 9th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.