Death of a Salesman – Essay Themes
The American Dream
· Failure of A.D in success orientated society
· Willy, the protagonist– Pursues A.D his whole life which leads him to failure in life & ultimately his suicide
· Responsible for not only his own failures but also his sons
· Failure leads him to financial instability and constant denial of reality – he is deluded as to what caused his failures
Willy’s “small fragile-seeming home” surrounded by “towering, angular shapes” of capitalist America in which his dreams have trapped him
Pursuit of A.D has caused conflict between W and B – conflict is first seen when W says “Biff is a lazy bum” but 2 lines later he contradicts himself by saying B is “such a hard worker” – through these lines, Miller introduces deep conflict between father and son.
· This highlights W’s mental instability caused by pursuit of A.D
Instability caused by A.D leads him to being unable to separate himself between illusions & reality
· He often retreats into past + decides to re-live memories in which he is perceived successful, does this to escape reality
· “I was thinking of the Chevvy… I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today” relives the memory in which he is doing well at his job & drives a nice car
W also has hallucinations of his dead brother Ben who he admires & considers “success incarnate”. W sees Ben everything he strives for but can’t escape the fact he is suffering
· “When I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich” – thinks about chance he had to join his brother & be successful & regrets it.
· “Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben…” – W uses the fact he didn’t join his brother as an excuse for his failures
· Instead of helping W stop chasing his dangerous dreams, flashbacks of B restore W’s faith in the dream which only makes matter worse
· “the greatest things can happen” W. is trapped by his dreams & there is no escape
His relentless pursuit of A.D also leads to W failing as a father
· W’s bad habits of denying and manipulating reality are also adopted by his sons (B + H) which they practice their entire lives and leads them to failure as well.
· Finally, at end of play B admits he has been a “phony” too just like his father.
· During one of W’s flashbacks, we see B showing W his football and admits he stole it from his coach, W tells him to return ball but soon defends his actions and says “Coach’ll probably congratulate you for using your initiative” he encourages this which causes B to steal in the future
Starts off with optimism
· Willy is seeing his boss Howard about getting a better job where he doesn’t have to travel
· Howard shows W little respect & doesn’t care what he has to say, W is forced to reduce his self-worth (he keeps lowering amount of money he needs to survive)
· Causes W to become angry and he shouts “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit!” and Howard fires him