Human beings have always been interested in achieving economic success in their personal lives. The idea of prosperity and monetary success has always attracted mankind. In his play Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller has portrayed picture of a desperate family whose head is running after a luxurious life. The play ironically portrays the American dream and to the extent people can go to achieve this dream. In this paper we will attempt to throw more light on the material success that is worshipped by the capitalist society of America. The characters depict very different opinions about success and American dream.
The author portrays the vision of an American dream of Willy, the main character of the play. Willy sees this world purely in materialistic way and according to him success can only be measured through monetary gains. He also considers use of personal relationships important in attaining success in the society. Through the character of Willy Arthur mocks the materialistic nature of American society. Willy once says to his son “…the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead (Miller, 33). This is the version of Willy and this story of success is told by the author in order to show the real face of ‘The American dream’ to the audience.
Also the reaction of the society towards Willy is also very important. Throughout the play he is not liked by anyone and not even his customers. Willy only favors personal relationships in order to gain monetary benefit but he is not successful. He also measures success in terms of tangible things. For these reasons he is not liked by anyone. Arthur has deliberately tried to make Willy like this because he wanted to show the downside of blind ambition for ‘the American dream’.
Willy also sees success in his brother Ben and considers him successful. Ben is surely living ‘an American dream’ and he is portrayed by Arthur as the successful version of the dream. Ben became successful after working in African jungles in diamond mines. Diamonds have a very symbolic meaning in the play. They present the idea of success that is consistent with an American dream. It is again a tangible thing with which the materialistic society of America is obsessed. The success of Ben is also an ironic portrayal of the American society as Ben sacrifices all interpersonal relations for his success. He wanted to go see his father (Miller, 48) but instead ended up successful.
Charley is the neighbor of Willy and is a respected man. Willy considers him successful because of his humility and nice nature but explicitly always degrades him. Charley can be considered as a real successful person because he does not brag. Also he acts reasonably throughout the play. Charley’s true nature becomes evident when he offers Willy a job. All this shows the good nature of Charley.
Biff Loman, son of Willy, portrays a deviant fellow who resists the ideas of success that are believed by his father. He does not agree with his father’s version of American dream and wants to live a happy and a free life. His definition of success widely differs from his father. He says “Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence; to devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. When all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off and still that’s how you build a future” (Miller 22). This shows that Biff identified the fakeness that existed in the American society and tried to change it. Biff wants to travel and enjoy his life. By Biff the author is portraying the rebellion that will come in future.
All these characters had different ideas of success. The views of Ben and Willy on success represent materialism. They view success in attainment of ‘the American dream’ and value nothing else. Charley and Biff are the real successful people as they are not running after the material things in the world. Charley is not showing off his success and is always humble while Biff aims at living a free naturalistic life free from the troubles of business. They are successful because at least they are not running after the success standards set by society. The success standards of Willy kept on changing and he did not want one thing, but wanted everything. This was the main reason of his unsatisfied life. True success therefore was achieved by Biff and Charley in the play ‘Death of a Salesman’.
Works Cited Page
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Print