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The American Dream
Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman is one of the most brilliant works in the world drama. It reveals numerous important issues to address in any society. However, one of the major concerns of the play is the American system and capitalism, or rather the back side of it. The author contemplates the real nature of the American dream.
Eventually, the playwright comes to the conclusion that hard work does not necessarily lead to wealth and success. Miller claims that the American dream is a kind of delusion which has nothing to do with reality. The author admits that success can be possible if an individual works hard and, more importantly, has goals and takes risks.
Basically, these accounts on the American dream can be regarded as one of the major themes in the play. The theme is conveyed with the help of the plot, characters and dialogue. The author’s use of these constituents enables him to communicate his ideas on the American dream to the reader.
The Use of Plot
Miller tells a story of a salesman who works really hard to support his family. As any other person the protagonist of the play, Willy, wants to become rich. However, he only manages to occupy a rather low position in the company. In fact, the life of Willy’s family is an illustration of Americans’ aspirations. For instance, Willy complains that he should have been “in charge of New York” as he has worked really hard (Miller 4).
According to the accepted formula, his hard work should have already led to financial security (or even great success and prosperity). However, Willy soon understands that the formula contains a mistake. When thinking of (or even talking to) his brother Ben, Willy understands that there is another constituent to be taken into account. This constituent is risking. Miller understands that taking risks is important: “Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time!” (Miller 26). Eventually, the main character takes a risk to succeed (or rather to help his family to succeed). Willy commits suicide to enable his children to fulfill the American dream.
However, the salesman fails to understand that his children also lack something to realize the American dream. Miller makes it clear that there is another constituent to have in mind, i.e. particular goals. Willy’s boys fail to become successful as they do not really know what they can do in their lives. They do not have particular goals to achieve.
Their energy, their gifts and their ability to work really hard do not help them to fulfill the American dream even after their father provides them with the second constituent of the success, i.e. risking. His risk, however, takes his sons nowhere. Willy exclaims: “I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain” (Miller 107).
Nonetheless, this is what does happen. Willy dies in vain as his final risk is not enough to help his children to prosper. Thus, the plot of the play helps the author to convey his idea of the American dream.
The Use of Characters
Apart from the plot, the author makes use of characters to articulate the major theme of the play. Of course, the protagonist of the play is one of the most suggestive illustrations of the disillusionment. Thus, Willy mentions: “Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it” (Miller 4). The man realizes that he has been working really hard, but he has not advanced in his chase for the American dream.
However, the illustrative power of this character is achieved with the help of other characters. For instance, Ben, Willy’s brother, is one of the necessary backgrounds to draw the reader’s attention to Willy’s life. Ben is a kind of model for Willy who says that his brother “was a genius, that man was success incarnate” (Miller 26).
Ben managed to use the right formula to achieve success. He took risks as he was not afraid of new places, be it Alaska or Africa. He also worked hard as it was no bed of roses to work in diamond mines. Finally, Ben had specific goals to reach and, of course, he was lucky enough to use all these constituents to gain success.
Another bright contrast to the protagonists is the life and achievements of his children. Biff and Happy believe in the American dream just like his father does. They also dream of becoming successful and wealthy. They try to work hard and they can achieve a lot. However, they do not have particular goals.
Biff is not sure what he wants to do. He simply concludes: “I’m one dollar an hour, Willy I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it” (Miller 102). He simply tries things, but has no particular aim to achieve. He is also incapable of risking. Even when he gets the results of his father’s risk (insurance) he is highly unlikely to make it through. He is doomed to fail in fulfilling the American dream.
Thus, the characters serve as illustrations of the major theme. Nevertheless, what makes them so conspicuous is their being so real. The characters appeal to the readers who can recognize themselves in the play. It goes without saying that everyone has had some failures and disillusionment. Of course, nearly everyone has had ideas similar to Willy’s. Thus, the playwright simply draws people’s attention to the real issues providing his own answers.
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The Use of Dialogue
Admittedly, the magnificent plot as well as lively characters is not the only thing which makes the play so appealing. Miller creates perfect dialogues. In the first place, it is necessary to point out that the dialogues are real to life which makes the play so appealing. The characters speak the language which is typical for the social layer the characters pertain to and the time when the action takes place. The language is lively and, at the same time, it is really expressive. The author manages to choose the right words for each occasion.
It is also necessary to note that the author manages to convey the major theme of the play with the help of particular words. For instance, the word ‘dream’ appears fifteen times in the play. The characters often mention their (or other’s) dreams. Thus, Biff concludes: “He [Will] had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.” (Miller 107) Thus, it is clear that the author reveals his ideas on the American dream. The author stipulates that the American dream is nothing more than a wrong (delusive) dream.
One of the characters expresses a very interesting idea: “A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.” (Miller 107) If to focus on a narrower meaning, the playwright notes that all salesmen should have a dream, as they should be inspired by this dream. It is also possible to look at a broader meaning of the phrase. The author claims that all people need to have a dream as it helps to live. Of course, the author also shows what dreams may come stressing the necessity to choose the right dream.
As has been mentioned above, the author mentions three constituents of the success: hard work, risks and goals. However, it is also necessary to take into account luck which is important to be able to put the three constituents together. Thus, the author reveals the secret of the success to his son:
The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! (Miller 63)
The words ‘like’ and ‘luck’ sound alike. Besides, in this case these words are synonyms. Thus, each word is meaningful and the choice of every word (and sometimes sounds) is precise.
On balance, it is possible to note that Arthur Miller created a great play that articulates many important ideas. Thus, the author shares his ideas on the well-known American dream which appears to be delusive. The author uses plot, characters and dialogue to communicate his message.
These means enable him to make the reader understand the message and, what is more important, to make the reader think of the matter. Admittedly, the play can be regarded universal as the tools chosen by Miller are still up-to-date. More so, the contemporary American society should also think of the ideas articulated in the play as this may help people choose the right dreams.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Abingdon, Oxon: Heinemann, 1994. Print.