Arthur miller’s, Death of a Salesman showcases a Brooklyn salesman, Willy, attempt to attain the American dream. He had some tokens of success in his life, but never anything that would make you think he was living life to his fullest potential. Willy was so caught up in being someone he wasn’t, it would eventually lead him to dig his own grave. Willy’s misunderstanding of the American Dream led him to only look for traditional success, live with regret and never being true to himself ultimately being the cause of his self-destruction.
Whether it is a lot of money, friends, materials or simply being attractive, Willy had the mindset that traditional success was key to the American Dream. Willy had pushed this mentality onto his children, Biff and Happy, only praising them for their athletic abilities and beauty telling them, “A man who makes an appearance in the business world is a man who creates personal interest, is a man who gets ahead, be liked and you will never want.” (Death of a Salesman). Willy saw Biff as the embodiment of success, proud of his son’s successful football career and everything that came with it. He loved to hear about his sons thriving social life as he was the captain of his high school football team, but ignored the less glamorous, his son’s failing math grade. As Willy and Biff are discussing his future in football outside, their neighbor, Bernard, appeared ; Warning them about what he heard, “I’ve heard Mr. Birnbaum say that if you don’t start studying math he’s going to flunk you and you won’t graduate.” Upon hearing this Willy responds with “What are you talking about with scholarships to three universities their going to flunk him?” (Death of a Salesman) With no guidance from his father, Biff, to no surprise would fail math, jeopardizing his scholarships to play football in college, unless he went to summer school. Biff was on board with summer school up until he caught his father in an act of infidelity. “Biff tells his father to forget helping him with his grades, and that he will neither go to summer school nor the University of Virginia.” “Death of a Salesman” 200 Now that Biff knew who his father really was, Willy couldn’t stand to have him around which would be the cause of him kicking his son out.
While we might never know what caused Willy’s delusions, I’m sure living with regret of what he could have done or been only ate away at him. Growing up without a father, Willy absolutely adored his older brother, Ben. Willy was obsessed with his brother, seeing him as everything he could have ever wanted to have and be. Willy lived with regret of turning down a trip to Alaska, thinking he could have been more prosperous as a salesman. On this trip Ben would, as he explained to Biff and Hap, “Why, boys, when I was seventeen, I walked into jungle and when I was twenty-one, I walked out, and by God I was rich!” (Death of a Salesman) Seeing all the wealth his brother had acquired, Willy now had to live with the dissatisfaction of turning down what would have been the trip of a lifetime. He always compared his life to Bens, seeing his brother’s wealth as evidence that he had the dream, thinking success had to be right around the corner for himself. Willy always felt the need to justify himself and his choices to Ben, explaining to him, “…I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, mustn’t he?” Ben was not amused by this responding with “What are you building? Lay your hands on it. Where is it?” (Death of a Salesman) Ben puts this image into Willy’s mind that real achievement is palpable. Willy had to live with himself and the regret of what could have happened if he had gone with his brother to Alaska.
Willy neglected himself, he was never true to who or what he wanted to be. While he knew what he would like in life, he misjudged what was essential to achieve his American Dream. Willy knew he loved working with his hands and wanted to live in the country but settled for a job as a salesman in Brooklyn. Only pursuing his career because he thought it would give him what he wanted, material and social success. Despite thinking if you are well liked you will make it, Willy himself was never well known or successful in his sales. To his surprise Willy would only stray farther from his dream, resulting in a life of dissatisfaction. While guidance may have only helped Willy, he did not want to hear it. He did not appreciate his neighbor, Charley, who had not only been giving him money, but offered him a job working for him. Willy took this as an attack “…Willy is insulted by his offer of a job. For every statement or comment Charley makes, Willy is defensive.” “Death of a Salesman” 198. It seemed as if Willy had perfected failure, he would do anything accept mature. He got older and began to lose his mind, but he sadly never found himself.
Willy really was his own worst enemy. He must have been exhausted having to keep up with all of his lies and delusions. Do you think that the Loman family would have been happier if Willy had gone with Ben to Alaska? How differently would things have played out for the Loman family if Willy had achieved the American Dream? Willy’s lies caught up to him ultimately causing him to dig his own grave.