Who does not want to live the perfect life, the American Dream? Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is in pursuit of this Dream. Willy focuses on the idealistic American dream his entire life, associating it with financial success, an excellent reputation and being well liked. He makes victims of his wife and of his sons by subjecting them to mistreatment and deprivation of a strong male role model. According to the Webster’s Dictionary a victim is one who is subjected to oppression, hardship or mistreatment. Willy puts far too much pressure on his elder son Biff, not enough on his younger son Happy, and he makes a “yes-woman” out of his doting wife Linda. Willy’s ideas of the American Dream outweigh the realistic trials and tribulations that need to be overcome in order to achieve the Dream.
The American Dream is one of success and Willy views success as being well liked. He wants Biff to be well liked and hence puts much pressure on him to be popular. During Willy’s flashbacks to 1929, Willy encourages Biff to be a good football player rather than a good student. Willy pays so much attention to Biff and puts so much pressure on him to succeed and to be well liked that Biff does not have anything concrete (such as marks) as a backup. Willy believes that even though Bernard can get the best marks in school, that he will not survive in the business world because he is not well liked (Miller 33). Biff wants to live up to his father’s dreams. He wants his dad to be proud of him. Before the football game at Ebbets Field, Biff promises “to break through for a touchdown,” just for his dad (32).
As a teenager, and right up until he catches Willy cheating, Biff does everything he can to get into Willy’s good books. He is the star football player and popular enough to order his friends around: “Fellas! Everybody sweep out the furnace room!” (34). Then, all of a sudden, things change. After finding Willy and Miss Francis together, Biff comes to the conclusion that his father is not as important as he makes himself out to be: “he [Mr. Birnbaum] wouldn’t listen to you [Willy]” (120). This is the turning point in Biff’s life because he becomes a victim of Willy’s actions. At this point, in a hotel room in Boston, Biff gives up on his life and the dream of success when he decides that he is “not going there [the University of Virginia]” (120). Willy has ruined his son’s chances at getting a good education and a successful career.
Willy puts so much emphasis on Biff’s success, that he neglects Happy. As a result, Happy feels the need to follow in Willy’s footsteps in order to gain the level of respect and attention from his father that is given to Biff. Happy feels this neglect as a teenager and feels the need to satisfy his dad: “I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?” (33). Happy wants to be popular and well liked in order to get some positive attention from Willy. Even as an adult, Happy holds on to the need to impress his dad and to keep him content with his life.
Happy wants Biff to lie to their father about seeing Bill Oliver because Willy “is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something” (105). Happy wants Willy to be pleased with Biff because that would keep Willy happy and could stop him from having flashbacks and talking to himself. Success in business is one of Willy’s goals for the American Dream and thus, Happy wants to be a businessman because he is seeking his father’s approval.
While in pursuit of the American Dream, Willy needs someone to support him and to agree with all of his decisions. Linda is there for him throughout the hard times. She guides him by being supportive of his decisions and even supports his lying. She knows that he goes to Charley to “borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend[s] to [her] that it’s his pay” (57). Linda allows him to feel important, at least in front of his own family. Not only does she defend him in front of their sons, but she also tries to keep the peace between her husband and Biff.
Willy doesn’t appreciate this as he should, turning on her when she tries to get him to listen to Biff, telling her ” don’t take his [Biff’s] side all the time” (65 ). Later, when she tries to comfort him, he tells her to “get to bed” (134). She endures him yelling, “stop interrupting” (64) without breaking down, only to ask him whether she “should?sing” (68) to soothe him. He has trained her to take his harsh words and act like nothing has happened. Linda is the glue that keeps the Loman family together as she tries to get Willy and her sons to speak calmly and peacefully and to see the best in each other.
Ultimately, the Loman family is affected by the American Dream gone awry. Willy Loman is very focused on this dream and his family’s success in business. Consequently, he mistreats his sons and his wife, making victims of them. His sons do not have a strong male role model who they can look up to during their maturing years. Instead, they have a daydreaming, failing salesman for a father, whose sole objective in life is to live the American Dream. He has also trained their mother to agree and comply with everything he says. The American Dream implies happiness and for Willy Loman that happiness is to die the death of a salesman. We have to wonder how the idea of death can bring happiness to someone’s life.