How does Arthur Miller present the flaws and limitations of the American Dream in 'Death of a Salesman'?

The American Dream is an object of desire for many Americans as it is what they strive for their whole life. The American Dream is based mainly on wealth and materialism. The sense of freedom is what people are striving for. Freedom from bills and debt is what Willy Loman is striving for in ‘Death of a Salesman’. The American Dream is seen as a perfect life, which consists of a house with a white picket fence and perfect family: husband, wife, two children and a dog all living happily and comfortably without any financial troubles.

But very few Americans achieve that goal in their lifetime, because there’s also competition if everyone’s aiming for it. Every person is competing with their friends and neighbours. These flaws show through in ‘Death of a Salesman’ as Willy tries to get to grips with his life and trying to pay off his house.

‘Death of a Salesman’ has been used by Arthur Miller to show what the American Dream is really like.

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The play is based around an average family man, Willy Loman, who has struggled all his life to make something of it; to strike it lucky, but his chance never came. He is presented as a ‘normal’ character; the average ‘middle American’, who wants to pay off all his debts and bills. This shows the lack of contentment in his life. He’s not content having a roof over his head, or having a job, because he wants more. Willy wants to achieve more, just like his brother, Ben, who struck it lucky, because he happened to get lost and stumble upon some diamond mines, but Willy blames himself for not going to explore the world with him,

‘There’s just one opportunity I had with that man…’

Willy regrets not going with his brother, but what he doesn’t realise is that he was too young to go with him; he was only 3 years old, when his brother left, whereas Ben was 17.

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But, despite this fact, he still admires his brother. Yet, there’s barely any mention of his father, who earned his living and fulfilling the American Dream by working hard. Willy has a very flawed way of trying to fulfil the American Dream. He does everything the wrong way and what he doesn’t realise is that it takes some hard work. This may be the reason as to why there’s a feeling of failure in the play.

Both, Willy and his sons Biff and Happy are failures in achieving in what they wanted and this shows how Arthur Miller is presenting the flaws of the American Dream, because it can really take its toll on people’s lives and practically ruin their relationships with other people, such as their friends and neighbours. Willy has constantly been competing with his neighbour, Charley. However, Charley is running his own business, whereas Willy is still in the same job that he’s been in for years. Selling. The character of Willy Loman is perfect for presenting the flaws of the American Dream, because he’s just an average man; an average ‘Joe Bloggs’ and basically a nobody, because he hasn’t achieved the things that he wanted to achieve.

He continues dreaming of making it big and he keeps on chasing this dream, because there’s a feeling of hope in him, everytime his sons go for a job interview or have an appointment with their boss. He refuses to listen to what his sons have to say, because it’s not what he wants to hear. So, instead he just fills their mouth with words or keeps on interrupting them. Willy holds a lot of false hope of something that he won’t be able to achieve and this is reflected within the play and its setting.

The play is set in Willy’s house and this is one of the main reasons as to why there is a lack of contentment in the play, because he hasn’t been able to pay off his mortgage for the house. The setting gives off a boxed in feeling, because of the towering apartment buildings and the lack of greenery is a representation of a metaphor, as nothing can flourish or grow. This is why it is regarded as a limitation of the American Dream, which Arthur Miller presents in the play and through Willy.

The lack of contentment is also shown through both sons. Happy’s name is pretty ironic, because his life doesn’t seem to be happy, even though he pretends to be. Both, Biff and Happy have a vengeful streak in them as they both take revenge on their bosses in one way or another. Happy has a tendency to sleep with his boss’s girlfriends/fianc�s/wives, whereas Biff steals from his boss. But the reason they are like this is because their father has made them think they can do anything and get anywhere without qualifications,

‘You filled us up with hot air!’

however, Biff seems to go against his father, probably due to the fact that he knows about his father’s affair. He has always gone against his father’s wishes, such as wanting to work with his hands rather than work in an office job. But, Willy is still very stubborn and proud. He doesn’t realise his children are happy doing what they want. This is why his pride has got in the way of him not being able to achieve anything. He has also made his sons proud; too, by making them think that it’s their personalities that will get them a successful job. This represents another limitation of the American Dream; people have to work hard to get where they want. Bernard, Biff’s high school friend, is an example of a hard working person because he worked hard to get where he wanted and yet he never mentioned it to Willy,

‘The Supreme Court! And he didn’t even mention it!’

This shows that Bernard isn’t the type to boast about how well he’s doing even though he climbing the ladder towards the American Dream. He’s overtaken Biff and Willy regrets that, but isn’t quite sure who to blame. Himself or Biff?

Willy is blinded by false hope and great aspirations of striking it rich, but he’s doing all this for his children, so that they don’t have to struggle the way he did. But Bernard and Charley show that people have to do things themselves to achieve what they want to achieve, because Bernard is a top lawyer and he did this without anyone’s help. He doesn’t need Charley to provide for him, nor is he working for him either. The only things that Willy has ever been able to achieve in his life are solid material goods, such as his house, fridge, car and vacuum cleaner. But he doesn’t think that it’s enough, so he decides to go and crash the car and kill himself, just because he wants his children to lead a comfortable life. His death brings in money for his children, but it shows what lengths Willy went to just so that his children could lead the perfect life of an American Dream.

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How does Arthur Miller present the flaws and limitations of the American Dream in 'Death of a Salesman'?. (2017, Oct 29). Retrieved from

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