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The play is certainly not just about the failure of an inadequate human being(s) there is far greater depth to the story. One could argue that the play is also a critique of the “American dream”, the idea that an ordinary person can just achieve success without too much effort; you just have to be “well-liked” as Willy puts it. It is Willy’s obsession with achieving this dream that leads to his madness and his downfall. This could suggest that “the dream” is impossible to achieve and a person will only end up disappointed if they rely on it. It is after all only a dream and not reality. Despite Willy’s failure at achieving the “dream”, it does not necessarily mean that the dream is unobtainable.
Miller uses many characters to show the difference in success and failure in the American system. Charley, regarded as another “normal person”, is actually quite successful under the American system. This contrasts greatly with the financial insecurity of Willy and seems to dispel the idea that this book is a critique of the American dream. The audience will think that Charley has achieved success in the American system; it cannot be too badly flawed therefore. If you look at the play in far greater depth however, you will realise that the play is criticising the American dream. Charley did not sit around waiting for his wealth to “just appear” like Willy did; who was following the idea of the dream much more closely.
Charley went out and worked hard to achieve everything, willing to work from the bottom, and acknowledge that he was working from the bottom. This very different to the American day dreaming Willy, who was too proud to accept a job off Charley and fails to admit, until further into the play, that his job is a low job, at the very bottom of the social ladder. The idea of capitalist values is also criticised in the play such as the way Willy is cruelly fired from his job by Howard to save money and the way that as soon as Willy pays off the payments on his refrigerator and his car they break and he has to buy new ones. Miller is suggesting that although some may benefit from the American system, there are many that do not.
It seems that Willy is almost certainly a failure in the play but one could argue otherwise. Firstly, the fact that Willy is willing to give up his life so the family can benefit from the vast life insurance payout, seems, although rather drastic, actually quite noble; a man willing to die for the welfare of his family. It is certainly true that Willy loves his family and one could argue that the main reason for Willy’s downfall is the failure of his children to make anything of their lives especially Biff.
Willy feels somewhat responsible for their lack of success and this does not really show a huge failing on his behalf. Despite the affair, Willy loves his wife greatly as is seen with the guilt he feels when Linda repairs her old stockings. His often-ill treatment of Linda could be regarded as his own guilt and not his failure as a husband. Willy may not seem quite so much the failure as one might think.
Despite this, Willy does fail in several areas. He fails to generate a good enough income to support a family and the situation becomes dire when he loses his job. He arguably fails as a father in that his sons are unsuccessful and when they were young he almost encourages them to steal for example. He also seems to fail as a husband in that he has an affair and he generally badly treats his wife. Willy’s delusion suggests a failure to hold onto his sanity and an inability to adjust with the times.
I can conclude therefore that “Death of A Salesman” is certainly a touching portrayal of Willy’s failures. I disagree with the idea of the play being “merely” a touching portrayal however; it is far more than that. We certainly feel sympathetic towards Willy’s downfall yet we also feel angry at his situation. Miller challenges the ideals of Capitalism and the American dream and this creates almost anger amongst the audience, who feel the rich and “great” have cheated them. Miller’s use of a working class “low man” conveys the idea that every human being has dreams and ambitions not just the powerful man. His is a challenge to the Aristotelian tragedies of old in which it seemed to suggest that only the great kings could ever suffer. His challenge certainly succeeds.