The American Dream in Context of Death of a Salesman

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American dramaturgist Arthur Miller wrote a play in year 1949 called Death of Salesman. The play was first performed in New York in Morocco Theatre. The play genre is tragedy and it is based on American life and has a theme of an American dream. The play mainly talks about the disputes in the family and shows several differences in values, beliefs between people of America and their interpretation regarding American Dream. According to Miller, everyone in America has freedom to work and grab opportunity without difference in caste, colour, language, religion, culture, etc… All human beings have desire to succeed in life. In play it show that one get success only by hard work, dedication, confidence, intelligence and being honest to society.

Definition of An American Dream

According to Miller, everyone in America has freedom to work and grab opportunity without difference in caste, colour, language, religion, culture, etc… All human beings have desire to succeed in life. In play, he shows that one get success only by hard work, dedication, confidence, intelligence and being honest to society.


Death & Salesman has various themes like American Dream, abandonment, success, dreams, appearances, pride, freedom, betrayal, etc.

It is a story about an ordinary salesman Willy Lowman whose values and thinking differ from his family and is like an odd man in neighborhood. He is main character around whom play revolves and who is blindly running after American dreams of getting success and gaining great reputation and respect which he has not achieved so far. For him to achieve American Dream is just having valuable possession and a very high social standard in society.

His elder son Biff has two different dreams – one of his own working in nature for his own and other one working to fulfill his father’s dream. But he does not follow the American dream of his father but chooses his own path and does not care about fame nor believe in daydreaming but want to face real situation. Many children in American become independent when they go to high school or college and stay away from family and chooses their own path to fulfill their individual dream and not what their parents dream for them to achieve.

His second son Happy who sees his father as a role model strongly believes that he should fulfill his father dreams and do what his father expects him to do so walk on the footstep of his father. He wants to get married and settled. The two brothers differ in beliefs, principles and values. It shows us how father and younger son Happy are not accepting reality but running away from it.

Here in the research paper, I will try to examine and study frustrated salesman Willy’s who is strongly influence by American Dream and defines his own values and beliefs to succeed. Here most of the characters are shown doing business and has craving for money and materialistic things. Sarcastically most of them are shown disappointed and unhappy in end. The play shows how Willy plays a role of a typical parent who wants and believes his sons should follow his footsteps and become just like him. For example, a son becomes doctor just because his father is doctor or son joins army because his father is in the army.

The Promise of American Dream Represented in the Play

The theme of the promise of the American Dream is appropriate in this play. The American Dream is dream of every individual in the United States. Here in United States, there is freedom for all. Everyone has opportunity for success, progress which can be achieved only through hard work and dedication and not by just day dreaming. Here there is no difference in class and creed. All are treated as equal and given liberty to achieve happiness, success and high social living. According to critics the play represents just a blind faith in American Dream.

It shows main character Willy who believes strongly that: The Promise of American Dream is to be liked by all and be attractive with a good business and all comforts which are materialistic. It shows Willy who is just a salesman wants to achieve success and runs after getting rich and is not happy with what he had. He is shown as a middle-class salesman who is struggling to provide financial security to his family. He has a two sons Biff and Happy and beautiful, loving and caring wife Linda. He is just running after money and neglects his wife and sons and does not understand value of family and love. He thinks that with money everyone can achieve everything-fame, success, love, reputation. According to him, to be big and successful is to be well-liked by all in society. Willy’s neighbour Charley who has a sales firm and who helps him to pay his bills is successful in business which makes him more jealous. He lives in illusion that as Charley is attractive and has wealth to control people is liked by all and gained success in life. He is shown a psychological disturbed man as he is unable to see difference between dream and reality.

Willy wanted to be liked by Charley, and as a result he was unhappy. Willy believes that man who succeeds in business world is ahead. According to him to get success is to be surrounded by people and everyone should love and respect you. He thought that as he was not popular among people he was great failure in life. Through flash backs Willy even tries to tell his sons how to be successful in America by giving example of Uncle Ben and Charley. He tells to his son that to have good identity and success in business one should gain respect, liked by all and have material wealth. There is no importance of personal relationship.

In order to achieve success, American believes hard work is necessary and it is shown by character Bernard who is Charley’s son and was studying with Biff in childhood. Bernard intelligence, self-confidence and hard work made him a successful lawyer. Willy was not happy with Bernard success and considered him as a boring studious person as his sons were still struggling for success and were not settled. But according to Bernard, one gets success if one grabs every opportunity in way and is ready to work hard. Uncle Ben also grabs opportunity and went to Alaska diamond mines and became successful. The play shows how Willy a Salesman wants to achieve his American dream but is failure. He compares himself with his brother who became rich and his neighbor Charley. In end when he cannot fulfill his dream to be rich, he commits suicide.

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In play Miller shows betrayal and abandonment. To strive and achieve American dream, Willy father left him at young age with his older brother Ben. Biff the oldest son of Willy also left home without informing his father for which Willy believed he has failed in one of his dream. Willy’s betrays his wife Linda by having affair with a woman whom he met in a Boston hotel.

In short, we can see in the play that Willy’s struggle for the success and achieve American Dream are unachievable. Here we can see that the lower-class employee is not noticed much in the company. This was shown through both Biff and Willy. Willy was not well treated because he was just a salesman, and not a high-class manager. Biff’s old employer didn’t even remember him, because he was only a shipping clerk which is not true as per American dream. But in real even in school, college or business teamwork is important for great success.

The play teaches us that to fulfill dream and achieve success, people should stop focusing on acquiring materialistic things but also do hard work and grab all opportunity they get in their life. It shows how people from other country having good life over there come to America thinking it is easy to get success here and earn money. But it is just the illusion and false belief.

Plot Summary

The play is shown with different scenes relating to past and present memories, events and flashbacks of Willy, a 63 year old salesman who is travelling to support his family and constantly comparing himself with others. He has two sons Biff and Happy and lovely gentle wife Linda. Death of a Salesman play takes place in house of Willy Loman in Brooklyn in New York and around the house. In beginning of play, we can see Willy – an old salesperson who returns from business trip from Boston driving a car. His wife Linda sees him tired from trip so asks him to request his boss to give him transfer to the New York office. Willy thinks it would be easy for him to get transfer as he thinks himself an important salesman who is working for his company and liked by all. Willy also wants his sons to have great success. He is so much depressed and frustrated worrying about his sons that he talks with his successful wealthy brother Ben who is dead at night in dream. Biff, his elder son who has not been successful like his friend Bernard decides to take loan from his former employer Bill Oliver and start his own business.

Linda when finds Willy talking with his dead brother Ben at night is worried about her husband condition and thinks her two sons are responsible for it, specially Biff. On hearing Biff plan to take loan from his former employer Bill Oliver and start a business Willy becomes happy that now his son will fulfill his dream of success, get good reputation and recognition in society. He also decides that next morning he will go to his boss and ask for transfer and there will be good beginning for everyone. With that thought everyone goes to sleep with satisfaction on their face. But next day as Willy meets his boss, Howard and ask for a transfer, he was fired. He did not get transfer but he was relieved from employment. When Biff goes to Oliver, his former boss, he does not recognize Biff and says he has no idea who he was.

Then the two sons meet their father at restaurant and exchanges what happen with each of them which lead to strong argument. When they came to know their father had an affair with lady whom he met in Boston hotel, they think that their father has betrayed their mother who is devoted, loyal and loving wife who never allows anyone to speak ill of his husband. After leaving the restaurant with strong argument with his sons, Willy on way to home thinks that the best way to provide good luxury to his family can be achieved by committing suicide. After his death his family will get his life insurance money of twenty thousand dollars. Willy loved Biff and was unable to face reality and take out a way from situation. In end Willy drives off and crashes his car and commits suicide. He sacrifices his life to leave an inheritance of twenty thousand dollars for Biff to fulfill his American Dream. On the other hand Linda, his wife was under impression and strongly believed that people liked her husband who was a great Salesman but wondered when she saw few people in his funeral.

However, by the end of the play, Biff realizes that his father had the wrong dream. His father was expert in carpenter work as he has built their garage and put up a new ceiling. According to him, his father should have been a carpenter, or should have lived in another part of the country. But instead, Willy just became a salesman to fulfill his great American Dream. In end Biff remarks that the American Dream is not every man’s dream. Instead of just seeking money and success, he will strive for basic good family life. Biff sees that his family just lies and doesn’t face reality and accept truth. During the funeral of his father, Biff decides that he will not allow that to happen to himself and not follow Willy’s American dream.

The play also conveys some message through different abstract symbols like seeds, diamonds, stockings, rubber hose, etc. According to Willy, Seeds represent the opportunity he get to prove the worth of his labor, both as a salesman and a father. Willy feels that he has worked hard but is not be able to reap fruit for his children reap seeds of success in his both personal and professional life. Diamond represents wealth and success which his brother Ben earned. Stockings symbolize betrayal as he gave his wife Linda’s stockings to the woman who he met in Boston hotel. The rubber hose on stage reminds the audience of Willy’s attempt to suicide.

Critics Review

In New York Times, Samuel Abrams comments that American Dream is alive in majority of Americans. But concept of American Dream to achieve success with hard work and honesty is diminishing. Instead of choosing wealth like owning house or having successful career they prefer happy family life and freedom to choose how to live and have better qualitative life than their parents. According to Philip Seymour Hoffman review in Broadway Review said it shows us the dark side of the American Dream. According to Joe Dziemianowicz review in New York Daily News it is more like a group drama. It is story of desperate family and not of dad who is just living in illusion.

Review of Play

I also agree that the best way to achieve the American dream is through education. It is true, especially people who are not born in America and many immigrants think about achieving the American dream without going to school here. They believe that achieving American dream provide you great economic opportunity. Here everyone has the chance to live their life with liberty. According to me, the American dream is possible for anyone who has the willingness to work hard and honestly. To achieve success, one has to make efforts and work to their utmost capability. I am definitely going to try my best to achieve my American dream through hard work, honesty, good education and great guidance from my professors and will definitely succeed in my life and contribute to country.


Death of a Salesman is a powerful drama which shows social awareness and social tragedy. It shows conflicts within family, central character Willy and society and society ill-treatment to this character. It shows how injustice leads to tragedy in the end. Its shows how people run for American dream without seeing whether they are capable or not and when fail they take wrong step. For most of the people, the message from play is positive, of social awareness and inspirational.

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