Good The Dark Side Of The American Dream Literature Review Example
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Every culture in the human history had its own model of development and a certain ideal to follow. These ideals could be conditioned by territorial specifics or historical reasons. On the other hand, some ideals were conditioned by the reasons that created certain cultures and kept them going in the times of difficulties and struggles. American culture is no an exception. Being formed on the basis of free will and one’s ability to achieve success through hard work and commitment, the American culture created the ideal of the American dream. This ideal became the topic of various social discussions and reflections in the literary works. The play “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller is not an exception. The aim of this essay is to analyse how the writer uses literary devices in order to empathise the meaning of the story embodied in its theme. In this regard, various aspects of imagery and main characters’ correspondence to the main theme will be analysed.
In this play, Arthur Miller aims to demonstrate the tragedy of the American dream and how far it leads a man in his delusions and hopes for it. In this regard, the main character Willy Loman is showed to be a victim of the socially-imposed ideal of the American Dream. The author challenges the illusion of a guaranteed business success for people who are attractive and liked by others. On the example of the tragedy of Willy he shows the dark side of the American dream, which is driven by materialistic considerations and the desire to be liked and accepted by the inner circle of privileged successful businessmen (Tyson 264). In this regard, the main character becomes driven by the glossy side of the American dream rather than the potential of its practical implementation. The author demonstrates that the glossy side of this model created the world of delusions full of numerous symbols that demonstrate the status yet have nothing to do with one’s virtue or real success in life. On the other hand, the idealisation of the American dream resulted in its break with reality and the fact that in order to achieve any kind of success, an individual has to work hard, and it is up to an individual whether he achieves success or not. Thus, the main meaning of this play is that the American dream is not a guarantee and individuals are the one who create their success in the way they are talented in (Shockley 50). In other words, not everyone can be a successful businessman, some people gain more success in a manual work and can achieve their dreams. In other word, the author demonstrates how the American dream can polarise the society and contribute to alienation, substitution of the real life objectives with the world of illusions and irrationality.
In order to support the main theme of the play, Miller uses diverse literary devices. The main imagery of the play is aimed at creating the atmosphere of polarisation and alienation. In this regard, this is achieved through the main character’s comparing himself and achievement of his children to the achievements of other people, who are more successful and belong to the golden elite of the American dream (Tyson 265). In terms of the use of literary devices, this contrast is achieved through the use if simile (comparison). When Linda and Willy discuss the future of their son Biff, Willy argues that his son might be slow-starter but still will achieve success: “Certain men just don’t get started till later in life. Like Thomas Edison” (Miller 9). Although Willy hopes better for his son, this comparison demonstrates the distance between the success of Edison and the place their unemployed son has at this moment.
The contrast deepens when Biff evaluates possibilities of the future for him and his brother: “Sure, maybe we could buy a ranch. Raise cattle, use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open” (Miller14). In this regard, simile “men built like we” is used to distinguish two young men from the generalisation their father has established in terms of the American dream. In this regard, Biff opposes himself to the surreal ideals of his father and speaks of the real objectives and potential for success (Shockley 54). Biff is an embodiment of the real life potential, at some point he might live the American dream while his father is only dreaming it. Willy dreams of his own business and belonging to the successful club, yet he believes himself being better than anyone else there, and once again he opposes himself to their success:
“Willy: Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home
Happy: Like Uncle Charley, heh?
Willy: Bigger than Uncle Charley!” (Miller 19).
In this case, the use of simile in comparison to Charlie’s is used not only to show Willy’s jealousy to Charley, but also to contrast his dreams of success with the real achievement of people around him, arguing that his success can overcome theirs only in his dreams (Shockley 56). Other examples of simile used for contrasting are the following. Willy does not want his son to achieve success through science because it is not the American dream path for him and he despises Bernard for being a nerd: “You want him to be a worm like Bernard” (Miller 27). On another occasion, Linda argues that Willy would be “allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog” (Miller 39.) This comparison corresponds to the real state of Willy’s mind and is once again contrasted to his delusional self-perception. Another example of simile and Willy’s delusion is how he perceived his elder son Biff: “Like a young god. Hercules – something like that” (Miller 49). Willy lives in his own mythological world of the American dream his imagination has created.
Another crucial literary device used to support the imagery of the play is symbols. In this play, symbols are used to emphasise the depth of contrast between ideals of the American dream and the cruelty of reality. In this regard, the best example is the symbol of seeds. Willy wants to plant seeds in order to collect real harvest, in other words, he wants to have some real success at least in such a small project like planting (Tyson 266). From a more existential perspective, seeds and growing plants demonstrate Willy’s subconscious realisation that he has nothing to give to his children and that his dreams are far from reality (Tyson 267). This aspect is very vivid when he speaks of the seeds: “I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground” (Miller 90). This subconscious revelation of his failure also contributes to the contrast with Willy’s imaginary world of the American dream.
Another important symbol contributing to contrast and alienation is Bernard’s tennis rackets. They demonstrate the success and social status Bernard achieved. He is among people who own tennis courts; he is a successful businessman, athlete and a father of two children. However, in the high school it was Willy’s son who was a prominent athlete and had promising perspectives of sports career, while Bernard was just a nerd (Tyson 261). Thus, these tennis rackets demonstrate the crack of Willy’s American dream, the fact that it was meant for someone else and not his son. To a certain extent, these rackets are the strike o realism into Willy’s illusions of prosperity. This symbol also argues for the realistic side of the American dream, suggesting that it is achieved by those who work hard and not those who are liked in the high school (Shockley 56).
The symbol of diamonds in the jungle supports the idea of a gap between reality and materialism of success and one’s building castles in the sky. In this regard, diamonds represent tangible wealth, quick money, which Ben managed to make and Willy could not (Tyson 265). In this regard, Ben argues: “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy” (Miller 99). This means that the real world is full of uncertainty, but there are opportunities that can lead a person to the American dream. By no means it can guarantee that one will succeed, but there is a chance for it, if one has enough patience to look for it (Shockley 57). From the professional perspective, the diamond’s business demonstrates a solid material success based on ownership over existing goods. On the other hand, Willy’s profession of salesman is mediatory in its nature and has nothing to do with the real ownership of capital and goods. Thus, it is far from the real-value American dream. Once again this symbol contributes to the overall meaning of the story – the fracture of the American dream and tragedy of one’s life (Tyson 270).
Except for the use of the aforementioned literary devices, the main theme of the tragedy of the American dream is the most vivid through the stories of the characters and the conflicts arising between them regarding that dream and the cruelty of the real world. In this regard, the main character Willy is fooled by illusions of the American dream and what they could provide him with. The main problem of Willy is the lack of critical self-perception and realistic view of his life and lives of people around him (Shockley 59). His lack of self-esteem is conditioned by the fact that his father abandoned him and his brother when they were little. He had no real example to follow in terms of success and sober evaluation of life. Inevitably, he was hoping for a better life for himself and his children. The ideal of the American dream was promising satisfaction of all Willy’s desires – his own house in the suburbs, garden, two cars, guests houses for his sons and their families, successful career in business. The problem was that he lacked the realistic perception of himself and his potential. He did not realise that in order to achieve success one need to take an opportunity and use it, and not just follow the order of his employer and travel where he tells to. In other words, the success is for people who are ready to take risks like his brother in Africa (Tyson 269). Thus, Willy was dreaming for the American dream, but he did nothing in order to achieve it. Thus, his tragedy was in the fact that his only conscious and realistic action in the direction of achieving American dream was his suicide, and it was done for providing his son with insurance money in his pursuit of the American dream (Tyson 270). Thus, even in the end of his life Willy did not understand that just giving money to his son would not provide him with the American dream. In other words, the main character embodied the lack of understanding what success means. It is not based on delusion but on commitments and desire to work for one’s hope (Shockley 57).
The main conflict of the play is exactly between Willy and his elder son Biff. Having prominent achievements at school and good prospects for the future, Biff was on the way to the American dream just the way his father wanted him to be. However, it was his father who destroyed all his hopes and orientation on success. When Biff found out that his father had an affair with another woman in Boston, he lost trust in his father and the American dream he was imposing on Biff (Shockley 54). In this regard, the initial conflict between father and son demonstrated the contrast between father’s illusions of the American dream and his son’s realistic steps in achieving this dream. Paradoxically, it was Willy’s delusions of infidelity and their inconsistency with the true American dream that made his son move off the path of the realistic thinking of the American dream (Tyson 264). In this regard, Willy’s inability to appreciate the reality resulted in the reluctance of his son to achieve anything his father wanted for him, although unlike Willy, Biff could actually achieve it. Looking on the escalation of the father-son conflict, it can be argued that gradually Biff began to represent the reality of the working class that could achieve something through the manual work rather than forced failures in business and commercial sectors (Shockley 53). In other words, Biff is eager to follow his talents and what he does the best – manual work, while his father was dreaming of something he could never achieve realistically. The conflict between two the vitality of Biff’s perspective were summarised in his last words over Willy’s grave: “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. He never knew who he was” (Miller 103). He could not know who he was because he was lost in his delusions of who he could become.
Another crucial character that’s support the author’s criticism of the ruinous power of the American dream is Willy’s younger son Happy. Since Willy has placed all his hopes for his elder brother, the younger one has always been I the shadow of Biff. Consequently, he has always wanted father’s approval and for him father’s ideas and illusions were not so difficult to accept (Tyson 266). Worshiping his father and hoping for him to pay more attention to him, he was ready to follow his steps. In fact, he did. Just as Willy he did not achieve much, by the age of 32 years he was working as a second assistant to a buyer in a store. He did not use any efforts in order to achieve anything better in his life. He has a chaotic personal life, sleeping with girls of his co-workers and superiors (Shockley 51). Consequently, he is the right son of his father and victim of Willy’s illusions. Both of them were driven by the lack of critical self-perception, desire for more and the lack of efforts in doing anything about it. It can be argued that except for ruining his own life, Willy’s tragedy is contributing to the ruin of his son’s life. Just as Willy followed his delusions, so did Happy after his father’s death:
“I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He
had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man.
He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (Miller 104).
Once again this paragraph demonstrates the delusion Happy has about his father and what the American dream is about. He says that his father was fighting for the dream, but, in fact, he was dreaming of fighting for it. The only thing he did was that he went asking his employer to change to work in his own city, and he lost his job. Instead of finding another one or change the field of work, he decided to commit suicide in order for his elder son to fulfil his illusions. Thus, even in death he still was looking for easy ways. Instead of fighting for the better life he decided to quit. The tragedy of his younger son is that he could not realise this and that he saw his father as hero of the American dream and most likely Happy will have to go through the same delusions as his father.
Overall, from all mentioned above it can be concluded that Arthur Miller masterfully demonstrates the dark side of the American dream through the complexity of characters’ complexity and the use of literary devices. The imagery of alienation and contrasting between different social groups was achieved through the use of simile and symbolism of various objects through the play. These devices ideally corresponded to the necessity of the constant comparison of success and failure of the main characters and also in outlining the gap between reality and delusions of one’s perception of the American dream.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. London: Penguin Classics. 2000. Print.
Shockley, J.S. “Death of a Salesman and American Leadership: Life Imitates Act” Journal of
American Culture, 17.2 (1994): 49-61. Print.
Tyson, L. “The Psychological Politics of the American Dream: ‘Death of a Salesman’ and the
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