Miller, Arthur - Death of a Salesman - The American Dream

Facharbeit (Schule), 2004

7 Seiten, Note: 12 Punkte

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Table of Contents

1. The American Dream
1.1 The development of the ‘original’ American Dream
1.2 The American Dream today

2. Arthur Miller's ‘Death of a Salesman’
2.1 Arthur Miller
2.2 ‘Death of a Salesman’

3. The American Dream in ‘Death of a Salesman’

4. Conclusion

1. The American Dream

1.1 The development of the ‘original’ American Dream

"So then to every man his chance

to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining opportunity

to every man his right to live, to work, to be himself and

to become whatever his manhood and his visions can combine to make him

this seeker is the promise of America. " Thomas Wolf (1934)

The American Dream developed in the time of the West Movement and was influenced by the living conditions of the frontier and its pioneer spirit. At that time many settlers left Europe because of the monarchy, which was still suppressing the middle classes. In Europe the biggest part of the life of every person was determined by the social and financial status of his parents and the still existing class barriers could not be overcome. (Cf. Brüssel (2), p. 1)

And so many settlers wanted to flee from these injustices because they were fed up with the old, antiquated system.

They tried to make a new start, left their past behind and were looking to a better future - an American habit that is still significant today.

In the ‘New World’ America they desired to find a land where life should be better, fuller and richer for every man.

They dreamt of a land where everyone, no matter what his origins were, could be successful and reach what he wanted to reach due to his own effort and qualities. The opportunities should comply with the abilities and achievements and not with the fixed circumstances of birth and position.

The reasons for the development of this American myth are probably the belief in an America that must be (become) a better place because it is blessed by God and the already mentioned comprehensible volition to create a society that is juster for everyone. This dream might have been influenced by the elucidation and the French Revolution which are both leading into the same direction. The economic and political success in the early American history, for example the extremely dynamic development of the American economy in the first century of its existence, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution contributed to this belief in a superior society.

1.2 The American Dream today

Many people all around the world today reduce the American Dream to the cliché ‘from rags to riches’ even though this is only one aspect of it.

The expression ‘American Dream’ is also often used as another word for a successful and rich life. When people are asked what the American Dream is they tell stories about someone who has a family, a house and a car, a proper job with a good income and who is surrounded by people who respect him for who he is and what he does. But words like equality of opportunity and other non-financial aspects of the American Dream are almost never mentioned. People work in bad jobs dreaming of a better life until they die because of exhaustion without having had a single happy day.

The reasons for this misinterpretation respectively simplification are hard to find but it is known that the phrase American Dream came into vocabulary starting in 1867 when writer Horatio Alger published his book ‘Dick’ - a rags-to-riches tale of a poor boy in New York City who saves his pennies, works hard and eventually becomes rich.

2. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

2.1 Arthur Miller

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

© (2)

Arthur Miller (1915-1995) was one of the most important and politically active dramatists of the American literature in the 20th century.

He was born on the 17th of October in 1915 as a child of a Jewish family in New York City. The business of his father, who was an industrialist and who had a great influence on the young Miller, went bankrupt during the Great Depression in 1929. In 1938 Arthur Miller obtained a lot of prizes for his comedy ‘The Grass Still Grows’ during his time at the University of Michigan. He began to write radio plays and stage plays after he had gone back to New York City. In 1944 he was awarded the Theatre Guild Award for ‘The Man Who Had All the Luck’. Miller had his first financial success with the novel ‘Focus’ (1945), in which he worked up the persecution of the Jews in Germany and offended Anti-Semitism in general.

In 1947 the drama ‘All My Sons’, which dealt with the corruption of the human being and the social relations in a profit-oriented society, won the New York Drama Critics′ Circle Award. It became the first piece of Miller to be filmed in 1948.

Death of a Salesman’ (1949), which was even filmed several times, condemned the American ideal of prosperity and won the New York Drama Critics′ Circle Award and the Pulitzer Price.

Arthur Miller’s drama ‘ The Crucible’ (1953) dealt superficially with the witch-hunts in colonial Salem (Massachusetts) at the end of the 17th century, but implied a parallel with the congressional investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities then in progress.

The psychological tragedy ‘A View from the Bridge’ (1955) questioned the reasonableness of American immigration laws.

Like a lot of other famous people, Miller had to justify himself to this Committee on Un-American Activities which persecuted potential communists and other persons who were seen as subversive in 1956. In 1961 he got divorced from his wife Marilyn Monroe, for whom he had written the script for his movie ‘The Misfits’ in 1960. The long list of Miller’s literature goes on with ‘After the Fall’ (1964), the portrayal of Miller's unhappy marriage to film actress Marilyn Monroe , ‘Incident at Vichy’ (1964), ‘The Price’ (1968), ‘The Archbishop’s Ceiling’ (1977), ‘The American Clock’ (1980), ‘I Don’t Need You Any More’ (1967), ‘The Creation of the World and Other Business’ (1972), ‘The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller’ (1978), ‘Chinese Encounters’ (1979), ‘Salesman in Beijing’ (1984) and his autobiography ‘Timebends’ (1987). The last piece Arthur Miller wrote before he died in 1995 was ‘The Ride Down Mount Morgan’ (1991).

2.2 ‘Death of a Salesman’

The play ‘Death of a Salesman’ centers on Willy Loman, an elderly salesman who is starting to have problems differentiating between reality and imagination. (Cf. Wikipedia (6))

Because of rates he has to pay off he needs to keep making sales trips even though this job overcharges him. His wife, Linda, who noticed this, is worried about him and encourages him to find a positioning where he can work behind a desk and not on the road. Their two adult sons, Happy and Biff, have come back home for the first time in years and talk to their dad about their future plans. They want to start selling sports goods but need to borrow money from Bill Oliver, a successful man for whom Biff worked long ago.

In many schizophrenia-like visions of Willy the reader gets to know various incidents in the Loman family past which contribute to the comprehension of the difficult relationships between the characters.

Biff has not become the man Willy hoped he would be and Willy does not want to be blamed for Biff’s failure although he is probably the reason for it. Earning not enough money to pay his bills Willy is forced to rely on loans from his former rival Charlie. Unlike Willy, Charlie is a successful businessman whose son Bernard has done very well in live.

Instead of getting an office job Willy is fired because he “never averaged” (p. 87, ll. 27f) and because he is not wanted to represent the firm as Biff is not even recognized by Bill.

Caught in his dreams of success and the palliated past he supplants the reality of failure and flees from it by committing suicide in order to provide the insurance policy for his family.

3. The American Dream in ‘Death of a Salesman’

In ‘Death of a Salesman’ the American Dream is presented in very different ways by some of its main characters.

Willy's father mainly stands for the pioneer spirit because he had gone to Alaska in the time of the gold rush. But he was already successful as an inventor during the time when he travelled with his whole family westwards through America.

Ben represents “success incarnate” (p. 43, l. 12) and sudden wealth which he only got because of his daring and recklessness. At the age of twenty-one he owned several diamond mines and he is the only one of the Loman family to turn out successful. Willy admires him, is even jealous but wants his sons to get acquainted with him in order to learn that the American Dream can come true. (Cf. Ajiboshin (1), p.9)

"Ben: Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich.

Willy: [...] The greatest things can happen!" (p. 51, ll. 1ff)

David Singleman, who is probably the biggest paragon for Willy, represents the success which is due to popularity and personal relationships. He is responsible for Willy’s dream of being well liked and popular and earning a lot of money just with a good image. Willy’s last vision, in which he dreams of having a great, ceremonious funeral with a lot of people mourning for him, is just a modified remembrance of Singleman’s funeral.

For a short time Willy’s son Biff embodies a part of the American Dream by being successful during his time as a big and admired football star.

Many critics interpreted the story of the play respectively its main character Willy Loman as a parody of the American Dream. Willy is an exhausted 63-year-old man who wants nothing more than to live the American Dream but because of his distorted view of reality and the lie about himself he tells his sons he is unable to realize his dreams. In addition he does not manage to communicate with his family and his boss. The lives of his sons are a frustration to him and he disgraces his own family by committing adultery. The parody lies in the rift between his wishes and his present actions. This gap exists due to external circumstances such as the changed labour market and the free will of his sons and due to internal circumstances such as a decreasing capability to cope, with difficult social situations.

Willy, who was often denoted as a member of the bourgeois who wants to overcome his birth, does not only dream the rags-to-riches romance for himself but he also wants his sons to become rich and successful. He makes them share his belief in an easy key to success: " Be liked and you will never want." (p. 34, ll. 9f)

Many people drew the conclusion that Miller wanted to criticize the American Dream or even capitalism by describing Willy’s failure. But Willy’s friend and neighbour Charlie and his son Bernard as “living proof of the system's effectiveness” (4) and “affirmation of the proposition that persistent application of one's talents […] pays off” (4) show that the play can not be dispatched that easily. Bernard, not “well liked” (p.33, l. 24) though he may be, becomes an eminent lawyer through constant use of his native intelligence who pleads a case in front of the Supreme Court the day Biff is begging Bill Oliver for money.

Miller’s final conclusion in this subject could be that the American Dream can be dreamed by everybody but that it is up to the individual to make this dream come true.

4. Conclusion

In the end I would like to say that it is deplorable that the American Dream’s political aspect of equality of opportunity independent of the societal and financial situation has lost importance. Even Arthur Miller’s admirable drama is incapable to counteract this development although it questions many discrepancies of social and family life. One can only hope that time continues begetting people like Arthur Miller who may help the whole world realizing the American Dream in its primary way.

(app. 2057 words)

Applied materials

(1) Ajiboshin, Moji-Mareike: Arthur Miller ‘Death of a Salesman’,pp. 1-2;p.9. (

(2) Brüssel, Fabian: The American Dream - The American Nightmare,2002,pp. 1-4. (

(3) Eipper, Marco: Miller I. Arthur - Death Of A Salesman,2000,p.3;p.8. (

(4) Gardner, R.H.: Tragedy of the Lowest Man, In: Splintered Stage,1965,p.320.

(5) Heller, Nadine: Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman - The Businessman in the American Dream,2002,p.3;p.5. (

(6) The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia (

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Miller, Arthur - Death of a Salesman - The American Dream
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Der eigentliche Haupteil, also der Amerikanische Draum in Arthur Millers Drama Death of a Salesman (Punkt 3) ist zu kurz gekommen. Wenn ich diesen Teil umfangreicher (1 oder 2 Seiten mehr) behandelt hätte, wären 14 Punkte (1-) möglich gewesen. Die Arbeit wurde von einer Englisch-Lehrerin korrigiert (vor Abgabe) und ist daher sprachlich sehr korrekt.
Miller, Arthur, Death, Salesman, American, Dream
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Max Kramer (Autor:in), 2004, Miller, Arthur - Death of a Salesman - The American Dream, München, GRIN Verlag,


  • Gast am 7.3.2005


    Arthur Miller verstarb am 10. Februar 2005 und nicht bereits im Jahr 1995, wie Herr Kramer behauptet. - Sollte man so einen Beitrag wirklich veröffentlichen?

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