The Theme of the American Dream in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Written by one of the revered playwrights, one Arthur Miller, “Death of a Salesman” is an intriguing yet controversial play done in 1949. Indeed, the play has towered high for generations, and it is considered one of the twentieth-century classics (Miller 12). The setting of the play is in New York City, Brooklyn, in the yard and the house of Willy Loman. Nevertheless, some scenes in the play happen elsewhere. For instance, Willy meets in a restaurant with his sons in Manhattan. Furthermore, it is in Manhattan that Willy loses his job (Murphy 4). On the contrary, Willy`s mind is the primary setting for the play, because the activities that dominate the play are thought and planned by Willy. Because the Second World War had just ended, “Death of a Salesman” mirrors the social, economic, and political elements that came in the aftermath of this war. Indeed, in order to effectively explore Arthur Miller`s “Death of a Salesman”, it is not only essential to discuss the theme of the American dream but also the subject of abandonment.

The American Dream

The American dream is a theme that cuts across the play “Death of a Salesman”. Indeed, Willy is a great believer in what his mind has conceived to be the noble American promise. Some of the comfort and success that will be measured by the American dream include “personally attractive” as well as a “well-liked” businessman (Willy in this case) would acquire the material that comes with the new America (Miller 121). On the contrary, what Willy hopes for does not eventually happen. While there was a common notion that America was going to realize sudden economic growth and that the citizens would benefit greatly, such did not happen immediately as was perceived in Willy`s mind. Willy says, “Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more” (Murphy 301). In fact, the political climate did not favor business progress, and hence economic revitalization was a steady process (Murphy 219). The American dream is a concept that has been used to lay bare the character of specific individuals in the play. For instance, Willy has been portrayed as a shallow thinker, a sentimental individual, and one who lacks the wit to gauge the correct situation of things. On the one hand, Bannered is termed as a nerd by Willy, which shows how superficial Willy is in his judgment, “You wait, kid before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…” (Miller 67). Eventually, it becomes apparent that Willy has become stressed, and is almost getting depressed because reality has become very contrary to what he had imagined before. Through will, it is evident to the audience that the American dream was very different from individual daily live operations. In reality, the American dream stood for and hence was symbolized by individual efforts that were put in to realize success, “I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time” (Miller 13). Therefore, people who did not work hard to realize providence did not experience the American dream. One’s effort was directly proportional to the level of prosperity achieved, and hence the measures of the American dream. The 1940s America was competitive and mundane contrary to the anticipations of the likes of Linda and Willy. Indeed, the theme of the American dream serves to distinguish sentimental characters from those who work hard. Furthermore, reality and appearance are made known through this theme.

The Theme of Abandonment

The theme of abandonment has also been used extensively in the play “Death of a Salesman”. The life of Willy faces many social controversies, whereby each occurrence leaves his life worse than before. When Willy is still a young man, he is deserted with his father, and he has to take care of Ben, despite having inherited no money or wealth to meet their daily needs. Willy tells Ben, “Well, I was just a baby, of course, only three or four years old” (Miller 36). Finally, Ben goes to Alaska, and he leaves Willy with the obsession of the American dream, “I was going to find Father in Alaska” (Miller 12). Because across all facets of life Willy has always risked and faced abandonment, he leaves out of fear and anxiety. The fear makes Willy create a compromised social and financial platform of the American dream, one which he obliges that his family lives off. On the contrary, the efforts Willy put in to bring up his children is what acts as the mirror to affirm the misconceptions Willy has for the American dream. Furthermore, Willy is dubbed by Biff when he realizes that Willy is adulterous. Finally, when Willy meets Biff at Frank’s shop, he is deserted, and at this point, Willy is on his own, with nobody willing or able to support him. Ben says, “Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. “(Miller 201). At this point in life, Will has been both betrayed and abandoned. This theme serves to challenge the reader that if someone does not work hard in life, then prosperity is in vain.


In conclusion, therefore, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is an involving play set in the 1940s America. The themes of the American dream and abandonment run across the play. America has just emerged from the Second World War, and the hype of the American dream has filled the atmosphere. One of the characters who has gotten the illusion of the American dream in the play is Willy. Eventually, Willy misses the point because he does not differentiate between appearance and reality. Finally, Willy is abandoned in life by his close friends because he appears hopeless, without wit, and myopic in his ability to make tangible choices in life.

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. Death Of A Salesman - Miller - Google Books. Pearson Education India, 2007 ISBN 8131711501, 9788131711507, 2007. Web.

Murphy, Brenda. “Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller - Google Books.” 2010: 1–310. Web.

November 24, 2023

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