Death of a Salesman is a post-war drama depicting shattered illusions of the man who tries to achieve the American Dream. The drama is small, its structure includes only two acts and a requiem; however, there is much retrospection smoothly blurring boundaries between the past and the present. The play shows Americans having post-war illusions and their lives full of debts and credits. The paper provides the analysis of the drama Death of a Salesman in the context of the American Dream and capitalism that blind people.
The American Dream is the concept stating that people can achieve material and spiritual prosperity through their hard work. In Miller’s drama, the American Dream is the post-war phenomenon implemented in the system of capitalism and free market. The main character, Willy Loman, is a great believer in the American Dream and the country where everyone's life will be better, richer, and fuller. He thinks that everyone can get what he or she deserves. However, Miller breaks this illusion that works only for ruling classes.
As the plot unfolds, the first myth of the American Dream and equal access to opportunities becomes clear. Willy Loman is a salesman who receives low salary and, like the majority of Americans, has to pay loans all his life. Since Willy spent his childhood without his father, and the only brother and support Ben left home early, the protagonist feels as a temporary guest in this world. The second myth is fairness of society. Willy instills in his children dubious values and even teaches them to steal. When Biff fails his school math exam, he goes to Boston and finds his father with a mistress. This situation destroys the relationship between Willy and his son forever. Biff leaves home and has only temporary jobs, sometimes robbing people (the scene where Biff has been imprisoned for stealing the coat). As a result, Biff always blames his father for preventing him from achieving success.
The third myth of the American Dream is that it is never too late to start building the future. Biff wants to start everything all over again, but his hopes are based on illusions and self-deception. He realizes his worthlessness but does not consider it a vice anymore. Willy’s life is also full of illusions. As he has been fired from his job, Biff encourages him to stop living in the illusory world; however, the father does not want to do it. He cherishes his memories of Ben who left home early and went to Alaska. At the end, Willy is so emotionally unstable that he decides to reward his sons with twenty thousand dollars (insurance payment ) and commits suicide. At the funeral, Biff says that his father was “the man [who] didn’t know who he was”. Thus, he decides to leave and lead a simple life, but his brother Happy wants to stay and try his luck.
In his play, Miller shows social burdens facing people at the time. Willy tries to get rich, but every loan and tax payment (for a house, car, and refrigerator) always bring new problems, which are the consequences of the capitalist economy. The cultural reality is dry and pragmatic as Willy has two gods – his family and success. When the protagonist realizes that he has not achieved his own success, he wants his sons to fulfill his hopes and expectations. Especially Willy relies on Biff, who is endowed with charm. However, the elder son cannot and does not want to fulfill the hopes of his father because capitalism does not give equal opportunities. This factor pushes Willy to kill himself to get the car insurance as the start-up capital for his sons. Moreover, in his drama Miller depicts people who have managed to become successful. He shows sneaky Howard who has received a large legacy but has broken the promise made to his father. Howard is a capitalist whose the only headache is a recorder and voices of his son and wife. Similarly to him, Biff’s ex-employer Bill Oliver also cares only about his well-being, neglecting time and efforts of less successful people.
Obviously, the story of Willy Loman is a variation on the theme of the American Dream or even the American tragedy. Willy is a dreamer and true American; a patriot, who believes that he lives in the best country in the world. When Willy talks to his sons about his job, he says, “America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys”. The protagonist is a daydreamer whose only life goal is to get rich like his brother who went to Alaska. The starting point of Willy’s career begins when he meets Dave Singleman, an eighty-four-year-old salesman who sits at home and earns good money by making phone calls to clients who respect his reputation. Miller provides the symbol of this success – green sleepers that old Dave puts on before he starts calling. This moment is one of the most important to Willy who wants his own repetition of such success, and this point changes his mindset.
Biff is the complete opposite of his father. His pessimism about brilliant prospects does not allow him to dream about something better; therefore, his play is harsh and sometimes introverted. Concerning the second brother, Happy’s name corresponds to his character; he is an optimistic dreamer trying to show his father that his contributions will have brilliant future. Miller depicts brothers as men with strong bodies and good appearance, they are charismatic and talented (for example, the scene where three universities invite Biff to study). Willy’s pride is directed to the social recognition that blinds him. His wife Linda appreciates all his efforts to build a better future for his sons. She is very emotional and protects the unity of her family as the greatest value never complaining about the financial condition. However, although this woman has unbelievable patience and loyalty, she does not play a special role in the play.
In his drama, Miller uses some techniques that create the tragic tone and nostalgia for shattered dreams. For instance, music plays a huge role in this drama. At the beginning and at the end of Death of Salesman, the author depicts the sound of the flute, “The flute has faded away” / “Only the music of the flute is left on the darkening stage”. Miller mentions only a few instruments such as the trumpet, flute, and drums; the rest of music is rather a melody than a clear song, “Music is heard, gay and bright”. However, it fits light transitions that change the scenes and atmosphere, “Suddenly mucous music is heard, and a red glow rises behind the screen at right” / “The light of their room begins to fade” etc.. In addition, the scenes of transition from the past to the future are smooth; however, sometimes it is difficult to understand the idea. The actors’ movements are smooth as well. The performance does not require many props. Moreover, it should be noted that the author uses surnames Loman, Singleman and the name Happy to describe personality traits of the main characters. The use of such stylistic devices and techniques has three purposes. The first one is to interpret the consciousness of Willy in terms of his vision of reality and memory. The second purpose is to provide more contrast between characters as well as their stories and make some scenes unexpected and dynamic. Lastly, these techniques and devices help to depict believable characters.
To summarize, the drama Death of a Salesman is a story about the American Dream and the tragedy of capitalism breaking lives of ordinary people. The story about Willy Loman and his sons touches the post-war historical background and problems existing at that time. The brilliant depiction of scenes, characters, light, and musical accompaniment with smooth transitions makes this drama powerful and immersed in human psychology.