American Dream in ‘Death of a Salesman’ by A. Miller


The Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by screenwriter, playwright, children’s book, and short story writer Arthur Miller. The play is based on a tragic event that occurs to Willy Loman and his family. Willy’s family consists of his wife Linda and two sons Biff and Happy. Willy has many shortcomings in his life, work and family. This does not deter him from chasing the American dream. The Death of a Salesman plays a bigger role in demonstrating the futility of achieving the American Dream by striving to be desirable to all people.

The ambiguity of the American Dream

To Willy Loman, the American dream of success, prosperity, and fame only comes by being liked by everyone. He has the desire to be successful, he, therefore, strives to hold a successful image to his family, neighbors, and workmates. At work, he goes the extra mile by putting in more hours and ensuring he has a big profit margin return after every business trip. In the play, Willy fantasizes about how he was well known and liked by everyone in New England in the early days. He brags of his time accomplishment when he sold a hundred and seventy dollars goods. To him, that is an accomplishment that would make him more loved and successful.

His obsession with being liked is seen when he talks to Biff his son about being successful and liked by everyone. We see Willy in his fantasy recalling the day his neighbor’s son Bernard came calling on Biff to work on a school assignment. Willy was quick to discourage his son not to associate with Bernard. To Willy Bernard is not popular as he is not a good footballer like biff. He calls Bernard a nerd who cannot make himself useful and liked by the people (Bentley 750). We see Willy’s efforts to push his son to do what he thinks is right to be appreciated. He puts Biff’s education at risk at the expense of fame.

Willy’s failure to attain the American dream

His desire to be loved by many to appear successful is evident when he starts having an affair out of his wedlock. By keeping a mistress at the side proves to him that he is liked. To ensure that the mistress loves him even more he showers her with expensive gifts neglecting his wife. Linda is seen wearing worn-out stockings while Willy hands his mistress new stockings. The fact that Willy is willing to overlook his wife is a clear sign that his desire to attain the American dream of being famous and liked is overwhelming.

As the play progresses we see the old Willy. He has grown old and is no longer capable of traveling and doing sales like he used to. He is unable to provide a life of luxury to his family. To Willy, he is failing to attain his dream of prosperity and fame. The fact that his brother who is located in the African jungle prospering after getting gold there disappoints him a lot. Willy had refused to follow his brother and stay back to chase the American dream. He becomes bitter and starts complainant about his car he laments “that goddam Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car” (Miller 147).


In conclusion, the play Death of a Salesman plays a vital part in portraying how people are blinded by the desire to attain the American dream. Just like Willy who had dedicated his life to chasing the American dream. He was a dreamer and carried his dream to his grave. His desire to be famous, rich and well-liked is best stated by his neighbor Charley when he says: “Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand. Willy was a salesman…Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory” (Miller 152).

Works cited

Bentley, Eric. The Play, a Critical Anthology. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1951. Print.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.

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