, Research Paper
If gaining success were easy, everybody would be successful. Although who is to say what exactly being successful embodies. In America, the success of a person is weighed according to the amount of materialistic possessions one has attained. In a success orientated society such as this, living according to these values means that one must also be aware of failure. In the play ?Death of a Salesman? by Arthur Miller, the author touches upon the themes of failure and staying true to one?s self. The relevancy of these themes maintains not just within the play, but throughout real-life situations and is, in fact, a reminder of the sometimes unattainable ?American Dream?.
The play plots the tragic collapse of a man, Willy Lowman, who can not face up to his moral responsibilities in a society whose false values attach a dangerous importance to success as measured in such transient terms as income and materialistic belongings. Willy places being successful so high on his list of priorities without really understanding the means to actually attain that success. Because of this, his misunderstanding eventually leads to his downfall. Failure in a success orientated society is inevitable, but Willy was a failure by choice. He made the mistake of assuming that his family and peers would not accept him unless he supplied his family with ?The American Dream?. When this goal was not met, Willy took his life. The taking of one?s life because of lack of success is not all that uncommon in today?s society. Like Willy, many husbands and fathers commit suicide because they feel they are not accurately providing their families with enough financial assistance. What many of these people lack to understand is that their families most likely would have loved them regardless of their monetary success. In the play, Biff finally tells his father that he loves him and explains that sometimes it?s okay to be just the average guy, although Willy is already too far along his path of woe to see this. By placing failure as a central theme in the play, perhaps Arthur Miller was hinting on the idea that many Americans are disillusioned by ?The American Dream?. ?The American Dream? is not some mythical saint, that when wished upon, grants success. No, it is something which requires hard work and determination in order to attain. If one believes in ?The American Dream?, then one must also respect the failure which entails with it.
In Willy?s life, his failure was also nursed by his lack of self-identity. While at times he proclaims to his sons the virtues of clean living, friendliness, sportsmanship and honesty, his own life denies these qualities in that he has a mistress on the road and he lies about his business success. He stresses the importance of being well-liked, of being physically attractive and good at sport, and being able to sell one?s self. All of these qualities he tries to build up in his sons so that they may, one day, be successful. However, it is these same attributes which prove to be the very reason for their lack of success. This situation is reminiscent of many stories involving the same central theme; be true unto one?s self. Take for instance the comedic play ?The Little Shop of Horrors.? In this play, the central character, Seymour, is in love with a girl but feels like he has nothing special to offer her. So Seymour makes a deal with this people-eating plant that as long as he keeps feeding him people, Seymour will be well-liked and famous. In the end, Seymour finds out that the girl loves him just for who he is, even before he became famous. Although a little more far-fetched than ?Death of a Salesman?, the theme fits both plays. Like Seymour, Willy puts too much emphasis on status. They both tried to be something they were not, and in the end their false pretenses finally caught up with them, only Willy never survived to realize his fatal mistake.
The real tragedy of the play ?Death of a Salesman?, is not the failure or lack of self-honesty of Willy. It is the knowledge that there really are people out there like Willy. The very reason Arthur Miller may have written this play is in order to illustrate the ?dark side? of ?The American Dream?. Everybody hears about the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, but what many people fail to acknowledge are the Willy Lowmans, the men who fall short of the glory.