The American Dream is the national set of principles according to which, any individual has the opportunity to live a better life through hard work and constant adherence to the principles of ethics. Reaching the American dream has meant for centuries, that one is able to overcome poverty and achieve a state of well-being and plentitude, using a set of skills, or his mind, even by starting from nothing. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, seems at first to be a critique of the American Dream, which is for most an impossible ideal that is used to qualify one man’s achievements in comparison to those of another.

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However, in fact, Miller does not criticize the original view of the American Dream but rather, he criticizes the idea of making a lot of money fast, which is a new and unrealistic version of this dream, capable of destroying lives, rather than building them. Thus, in Miller’s play, the main character, Willy Loman, has a very limited and idealistic idea regarding the American Dream, which stops him from being satisfied with what he has, and also forces his boys to mold their dreams so as to fit their father’s. Willy has not been successful in gasping the American dream because he has the wrong idea about what the American dream is about.

The American Dream has been historically linked to the idea of working hard and being determined in order to have a good, satisfying life, and to improve one’s standards of living. The idea is that personal qualities are enough for one to make it in a world that values such qualities as individualism, charisma, ambition and physical strength.

Willy believes that his son has all it takes to succeed, and so, he finds it difficult to understand why he seems unable or unwilling to reach success: “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker (Miller 1949, 8)”. However, Biff has his own reasons for having failed to find a successful path in life, but also feels that for him, working with his hands at a far would be more satisfying that entering the business field. Biff thus does not have the ambition to pursue the traditional American Dream.
Moreover, Willy seems to have a different perspective about what the American Dream really means. According to Warshauer, traditionally, Americans have sought of accomplishing the American dream by hard work and thrift. However, “the industrialisation of the 19th and 20th centuries began to erode the dream, replacing it with a philosophy of “get rich quick”” (Warshauer 2003, n.p.). This philosophy is based upon the story of very poor people becoming very rich through their own qualities and charisma. Willy’s conception of the American Dream draws from his older brother’s story of success. Although he is long dead, in Willy’s dreams, Ben continues to remind him that it is possible to go “from rags to riches” fast and easy:  “Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out. [He laughs] and by God I was rich!”  (Miller 1949, 36). This is a winner’s attitude that Willy would like his boys to have as well. He praises his brother for his rapid and fulminating success and feels that his own quest for the American dream has been a failure, because it does not compare to that of his brother.

It is suggested in the play, that Biff’s inclination for working with his hands is inherited from Willy, who had the same talent and secret pleasure. This is only revealed at the end of the play, when Biff states that in the manual work that Willy had accomplished around the house, there was much more of Willy, than in his entire selling career. However, he threw it away in order to pursue the American Dream, by being a salesman. Therefore, he ignored what he liked best to have financial success. Despite the fact that he did succeed in owning his own house, and raising two sons, and despite having a loving, devoted wife, he still does not feel that he achieved the American Dream. He dreams of an even more important financial success:
WILLY: 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. 
HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh?
WILLYL Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not—liked. He’s liked, but he’s not–-well liked. (Miller 1949, 19).
Having a personal business means reaching complete financial independence, by not having to answer in front of anybody. Willy feels that he has what it takes to start his own business, and indulges in these dreams, even though he is already a sixty years old man, and his career is behind him, rather than being in front of him. He compares his life and accomplishments to those of his neighbor, Charley, who not only has more success, but also has a more successful son.

More practical than him, his wife Linda feels comfortable with the life they lead and believes that they do not need more than they already have. For her, Willy has already reached the American dream. Her perspective is exposed as part of Willy’ delusional thoughts about his brother:
LINDA: You’re doing well enough, Willy!
BEN [to Linda]: Enough for what, my dear?
LINDA  [frightened of Ben and angry at him]: Don’t say those things to him! Enough to be happy right here, right now. [To Willy, while Ben laughs] Why must everybody conquer the world? You’re well liked and the boys love you and someday—[to Ben]—why, old man Wagner told him just the other day that if he keeps it up he’ll be a member of the firm, didn’t he, Willy?  (Miller 1949, 61).
For this reason, it may be argued that Linda’s voice represents that rational part in Willy which tells him to be satisfied with what he has. Linda protests that the little they have is enough for a happy, satisfying life, and he does not have to leave in a dangerous quest in order to become rich. For Linda, he has already proved himself, as he is “well-liked” and has the perspective of a promotion. As shown above, Linda reminds both brothers that he has a happy life, even if it has not been a culminating success. Linda urges Ben not to make Willy doubt about his life and to plant the seeds of ambition in his heart.

This seems to be a direct criticism to the idea of the American Dream, which determines people to abandon their established lives in search of a utopia. The American Dream is an elusive idea because it has a different meaning for everybody (Warshauer 2003, n.p.), though it always involves living a better life. This is misleading because people can never feel that they live their dream life, and there is always room for more or better. This is the case with Willy, who feels that, although he is already 60, he has yet to reach his American Dream, and he constantly feels that success is right around the next corner. However, his perception of his own abilities and skills are overrated, and he is not even as successful as a salesman, and as well-liked as he believes himself to be.

His exaggerated perception regarding his own business skills also draw from his obsession with reaching the Dream, because only those who are well-liked, charismatic and talented, have a chance to reach it, in his view. For this reason, when he is fired from his job, he is forced to accept the reality of his failure. For ordinary people, this would be a fall, but for Willy, it is a deadly one, because he falls from the heights of his own illusions and therefore, he cannot recover.

Willy is a salesman, but he also represents each American person, because his niche is never revealed. He could sell any product whatsoever, and each reader can identify with him, regardless of their own field of work. The author tries thus to transmit a message that people have generally forgotten what the American dream truly means and instead, started to pursue the idealistic dream of raising from rags to riches, and in particular, doing so by means of rapid success. The author however, tries to persuade the readers that living a comfortable life, having a loving family and a stable income, should be enough for one to consider that he or she reached the American dreams. This is also implied at the end of the play by Biff:
BIFF: He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. 
HAPPY [almost ready to fight Biff]: Don’t say that!
BIFF: He never knew who he was (Miller 1949, 103).
Therefore, according to Biff, Willy’s failure to reach the American Dream is related to the fact that he had unrealistic expectations and goals for his life. His talent was to work with his hands, but he gave it up, for the goal of reaching rapid success as a salesman. His dreams were therefore wrong, because they were completely materialistic, but the American Dream also involves the idea of emotional well-being. Having a happy family, a loving wife and two loyal sons is as much part of the American dream, as having a successful career. Moreover, part of the American Dream is the ability to win money doing what one loves, but many people work in positions they do not like only because of the hope of making more money. Instead, Biff learns the correct lesson from his father’s experience, and does not use the money to start a business venture but rather, returns to his original ream of working as a farm hand.

Therefore, as this paper showed, Willy’s inability to grasp the American dream is a result of his failure to understand what the American Dream actually is about. In fact, working hard to have a united and loving family, and to earn enough in order to support their needs, is enough for one to consider that he has achieved the Dream. Yet, Willy constantly dreamt of big success, richness and having his own business as proof of his accomplishment. He refused to lead an ordinary life though he had no ability to lead an extraordinary life. However, living an ordinary life should be perfectly satisfying because true happiness comes from ordinary things. Biff seems to have understood this reality, and he will not repeat his father’s mistakes.