American Dream" in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" with References to Mark Twain and Henry Thoreau
Arthur Miller's play entitled "Death of a Salesman" is a story about a man who has created a conflict with his family because of his great belief in the American Dream. Willy Loman, the main character in the story, makes a living by being a salesman, and the story revolves around his frustrations in life, particularly the strain in his relationship with his eldest son, Biff Loman. Willy's frustrations stems from the fact that Biff was not able to have a permanent and stable job, and is often fired from work because of some petty offense or misconduct on his son's part. Willy always insist that his son Biff must develop relations with other people, and he must also have charisma and the ability to interact with them in order to achieve prosperity and success in looking and handling work/jobs. Biff, meanwhile, has conflicting opinion about Willy's advice: he thinks that Willy's dependence on relations and charisma is not applicable in the advanced, modern American society. Instead, hard work and perseverance are valued instead of personal relations with other people. In addition to Willy's dependence on personal relations in job-finding and economic prosperity is coupled with his faith in the American Dream. The American Dream is, at Willy's society, the main 'ideology' of many people: the American Dream is the equal opportunity of every individual in the American society to achieve economic success and prosperity.
Unfortunately, Willy's American Dream turned out to be the catalyst for him to 'break down,' to finally want to die instead of living because of the disappointments he had experienced in his work and his family. The frustrations that he have about his work as a salesman (wherein promotion was not granted to him), and his frustration over his son Biff's life (Biff as a man who have unstable jobs and no permanent source of income) made Willy decide to commit suicide by driving down his car in great speed one early morning. Thus, in "Death of a Salesman," Willy's belief in the American Dream and dependency on relations and charisma instead of hard work and perseverance became the primary reason for him to finally end his ambitious, yet frustrated life.
It is evident that Miller's "Death of a Salesman" illustrates how the American Dream became the primary basis of Willy Loman in acquiring and achieving economic prosperity. Miller extends the message that without hard work and perseverance, the American Dream will not materialize. Ambition and the right 'connections' with people aren't enough to achieve economic prosperity. This paper will discuss how Miller's theme of the American Dream in "Death of a Salesman" is portrayed in the play, how it can be analyzed in relation to man's need for economic prosperity, and this analysis will then be applied in reference to Mark Twain and Henry Thoreau's opinion about economic prosperity through their written works, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "Walden, Chapter 1: Economy" respectively.
The last act in the play in "Death" shows Biff and Happy arguing over the cause of their father's suicide. The issue of a man's ambition to achieve economic prosperity cropped up when Willy's family and their family friend Charley discussed his death. Charley opined that Willy's death may have been triggered with Willy's discontentment with his life, and this is resounded by Charley's statement that "[n]o man only needs a little salary," and with Biff adding that his father "had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong" (Miller 1949 137-8). It is evident in their statement that they blame Willy's ambitious character as the cause of his death, and that his methods are wrong in achieving the American Dream. Clearly, economic prosperity is something that Miller treats in his play as a positive element, but the method in which Willy Loman achieved it, which is through charisma and personal relations ('connections'), are wrong. Thus, the American Dream serves as a good and sought-after element in the play, and reflects the American society's need for economic success and prosperity.
If Miller's view will be analyzed in Mark Twain's point-of-view through his work "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," the author does not support the theme of American Dream. The story wherein the Connecticut Yankee Hank Morgan had used his knowledge about advanced technology and industries that bring about economic prosperity in trying to shape and change King Arthur's old-age kingdom. Chapters 10 and 33 are examples of Morgan's attempt to advance King Arthur's kingdom and their civilization: printing presses and journalism were introduced, as well as different forms of trade and commerce. In fact, Morgan applied the American democratic economy in trying to re-shape the political, social, and economic sectors of King Arthur's kingdom. Morgan thinks that economic prosperity will bring success to the kingdom, and Morgan set forth his plans for a renewed economy of the Kingdom: "... I believed my system and machinery will be so well developed... I had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way -- nuclei of future vast factories, the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization" (Twain 61). The first part of Twain's novel supports advancement and economic prosperity thoroughly, and this implies that the American Dream, or aspiration to achieve economic success is favored by the author.
However, as one gets to read the end of the novel, we as readers will realize that Morgan's vision of economic prosperity, that is, the American Dream brought into the 6th century of King Arthur's time had only brought destruction to the people, King Arthur's government, and to Hank Morgan himself. This is evident in Morgan's narration in Chapter 43, entitled the Battle of the Sand Belt: "In that explosion all our noble civilization-factories went up in the air and disappeared from the earth. It was a pity, but it was necessary. We could not afford to let the enemy turn our own weapons against us" (Twain 303). This statement by Morgan reflects how his dream of changing King Arthur's kingdom into advancement and one that is prosperous economically only backfired in the end, when opposing forces had declared war against King Arthur's kingdom, and eventually, to Hank Morgan himself. Symbolism is used in this novel to illustrate Twain's criticism of the American dream: Hank Morgan represent America of the 19th century, and is also the "American Dream," the economic prosperity every individual tried to achieve in the American society. The war declared against Hank Morgan by the people and knights of 6th century is symbolic of Twain's attempt to destroy the American Dream; by killing Hank Morgan, the society of 6th century is in effect killing the need for economic prosperity, which only proved to be destructive to the people's welfare. Thus, advancement in civilization, economic success and achievement, or the American Dream are evidently not supported and endorsed by Twain. Instead, Twain expresses disagreement over industrial advancement because of its detrimental effects to the people in the society, which further perpetuates inequality, poverty, and only worsens human living conditions (one evidence of this is the existence of slavery in the story, which is one result of industrial advancement and economy in 19th century society). Thus, Twain differs in Miller's viewpoint regarding the American Dream: while Miller thinks of the American Dream as a positive element in the society only if this is achieved through the right methods, Mark Twain in his novel disagrees with man's need to achieve economic prosperity, because of the detrimental effects that industrial advancement can give to the people and the society. However, before condemning the evils of industrial advancement, Mark Twain provides a fair study of the advantages and disadvantages, or the good and…