My face lit up when I saw how thin the book, The Death of a Salesman, was. It was as thin as a New York City subway map. I couldn’t wait to read it because then I’d have more time to watch Gilmore Girls and Charmed for at least 1/4 of the school year! Years later, I was reminded of the play and believed that I missed its messages because I was more drawn to its length…
Willy, the father and bread provider of the family, worked as a salesman for about 30 years and he did well. But when his sales record went downhill, he lost his salary and started working on a commission basis. This worried him because he still needed to make the mortgage payments on his house. Biff, his eldest son, was his pride and joy. Biff was on his road to success and always looked up to his father. But, after discovering that his dad cheated on his mom, Linda, on a business trip, he grew distant from him and lost his ambition.
At the end of the play, Willy committed suicide; he was about 60 years old. His death allowed his wife and sons to cash in on his life insurance policy. On the day of his funeral, Linda revealed that she made the last mortgage payment on their house and she kept saying “we are free.”
Despite the play taking place during the 1940s, I couldn’t help but realize how Willy’s “failed American Dream” reflected the present America.
The “Willy family” finally paid off their house mortgage. However, they did so at the cost of cashing out Willy’s life insurance. Not to mention that Willy committed adultery during his business trips as a salesman and how that took a toll on his relationship with his son.
Is this what the American Dream is all about? Have a well-paid job, buy a house, get married, have a family and pay off your mortgage before you retire?
How many Americans lost their homes in the last few years? How many companies fired their veteran employees, people who will have a harder time bouncing back to employment? And, competing with these veterans, how many graduates are still struggling to find a paid job?
Was Arthur Miller trying to tell us that the American Dream is nearly impossible to achieve? Or achieving it is possible, at the cost of an unfaithful marriage, disappointed kids, and a failing career?