The American Dream and Individual Success

The American Dream was coined by Americas founding fathers to serve as a national ethos of the country. It denotes a set of ideals that forms the basis of prosperity and upward social mobility. According to James Adams, the Dream was meant to achieve a full life for everyone regardless of their social class or personal background. Over the course of history, the meaning of the Dream has changed to include personal components. The historical perversion of the dream has caused people a lot of frustration, leaving most of them extremely disappointed. Essentially, the American Dream, as currently known, does not support individual prosperity and can be a reason for peoples failure and frustrations (Levinson 19). This paper takes a critical look at the American Dream and the way it affects the people of America in terms of the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.


Death of a Salesman is one of the most famous works of Arthur Miller. The story critically addresses family conflicts in particular. However, it also largely tackles the thorny issue of the national values and their significance to Americans. Miller uses the play to investigate the cost of Americans unquestioned belief in the American Dream. In that regard, Miller offers his analysis of a false myth built on materialism that has basically obscured the moral vision contained in the original dream as described by the Americas founding fathers. Several years after Miller wrote the play, it continues to be a powerful indictment of the American Dream built around material success (Samuel 51). The reason behind Arthur Millers composition of the play was his controversial relationship with his uncle, described as Manny Newman. Being a salesman himself, Newman imagined his son would always be in constant competition with Miller. Newman knew he would not be ready to accept failure from his son and that laid the protracted conflict between the two men (Miller 112). Millers personal story closely relates to the materialistic nature of the American Dream, which had turned into a competition for material ownership..

The inability to understand ones personal capabilities remains a significant hindrance to the achievement of the American Dream. Most people tend to define their goals of success based on the American Dream rather than based on what they are able to achieve. In the end, they obtain nothing because frustrations take toll of them, and thus they slide into a state of desperation. It is the same situation that Willy Loman faces in this play. As the name seems to suggest, Willy is a low man who sets his goals too high for him to achieve. He seems to believe so blindly in the American Dream that he does not take his time to assess his capabilities. He seems to confuse his goals with his willingness, also drawing from his name Willy. As a matter of fact, everyone could be willing to achieve the greatest success in the world. However, if this is not backed by concrete assessment of individual capability, it all comes to naught. Nevertheless, Willy makes a tremendous stride by making painful sacrifices to leave Biff with a head start towards achieving the coveted American Dream. Perhaps, Biff would be able to obtain what Willy was not able to get himself (Bloom 12).

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It goes without saying that one has to break the yolk of delusion and make a realistic assessment of their capabilities to get firmly on the track to success. Most Americans fail to understand what the founding fathers meant by coining the American Dream. The Dream was not an obligation for every American to achieve. Rather, it was a general guideline that Americans of goodwill would use to obtain their personal growth while, at the same time, contributing to the greatness of the United States. If understood as a general guideline instead of a baseline for success, the American Dream would make a great impact on several peoples lives. Biff Loman, for instance, learned to seek self-understanding early in his life. Unlike Willy, he felt compelled to find the truth about his life and his prospects for the future. He willfully acknowledged his failures and strongly sets out to confront them (Miller 93). Although Willy considered him an underachiever, he thought of himself as a great personality entrapped in the grandiose fantasies of Willy. As a matter of fact, Biff never got to the point of desperation for the mere fact that he understood himself. With this understanding, he was able to fight a sense of identity crisis that had been planted by Willy (Miller 131).

The model of the American Dream assumes that every American has equal capacity to pursue it. However, this statement is extremely far from the truth of the matter. There are several people who are not even able to assess their capabilities against the huge demands of success. As such, they perpetually live in a state of delusion from reality. This group of people is worse than both Willy and Biff. Self-understanding is such an important ingredient of success that without it one cannot achieve anything significant. This state of confusion is clearly visible in Happy Lomans personality. He appears too rigid throughout the play to the extent that it becomes hard to empathize with him. He continues to exist in a pale shadow of exaggerated expectations he has learned from his brother. Indeed, his condition is nearly irreparable as he seems to lack even the least of self-knowledge. The fact that he views himself as the assistant buyer when in a real sense he is an assistant to the assistant buyer portrays a man who is immersed in self-delusion (Sandage 156). By any standards, he is doomed to fail because he lacks what it takes to achieve the American Dream and remains unaware of this fact.

Indeed, the people who are well endowed with the right traits to achieve the American Dream are not many, they are the minority. However, they need the rest of the population to help them up. Essentially, everyone in the United States has a role to play in achieving the American Dream. When everyone finally finds a league to play in within the overall pursuit of success, the American Dream could eventually become a reality. In this play, it is only Linda and Charley that seem to represent the right group of successful individuals. Throughout the play, they remain the forces of reason and thoughtfulness. Linda, for example, views success as freedom from debt which is essentially a symbol of stability. She proves to be the most level-headed, unlike Willy, who is overly excited and obsessed with the American Dream. She seems to maintain an intact emotional life throughout the play because she understands herself. Linda never slides into a state of desperation by setting goals too high for herself. Thus, she clearly appears as the core representative of the drama given her possession of the right qualities. Linda embodies what every individual needs to realize about the American Dream. The reader gets the impression that the founding fathers had people like her in mind while coining the dream (Miller 131).

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A Dream at Risk

The American Dream has never been at a greater risk as it is currently. It goes without saying that with sheer hard work and burning ambition to succeed, every American stands a fair chance to succeed. However, it is the new definition of success that has put the Dream at such a great risk. According to statistics, only a paltry six percent of kids from poor backgrounds or low-income families actually achieve success. Currently, there is one in every seven youths of the ages 16-25 who is not in school and not working. This fact accounts for whooping 5.5 million young adults who are disconnected from the American Dream. Yet the trend seems to be increasing day by day, defying several policy measures that are being put in place to correct the state of affairs. Studies indicate that the problem lies squarely in the definition and perception of the Dream. Americans, particularly the youth, are under pressure to perform beyond what they are capable of achieving. Besides, everyone seems to think that material wealth is the true meaning of success (Sandage 196). This thought explains the cutthroat competition that has riddled the private sector as well as some sectors of the public service.

The American Dream, as currently defined, is premised on an ideal world of success. Pundits have continued to relate the Dream with the aspirations of all children and adult Americans as well as individuals outside the United States. The new definition emphasizes that for one to be happy, they need to own a large single-family home, two cars and sufficient savings for old age (Bloom 12). The Dream also posits that every foreigner coming into the United States has an equal chance of being wealthy if only they work hard enough. The point of departure between the Dream and reality is the current global economic and social order. The reality is that several millions of Americans are not industrious enough to be a part of the Dream. However, there are millions of industrious Americans who remain jobless. This fact implies that they are not able to work themselves up the social ladder. In the social sector, for instance, the welfare or health systems are riddled with so much inequality that it is almost impossible for certain segments of the society to achieve happiness. Essentially, the American Dream continues to be a mirage as thousands of families are entangled in a perpetual struggle with poverty. In the play Death of a Salesman, Willy is forced to work as a salesman, a job that he is least qualified for. It is not his wish to be a salesman, but the lack of sufficient opportunities has forced him to take that which is readily available.

Despite the self-deception with the American Dream, only a few people are able to realize it. However, the fact that even the few who make it never really experience happiness exposes deep flaws on the very foundation of the Dream. Willy, despite his state of grandiosity about success, does not really seem happy and continues to lament about lost opportunities. In fact, he appears to be coining a new definition of happiness outside that defined by the founding fathers. Willy is adamant that as long as one is adequately liked by others, he has no barriers to success (Sandage 201). With this consideration, he seems to be alluding to the fact that likeability is the hallmark of happiness. The idea that one can achieve any dream as long as they are liked by others is even more deeply flawed. Nevertheless, it shows that the more people come close to achieving the American Dream, the more they move further from it by introducing new concepts. It goes without saying that at no day will one be liked by everyone. In fact, success and likeability are opposite, and no one is even likely to achieve both. The more one moves closer to success, the more enemies he or she attracts due to jealousy. This fact shows how clearly it is nearly impossible to achieve ideal happiness.

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Another concept that continues to threaten the American Dream is the idea of comparison. Indeed, success, according to the American Dream, is in possessing a good family house and a superb car. Beyond just owning the two, it boils down to what kind of car one has. Thus, those who own more expensive cars are said to be more successful than those who own ordinary cars. It is all about comparing the color of ones grass with that of the neighbor and concluding that the neighbors grass is greener. This comparison seems to be one of the greatest impediments to the attainment of success. No matter how much wealth one accumulates, people will always feel a sense of dissatisfaction with themselves, looking at their neighborhoods. It is the kind of pressure that Biff Loman was trying to resist from Willy. He was too keen to compare Biff with other kids in the neighborhood, leading to his conclusion that Biff was an underachiever (Sandage 201).

In conclusion, the play Death of a Salesman perfectly exemplifies the true meaning of the American Dream. The struggles that different characters have to go through are the same struggles that Americans go through daily in their pursuit of the Dream. Besides, it exposes the loose foundation on which the American Dream is premised. As currently defined, the dream is only killing peoples aspirations rather than nurturing them. Starting out as optimistic youths chasing after their share of the Dream, many Americans end up desperate and hopeless the moment they realize that they do not have what it takes to achieve such a high threshold of success.

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