What does Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a salesman, suggest about family relationships and the American Dream


Arthur has tried to personify the existing struggle of a community that believes and hopes in the American Dream and a family of a middle class that is attempting to make the dream a reality. From the play, Willy Loman is a protagonist who has been portrayed as spiritless, overworked and depressed. Loman is a working class man; however, he is being disturbed by delusions of sumptuousness. The essay aims to show what the play suggests regarding family relationships and the American Dream.


Loman is considered as the play’s hero and as the play progresses; the audience is able to learn how depressed Willy was and his unrealistic perspective of the world. The play begins by Loman coming back from work due to a business trip to England. He informs his wife that he has been daydreaming while he was drifting and driving off the road. From the start, he appears spiritless, worn out and exhausted and his wife appears to be concerned and worried about this situation. Loman’s character symbolizes the plight of middle class, especially, one who is working in the New York City (Wilentz 5). His life experience evokes the feelings of sadness and pity from the audience. The audience is likely to sympathize with him because he has been portrayed as a good guy who has been caught up in a cycle, where he is only trying to keep up with a society that embraces modern culture of capitalism. As the story line proceeds, it is obvious that Willy is not a good guy and we are able to see that he is rather a selfish guy, who is not able to account for his own actions which eventually lead into his demise.


The play has made a very great impact on the general society due to how it portrays American families on how they chase the America dream (Rubin 17). The play tends to criticize the impact of a modern capitalist economic system on the families of middle class that have impracticable perspective of themselves. Throughout the play we have been reminded of how all the characters have yet to identify their future. Biff is Willy’s oldest son and he used to be a hero for his high school with a promising future ahead of him, and after he fails his math test, he is unable to graduate and decides to reach his father for assistance. Instead of receiving the help, he has been looking for; he is shocked to realize that his father has been having an affair. This finally forms the turning point in his life and he is not in a position to recover from it. He has decided to give up on his football career and his higher education; instead he prefers to work on a farm in the South West while trying to figure out his life. For a great deal of his life, he has felt disappointed about his father. Biff’s relationship with his father is a symbol of how other family relationships in America are broken due to a poor social setup (Chappell 21).


In a father-son relationship, there are certain periods where the father is interested in becoming an integral player in his son’s life. Some of the reasons for this can be described in various ways. Miller has tried to elaborate this form of behavior by using Loman actions and behaviors. When Biff decides to come home in order to recollect himself, he is viewed as a failure. Because Biff is interested in ensuring that his son succeeds in life, he decides to take the issue into his own hands. "I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time" (16). The main purpose why Biff came home was to try to find out what he really needs in life. Matters become even more complicated when Willy decides to interrupt Biff. Because of Willy’s persistence in Billy’s life, they have divergent perspectives as to what exactly the American dream is all about. According to Willy, working on the road is a perfect job that any man can have (81). Biff however believes that working outdoors is the most inspiring job that a man can ever have (22).


When the dream of both Willy and his son collide, Willy feels more frustrated because he thinks that his way is the best. According to Miller, if a father is so much involved in his son’s life, the relationship between the two may be worse. There are various instances where the father favors one son over the other. This action may result into social conflict, especially, on the unflavored son. In most cases, the father is unable to realize what is happening. The father may get too much involved into the successes of the eldest son and forget the other son. Because of his grandeur dreams for Biff, Happy has been completely overlooked.


In the entire novel, Willy has made several references on how wonderful Biff is and how Happy has been ignored. It is, therefore, clear that such favoritism has devastating effect on a child. Happy believes that for him to gain his father’s favor, he must strive to acquire wealth and seek for popularity. He is completely convinced that by acquiring wealth he will be able to win his father’s love and become happy as well. " . . . It’s what I always wanted. " . . . It’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of …”(23). When any parent decides to treat his children favorably, disharmony is likely to occur among family members as well as in the life of the son who is not favored. It is always the role and responsibility of the father to offer relevant leadership and values for all his sons. In most families, the sons will always look up to their father as their hero or role model. It is always in the best interest of the father to use this chance to instill good values that will allow his children to become responsible members in the society.


From this play, it is obvious that the play says something about family and American culture. The play has demonstrated how most American dreams are shuttered and how most Americans fail to experience their dreams. The essay has also elaborated the nature of family relationships and how the father plays a vital role in the family.