American Lit & Composition
October 9 2014
There are many values that are distinctly American, and can only happen in America. We believe in work and reward, honesty, practicality, free enterprise, self achievement, individualism, privacy, equality, time, change, and control over life; these things matter, although are they realistic or even feasible? In reading Death of a Salesman I find this hodgepodge we call “The American Dream” something that in a sense has to be interpreted correctly and used as a value, not a philosophy. I will delve into the text to find where Willy Lowman went wrong in his pursuit of happiness through his idealistic and materialistic values.
This is a man who is unable to accept the truth of his life, who mixes up his shattered abstraction of the American dream and his own life; this is Willy Lowman. “You want him to be a worm like Bernard? He's got spirit, personality.” Line 375, and Bernard is working hard, studying, and applying himself in school to move up the ladder to success which is really all you can try to do in today’s society; Willy Lowman must think otherwise, because if he didn't he would not be enabling Biff to become the big man on campus through means of bad behavior, and unwillingness to do work since he as well as his father believes “... if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing-”, and I think he was going to finish that thought on line 70 with the words: else mattered. Popularity isn’t everything, because at the end of the day the ones who worked the hardest and pursued what they wanted to do are usually the ones who end up successful, unless of course you are born into wealth to begin with, which Willy nor his sons Biff and Happy were. So I guess this means that the popularity idealistic value of success and recognition is debunked, because what can be recognized when you have created nothing for yourself or the people whom you have touched? “The sky's the limit, because its not what you do, Ben. It's who you know and the smile on your face! It's contacts, Ben, Contacts!... You can't feel it with your hands like timber, but it's there!” Line 200, Willy. Actually, no it is not there; friends to me are like currency would you rather have a hundred pennies, or four shiny quarters?
Willy Lowman is full of self contradictions, and maybe its because he is second guessing the legitimacy of his values? Willy says on line 434 “A man who can't handle tools is not a man. You're disgusting.” when he speaks to Charlie a very successful and sympathetic friend that has worked his way to the white collar world, so he doesn’t have to know blue collar trades; these blue collar trades are what Biff has been occupying his time with in his search for himself. “Not finding yourself at the age of 34 is a disgrace!” Line 46, Willy. The thing is Biff, the only one who is making an effort to evaluate himself and figure out who he is in life is the only one who can ever be truly happy, unlike his brother Happy and father Willy who all lie to themselves measuring success through their own “apartment, a car, and plenty of women” which ends up in them saying “... and still goddammit I'm lonely.” Line 140, Biff. Perhaps Willy is just a little envious towards Charlies successful career to the point of refusing a job that could have put bread on the table, because he wasn't able to make anything to leave his family so he attacks him through insults from Charlie forgetting his roots, things every man ought to know, but doesn’t look at it like my dad would; my father would always tell me “But they're all laughing on their way to the bank...” when I spoke of how easily I could make money selling out as a game developer through the stupid mobile market with only loosing any sliver of pride I had in games as an art form. The whole giving up your values and swallowing your pride is something that everyone has to do at one point or another which is one of the only values expressed in this play that is truly American, and what makes it a tragedy is that this realization across the board never happened. Now maybe I should sell out with mobile games...