Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman : Analyzing the American Dream

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller examines the American Dream through conflicts in the Loman family. Willy Loman epitomizes the disillusioned, having great dreams but suffering a dead end job and an ordinary life, and so transferring his dreams to his elder son Biff. Biff is the realist who accepts his limitations and despite trying to satisfy his father, only wants to be a farmhand. On the other hand, Happy the dreamer after his father, lusts for success and is willing to achieve it through less than ethical means.

Morosco Theatre

In America, we are taught to believe in our greatness, to reach for the stars, but Miller examines the question: What if we don't have the abilities to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Should we be Biff, accepting our limitations and being content with "ordinariness?" Or should we be Happy, reaching for he sky by hook or by crook? For some, Biff may be a disgrace to the America Dream, for others, the model. Still, for others, the only way to live is be Happy.

The issues that Miller looks at are as relevant today as it was in his time. Though some believe there are less opportunities today than four or five decades ago, the American Dream is alive and well. Both individual dreams and the collective Dream drive the U.S. forward, and when entrepreneurs prod through obstacles, companies like Google and Facebook result. Bit it is difficult to know when we have reached our breaking point, when we have dreamed the wrong dream. How may Willy Lomans are there for every Elon Musk?

But perhaps the problem with Willy is not that he dreamed, but that he became contented with his job and not plotted his path and worked toward his goal. And that he tries to transfer his dream/burden to Biff.

The power of Miller's play is that it raises some deep and timeless issues about American society: the social norm, the accepted values, the vision of success, etc. In this sense, Death of a Salesman is a classic.

Book Review of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

Handmaids are the vehicles of reproduction in the Republic of Gilead, where radiation from sabotaged nuclear power plants had reduced the birthrate and mutated three in four fetuses. The Angles root out threats to the theocracy—nuns, scientists, scholars, etc—by hanging them on the wall of Harvard Yard and displaying the hooded figures to the public. The bastion of freethinking has turned into an exhibit of tyranny. Instead of using Newspeak as in Orwell’s 1984, the leaders here deny the people education. But the idea is the same: without the ability to think and analyze and critique, the masses would only react to threats and occasionally rewards. Pavlovian conditioning.

Margaret Atwood (Photo by Vanwaffle)

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel in the tradition of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. The means of control may be different, but the goal is the same. A subservient mass that would accept the social norm and cultural values, whether they be good or bad, without questioning their validity and without recognizing their assumptions and biases.

Margaret Atwood wrote the novel in the shadow of the religious fanaticism in Iran and Afghanistan, but she dedicated it to Mary Webster, an ancestor on her mother’s side who was tried for being a witch in Puritan Massachusetts, but survived the hanging. She understood that such a nightmare could happen anywhere in any century.