Nostalgy in a Play Death Of a Dream
In the play, Death of a Salesman by Author Miller, the play focuses on the nostalgic dreams of the main character. The Lomans, especially Willy, pay particular attention to these dreams while fearing that these goals are unreachable. Yet this fear is necessary to the hope; Willy would much rather dream than succeed. It is the destruction of his dream that destroys him, not its failure. Willy Loman, the central character of the play, dreams of achieving the American Dream, wealth. He dreams of success in business. He wants to be liked by all, the quality which he believes is a major token to success. He also wants his sons to follow in his footsteps and be popular and well-liked.
During the actual time of the play, however, Willy’s dreams have obviously failed. He is a sixty-year-old salesman whose friends have all died. He later gets fired halfway through the play. One of his sons is a farmhand, the other is in the business world as assistant to an assistant. Willy spends the play thinking back on his better days and often believing that they are reality. His obsession with dreams prevents him from seeing the wreck of his life. Willy does not want to acknowledge the turn his life has taken, and uses his daydreams to escape the knowledge. He even acts on them, refusing to salvage the present if it means breaking from his goal. He desperately entreats Howard, his boss, to give him a job, and is willing to accept absurdly low wages to continue being a salesman, even a salesman who does not sell anything.
After Howard refuses, the unemployed Willy will not accept a gift of fifty dollars a week from his pragmatic friend Charley. To take this salary would be to concede defeat, even though it would save his family. Charley repeatedly asks Willy, ‘When are you going to grow up?’ and Charley’s son Bernard, a practical, studious teenager who becomes a high-placed lawyer, advises Willy that sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away from failure. Yet Willy will not walk away from his dreams. Yet sometimes he wonders if he was right to dream in the first place. His doubts take the form of his dead brother Ben, who made a fortune in African diamonds and Alaskan lumber. Ben urges Willy to seek the real, the practical, that which can be felt, inviting him to go to Alaska to work with real lumber. Still, Ben is nothing more than a phantasm, a shape who is himself unreal. He is the only one of Willy’s imaginings who addresses him in the present world, noticing his surroundings and having conversations that are clearly not memories. He may be a symbol of Willy’s distress, but he is no more substantial than that: he is Willy’s model for an imaginary success and his very presence emphasizes the impossibility of Willy’s goal.
Men who walk into the jungle at seventeen and come out rich at twenty-one do not exist; the only truly successful people in the play are the solidly pragmatic Howard, Charley, and Bernard. This does not keep Willy from trying to push off his hopes onto his family, and to wreck it by doing so. His wife Linda, is constantly trying to protect Willy from reality, encouraging her sons to lie about their own fortunes to him. Her entire existence seems to be tied soley around her husband even after his infidelity. Happy is more than happy to participate in his mother’s lie. Happy follows his father’s dream even though he recognizes that he does not enjoy the fruits of his labor, suggesting that the reason is his ‘competitive nature.’ This early realization hints at why Willy pursues the dream: because it is a dream, and because he needs something to pursue. After Willy’s death, Charley verifies this, saying, ‘A salesman…[has] got to dream,’ because what a salesman does is so insubstantial. The supreme salesmanly virtue of being ‘well-liked’ is very vague and a mere fantasy. Biff, Willy’s other son, also realizes this, although somewhat less expressively than Charley does. Biff announces that his father hates him because he knows Willy ‘is a fake.’ Biff wants to concentrate on farming and physical labor, things that are real and perceptible. He has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead he chooses a life of satisfaction over success and attempts to convince Happy to do the same. He only agrees to Happy and Linda’s scheme when he is convinced that it is the only way to save his father’s life. Even then he keeps trying to intrude with the truth, attempting to tell Willy that his plan to open a sporting-goods chain failed, partly due to Biff stealing a pen from Bill Oliver, his prospective backer. Throughout the play Biff reveals history of theft which in a way shows his need for real items. His need for realness n turn destroys Willy’s hopes. He continuously invades his father’s dreams of fortune with truth and reality. Biff chooses not to dream because he has seen the truth behind his dad’s impractical fantasies.
When Biff was young, he was a football star who dreamt more than Happy did and was the focus of Willy’s hopes. He wanted to get an athletic scholarship, but he refused to take a remedial math class in high school that he needed to graduate. This decision came about after he accidentally caught Willy’s mistress in a hotel room. Biff was struck with the reality that even though is father’s dreams seemed at their height, he was still a fake and not the man he took him to be after all. Biff’s presence is the main cause of Willy’s suicide. Biff is the visible sign that his Willy’s own ambitions destroyed his family. Willy clearly feels guilty over betraying his family. He is reminded in several ways of his betrayal and failure to his family. Willy worries that it is his fault that Biff did not attend summer school in order to graduate high school. He also constantly rages at Linda for darning stockings in his presence. The stockings represent his infidelity by reminding him of his mistress whom he bought stockings when his very own wife went without. Even in all this Linda still tries to bring Willie peace. But where Linda tries to comfort him, Biff insists on telling Willy that his ambitions are failed. Willy not only desires to earn something real, the twenty thousand dollar life insurance policy, but also to earn it for Biff. In Willy’s suicide is the final destruction of the dream. He thinks that he will have a salesman’s funeral that everyone will attend, and that the insurance money will put Biff ahead of Bernard. He kills himself by driving the car that was the subject of his nostalgia, or, more appropriately, by crashing it.
Even in his death his dreams are still nothing more than just that. His funeral is the just the opposite of what he wanted. The only people who attend his funeral is his family and two friends. In the moment when he does get something real, he kills his dream and himself. Willy’s dream fuel the entire play making it evident he lives his life off expectancy and hope. Ironically, having what he works for kills him, as it may well have Ben. The insurance money never appears in the play and Biff’s future never resolved. Willy is dead leaving no one surprised. It does not come as a surprise to the audience, who know the play’s title before ever walking into the theater, nor to the major characters, who have all known about Willy’s designs since at least halfway through the play. Once Willy and his dreams, which controlled the entire play, are dead, the powerful reality of their deaths is all that remains.
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