The American Dream: Cat on A Hot Tin Roof and Death of A Salesman Comparison
To begin to discuss The American Dream’ you first need to define which American Dream’ as it is different for each individual. The American Dream’ that I will be looking at is starting in lowest class in society and working hard to make a living and progress through the class system. It is also only achieved when this hard-fought class is passed on to your children and they are inspired to follow in your footsteps. However, The American Dream’ doesn’t actually exist within society, it only exists within each person and the pressures they believe are being put on them.
It could be argued that people are putting this pressure on themselves because the rest of society is too, and the people are being told to push themselves because everyone else is. The idea of The American Dream’ can be broken down into three fundamental components: The first is society and the effect individuals believe it has on their goals in life; the second is acquiring wealth through the hard work put in and the pressure people think society puts on you to provide for your family; the final key ideal of The Dream’ is the legacy you leave behind to your children.
I intend to compare how Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller use these three key components to show the effect The American Dream’ has on several characters’ behavior in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof’ and Death of A Salesman’. I will put a particular focus on the relationship between father and son. Biff and Willy Loman, from Death of A Salesman’ have a difficult relationship as they are both on what Younus Z. (2010) described as ‘The Quest Here, the characters are searching for something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Their actions, thoughts, and feelings center on the goal’.
However, they are both searching for something different making it difficult for them to see eye to eye, this is different to Brick and Big Daddy in Cat on a hot tin roof’ they appear to have a healthy relationship. However, if you look deeper Brick is hiding things from him showing they may not be as close as it appears for example when Brick joins the rest of the family in not telling big daddy about his cancer; as well as Brick hiding his drinking problem. Both authors use the three key components of the idea of The American Dream’ to show how it negatively effects the characters behaviour and mental health as well as the beliefs each character holds about themselves in relation to achieving their idea of The American Dream’.
Arthur Miller presents the ideals people believe society pressures them to adhere to as detrimental to relationships and a person’s mental state. He demonstrates this clearly through Willy beginning to act in an aggressive way towards Biff when Biff returns home without an idea of what to do with his life. Willy deems this unacceptable. When Biff decides he wants to work outdoors on his own ranch with his brother, Happy, instead of following his father into sales. Willy is troubled. He believes that society is telling him he should want more from his son however, these ideas are only present in Willy`s mind. Society’ is only what each individual assumes everyone else believes they should do. Willy can’t see this as he is blinded by what he believes The American Dream’ is, he believes the dream is working hard and giving everything, you have until you reach your goals and then pass this on to your children. This is what he has decided society wants from him and his son and he can’t see that he is making this decision for himself. His disapproval of Biffs life choice is first prevalent very early in the play when, whilst talking to his wife Linda, he has an outburst where he shouts ‘Not finding yourself at the age of 34 is a disgrace’ . This is Willy`s way of expressing his frustration of Biff not being further ahead in life. Biff doesn’t feel as though he is behind in life as his ideals of The American Dream’ are do what you love and do it until you get to where you want to be.
The fact Willy mentions Biffs age is important as it becomes blatant how Willy has certain milestones, he sets for himself and everyone round them, and it is the use of these milestones that begin the decline of Willy`s mental health. These milestones are his way of mapping his own progression and a way to judge others against himself to boost his ego. Miller shows this as Willy begins to think far too highly of himself despite his unobtainable ideals of The American Dream’. However, in this case Biffs progression, or lack thereof, through these made up checkpoints is frustrating as Willy wants Biff to aspire to be better than him as this is what society’ wants. When this is compared to how Brick and Big daddy have been affected by society it becomes clear that they have had an easier time than Biff and Willy. Big daddy worked hard and built his way to success, but this isn’t always achievable as shown through Willy and his failure. Big Daddy believes that society requires him to be the typical man of the house and show no fear or pain this can be seen through his denial of his cancer. He ignores it and pretends it doesn’t exist and is naГЇve enough to believe his family when they tell him it’s just stomach ulcers. This is summed up perfectly when Margaret says ‘Nobody says, you’re dying. You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves.’ This shows how Big Daddy is fooling himself into believing everything is fine, just so he can carry on with the hard and typically masculine behavior he has presented all his life. He carries on as normal as this is what he believes society wants from him and this is what he believes the American dream is, working hard and living off the profits as the man of the house and the breadwinner of the family despite the detriment to his health. However, this view is only within his mind and the expectations of him don’t exist outside of his own views.
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