The American Dream in Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire
The American Dream is a central aspect of the plot of the two plays in question. It serves as both the motivation for Stanley’s behavior in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Willy Loman’s vision that his son Biff refused to uphold in Death of a Salesman. In Miller’s play, Willy turned his vision of the American dream into more of a culture. He sincerely believes that the key indicators of success are how much money and brand-name appliances you have, how “well-liked” you are, and how hard you worked to achieve all you’ve got.
His two sons, Happy and more so Biff, are victims of their father’s failed vision and his efforts to make himself look good despite his obvious failure (through lying and inflating facts). Biff’s view of the American Dream is different from that of Willy’s – he wants to define success for himself, and not let success define him, as it did to his father, as his words “I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done was waste my life” (Baym 2118) indicate.
Perhaps, this difference was brought about when Biff found out about his father’s affair back at the age of 17, and exclaimed “You fake! You phony little fake! ” (Baym 2166) at both his father and the American Dream. It may explain why “From the age of seventeen nothing good ever happened to him” (Baym 2152), because it was then that he realized that the American Dream his father was such a proponent of is as phony as his father is – and since then, Biff has been trying to follow something he didn’t believe in anymore, which obviously didn’t work out.
Now, Biff’s dream rejects the amount of money he makes, how well liked he is, or what brand his refrigerator is as objectives. It only relies on whether he likes what he does or not. “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! ” (Baym 172) – That is Biff, and that is his own American Dream, placed somewhere out west and not in the concrete jungle of the city.
Stanley Kowalski’s disposition regarding the American Dream in Williams’ play is somewhat more elusive in text, yet it can still be inferred from various details. His general straightforward nature, often raw and rude manner and his determinedness are just what it takes to “make it” out there. This is evident from Stella’s words to Blanche, saying “Stanley’s the only one of his crowd that’s likely to get anywhere…
It’s a drive he has” (Baym 1997), indicating his inner strength and ambition. In a sense, Stanley doesn’t have an American “Dream”, because he isn’t dreaming – he’s working for it, and is content with his place so far and with things the way they are at any given moment. Unlike Willy, he does not feel the need to exaggerate his achievements, and unlike Biff, he isn’t intimidated by the competitiveness of city life and does not feel the need to get away from it.
Even more can be inferred about Stanley’s disposition due to the fact that is he is the complete opposite of Blanche – one who cannot find her place in the changed, “hostile” world because she sticks to old values. Stanley, like Biff, does not see money as the sole happiness-determining variable in life – “I pulled you down off them columns and how you loved it, having them colored lights going! And wasn’t we happy together? ” (Baym 2026), indicating by these words that happiness was part of his and Stella’s life regardless of finances.
Also like in a sense like Biff, Stanley values control of his own life, even if to him it means deciding what to do with his leisure time (e. g. play poker no matter what and not be nice about it). Neither of them has a submissive personality. A major difference in their dispositions when it comes to the American Dream is that Biff’s is more old-fashioned, not only in the sense of going out west, but just kind of to go with the flow and to follow his inner wishes. Stanley does not quite concentrate on dreaming, but has a somewhat personalized version of the dream.
This “survivor of the stone age” doesn’t care for being well liked and having brand name appliances, he is only determined to move forward and be happy with the way things are. After looking at the aspects of the American Dream and how they were explored in the above plays through the use of the main characters, it can be concluded that it is likely that both authors’ aim was to suggest that there is no American Dream “formula”, and that in order to succeed, one must be true to himself.
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