Elusive American Dream in Miller's Death of a Salesman and Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

Good Essays

The Elusive American Dream in Miller's Death of a Salesman and Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

The American dream of success through hard work and of unlimited opportunity in a vast country actually started before America was officially America, before the colonists broke away from England and established an independent country. That dream has endured and flourished for hundreds of years; as a result, American writers naturally turn to it for subject matter, theme, and structure. In examining its lure and promise, they often find, not surprisingly, that for those who fall short, failure can be devastating because material success is a part of our cultural expectations.

Americans are judged and judge themselves on individual success …show more content…

Willy can’t understand how “In the greatest country in the world a young man with such personal attractiveness, gets lost.” (16). Almost as an afterthought he adds, “And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff, he’s not lazy” (16). Willy’s confusion comes from his own mixed-up values, which are in contrast to the American work ethic. For example, Willy prefers Swiss over American cheese (16), a symbol that he really doesn’t understand or accept the qualities he needs to be successful in America. Willy can’t even stand the effects or price of success. He resents growth and competition, which he calls “maddening” (17), and keeps finding excuses for his and Biff’s failures. He can’t seem to move beyond 1928, which comes just before the Great Depression, itself a real symbol of the failure of the American Dream. And Biff carries on his father’s legacy: “He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable” (19) than his brother’s. But even Happy, who wants to “show some of those pompous, self-important executives . . . that Hap Loman can make the grade” (24), agrees with Biff that “the trouble is we weren’t brought up to grub for money” (24).

Thus Willy and Biff are really out of place in the American Dream of working hard in business and getting rich. Where they want to be is outdoors doing something on the land, something muscular with their hands rather than with their heads. All their talk of

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