A dream is the state of mind in which an individual starts picturing events of possibilities or ambition in a conscious or sub-conscious mind.
Dream is an integrated part of Death of a salesman; it revolves around the hopes and ambitions, daydreams and fantasies for all the characters in the Loman family and above all it examines the reality of the very much anticipated American Dream and the shallow promises of Happiness through fame and material wealth.
Arthur Miller shows us from the beginning of the play that all the characters are dreamers – “An air of dreams clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality” this instantly introduces the theme of Dreams even before a character emerges to the scene, therefore indirectly associates the whole Loman Family with the Dream which is obviously the American Dream.
Arthur Miller demonstrates to us the typical character of the chief protagonist Willy Loman, by setting his first scene to when he’s not in control of his state of mind, he consistently forgets and looses concentration on what he’s doing and often finds himself wondering in a different direction – “All of a sudden…I absolutely forgot I was driving…. And five minutes later I’m dreaming again” Willy practically admits to his wife Linda that he was dreaming.
Linda gives excuses for Willy’s inefficiency to be in control by blaming his eye glasses and all worth not.
The sons of Willy Loman, Biff and Happy at the other hand are not having the best of life. They both wonder back to the unwelcoming household of their father Willy; Biff considers himself a ‘Boy’ due to his present condition; similar to Biff, Happy still classifies himself as ‘Lonely’, he still hasn’t come close to achieving his life long American Dream and Ambition to “own an Apartment and a car”. This statement is very Ironic because even though he gets as much women as he wants, he seems never to achieve a perfect life and that’s probably the reason why Arthur Miller reflected this Irony to his name, ‘Happy’.
As the characters are not contempt with their ‘Reality’, they display their needs for Hopes and Ambition; this is the case with Biff and Happy, they are both hoping that forming a partnership would make them ‘Known’ all over the counties, Happy expatiates his brothers dream as they echo each others fantasies.
Willy of course disagrees with Biff’s idea of “buying a ranch and working in the field”. Even though the probability of achieving something that little is limited.
This shows us the character difference between the Loman amidst their high ambition and fantasies of wanting to have what is obviously out of reach.
It’s obvious that the Loman’s are environmentally and mentally pressurised to be successful, so they strive to be ‘known’, but not giving into consideration if that cultural success will necessarily fill in their search for happiness and fulfilment.
though Linda seems to be brain washed by Willy’s hopes to live up to the American Dream, she still finds it necessary to ask Willy “why must everyone conquer the world?” this rhetorical question towards Willy lets us know that there’s a very wide contrast between her assessment of success against Willy’s, which is to live up to the American Dream and all the good things within it.
Linda wouldn’t ask Willy this question if she wasn’t certain that it was the only way to make him realise how ugly their life would become if he carries on ‘putting all his eggs in a basket’.
This idea of the failed dream takes control of Willy’s physical and psychological well being, He gets sacked from work by his Boss, Howard, who unlike Willy, is fulfilling Willy’s assessment of American Dream.
He gets ditched by his surviving friends except Charley, the father of Biff’s successful childhood friend Bernard, who finally becomes a professional supreme court Lawyer.
Willy’s pride wouldn’t let him work for Charley to earn a living; he rather kept on increasing his unpromising debts to Charley; he starts forcing the American Dream upon his sons due to his failure and frustration.
Material belongings which should be a thing of comfort to him turns into agony – “that god damn Stude baker, and you got one more payment on the refrigerator….. but it just broke again”; He cant cope with the expenses to maintain some of the properties which are generally the supposed American Dream.
Willy can’t handle seeing Linda mending stockings because that reminds him of their inability to purchase a new one, furthermore the stockings cycles around his previous relationship with another woman which Biff found out about. The American Dream of every one owning cars has now become a thing of complaint – “The street is lined with cars, there’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighbourhood” This signifies one’s dream is not always ideal when fulfilled.
One could argue that Willy’s dream indirectly turns into a nightmare because he never achieved the ideal lifestyle he aspired to; His believe that “….if a man was impressive and well liked, that nothing…..” has turned out to be all false, he’s spent his whole life trying to be well liked and impressive and ended up being miserable.
Biff realises that he’s been living in a dream world after he goes to see Bill Oliver, he wouldn’t let Happy drag him back to it by suggesting they fabricate a story suitable enough to please Willy.
He cant handle the truth from Beef and as usual finds himself losing control of his emotions and uncontrollably locked up in a reminisce but to negative events this time.
This play is structured in a way that all the flash backs are events from Willy’s point of view where some are exaggerated, distorted or invented.
The background and music gradually changes as Willy speaks to dead Ben which he (Ben) goes back into the dark after speaking.
Willy goes back home to plant seeds which represent the success of Biff and still convincing himself that Biff is going to have a great future; he starts contemplating suicide, music and background are gradually altered as Willy invents a conversation with deceased Ben whom represents perfection in Willy’s eyes because he dealt in diamonds.
Unlike Happy and Willy, Biff acknowledges the way the whole family has been living in a world of optimistic fantasies and delusion – “I realised what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been, we’ve been talking in a dream for 15 years” furthermore he stated “we never told the truth for 10 minutes in this house”.
Biff admits being a “Dime in a dozen” & so is every one of them; this means that dozens of people are still leaving in a dream without progress – “Will you take that phoney dream and burn it before something happens?” Biff asks this rhetorical question to Willy, realising that he’s (Biff0 the only one seeing how bad things are going to get if this keeps going on, he gives up pressure of trying to convince Willy with a cry.
With the only aspect of Willy’s life linked to capitalism and consumer culture which is associated with the American Dream shatters; debts keeps increasing without any means of payment, he couldn’t escape the bond of depression and sought no other measure but SUICIDE so as to pre-occur his family an insurance claim for his death.
Ironically, Willy kills himself in a car, this symbolises the life he’s always wanted, representing a capitalism and consumerism society.
Biff is the only character in the Loman family who strongly ‘Strongly’ questions the validity of the American Dream – “He had the wrong dreams, all, all wrong. Even up to the point of his (Willy) funeral, Happy is still leaving in dreams and a promise to live up to the father’s believes and Dream (which led to his doom)
Arthur Miller makes the audience aware of the fact that having dreams beyond reach can lead to a life long tragedy.
He uses Willy as an example of how undivided faith in such a dream as the American Dream can often yield tragic results, especially when it goes largely unfulfilled.