For Part One of Dan's analysis, click here.
Life and Death of a Salesman
In the same decade of Theodor Adorno’s critique of mass culture in terms of film, a play was written which further highlighted The American Dream's failure. Through cinema, Death of a Salesman (1951) was one of the first films to dare show failure in what every American strived towards. So afraid of public backlash, the distributors - Columbia Studios - wanted to air a short film before the movie which highlighted the success of pursuing The American Dream. That was, until Arthur Miller threatened to sue unless Columbia removed the short.
The play - and film - follow bible seller Willy Loman, who is struggling to find and achieve 'the dream'. Willy views a man called David Singleman as a hero and looks up to him as a man who is achieving everything one thought possible, imagining that David’s death must have been a noble one. He sees David as a template and tries to project that image onto himself. To be a success, to be a great salesman, being liked is once thing, but being well-liked is another. For Willy, looking up to David Singleman is a mistake as the reality of Willy’s life is mediocre at best. For him in his situation and with his diminishing record as a salesman, chasing this dream is the biggest hindrance of his and his family's life.
Frequent displays of sub-par morals from the Lomans and their distinct lack of honesty provide us with a significant insight into the average American family’s aim to achieve a decreasing, distorted and dilapidated dream.
Needing to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ by owning the latest, best, moral lifting, life changing materialistic product and putting it on a pedestal (like Willy does) just reinforces the seemingly idiotic plastic existence that is 'America'. Money, power and status are everything – because of the dream.
Eventually Willy realises his situation; he cannot reach the dizzy heights of David Singleman. It is at this point that Willy begins to live in his very own world; he starts to create illusions, tell lies and live within them. He tells of his success, his work ethic and rewards in his job. When he isn’t making enough money as he once did, the lies increase - causing financial doom. The false versus reality, Willy's life versus The American Dream.
This only suffocates the apparent logic further. The failure to truly realise one's own failure will lead to ultimate failure, not - for example - owning possessions that 'make life worthwhile'. Willy starts to truly believe his sons are destined for glory, that in fact they will no doubt achieve The American Dream. He chooses to live through his children, amending his own failures in life by making another person achieve goals he has failed.
This example of lying about failure, covering up the surface, is showing the importance of status and wealth within America. Willy’s transition from a hard worker to nobody, who loses touch on reality and therefore cannot possibly achieve his dream, proves that to every American and in The American Dream, failure is not an option. If you cannot achieve, are you truly an American? You will be looked down on by others who have achieved what they've wanted. Quite possibly, your morale will drop and you will feel neglected by society.
When Willy begins to cheat and lie about his lifestyle, it is clear that The American Dream has brushed aside his morals in order for him to chase the dream. It controls and consumes him. With his need to look good and be known as the best, it is evident that his failures have given him the need to think this.
In the end, after arguing with his son about his failures in life, Willy drives off and is killed in a car crash. This is a metaphor; Willy refuses to accept reality and pays the price. His American Dream dies with him.