In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman’s warped view of the American Dream caused tragedy in his family because he stressed the importance of popularity over hard work and risk-taking over perserverence. Willy grew up believing that being "well-liked" was important to becoming a success. He believed that being well-liked could help you charm teachers and open doors in business. He is proud that the neighborhood boys flock around Biff and respond to Biff’s athletic abilities, and in the same breath scoffs at the nerdy Bernard, who is too focused on school and his studies to be popular. Even though Biff turns out to be a failure as an adult, Willy holds on to the hopes that a business man who Biff met years ago will offer him a terrific job if Biff can be his old likeable self and recapture the confidence and grace he had as a teenager. Near the end of the play, Willy encounters the once-nerdy Bernard, who is now a successful lawyer about to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Willy can only shake his head in wonder at life’s ironies, with his own son turning out to be a loser and Bernard a successful lawyer. He still doesn’t see that Bernard got to be successful through years of study and hard work.
Willy’s warped view of the American Dream also included the belief that successful people were risk-takers and adventurers. He laments the fact that he never took his brother’s offer to move to Alaska to make his fortune. He envisions Biff, the once-great high school athlete, becoming a success through starting a sporting goods company. He believes people would be drawn to the company by Biff’s charisma, athletic ability, and Loman name. Willy’s last-ditch effort to make something of his life by killing himself in an automobile "accident" and handing over the insurance money to Biff is another scheme destined to failure. In contrast, we see his friend Charlie, who is living the real American Dream. Charlie has worked hard and perservered in the business world, successful enough to give money to Willy just to help him pay his bills. Arthur Miller shows us that the American Dream is valid, but those who hope to substitute popularity and lucky breaks for hard work are likely to fail.
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