Death of a Salesman
Dreams play an important role in unfolding characteristics and are used as themes and structure within the story. Willy pursues the “American dream” but to no avail and we see how he reacts to this through his confusion between reality and dreams. We see how these dreams have come to haunt Willy (e.g. Ben’s success) and although these dreams haunt Willy, one person’s nightmare can be another person’s dream, Biff’s dreams are the opposite of Willy’s dreams yet both dreams are noble aspirations.
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Miller Uses dreams to show how the characters feel about each other are and how not achieving them has led to serious faults within the relationships, between Biff and Willy. We can see that during a dream “Willy: (kisses BIFF) wait till I tell this in Boston” whilst in reality “Biff: why does dad always mock me” Now we can see how negative Biff and Willy have become towards each other, from loving each other dearly because of the harm caused by dreams.
Miller comments how some dreams are unrealistic “Willy: lick the world! You guys together could absolutely lick the civilised world” Willy exaggerates, which suggests that he wants what he cannot have, unattainable dreams lead to Willy not been grounded in reality and his memories “Linda: you called him crazy”. This shows that Biff has found out about Willy’s confusion between his memories.
Miller is criticising the capitalist American dream that Willy has but cannot fulfil and it is killing him because he wants it so badly but he is not “economically viable”, he has no customers. “Linda: the old buyers that loved him so and always found some order to hand him a pinch – they’re all dead, retired.” He is of the older generation and can no longer compete with the young. He has been brought up on a lie “Biff: pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!”, despite his protests in act 2.
Miller uses dreams to structure the play and the flashbacks introduce events leading to his demise and we can see how all the build up of the past unfolds the plot and leaves us understanding why the family feud has been taking place. This creates pity for Willy because he is in such disillusionment that we understand that his life has become so confusing for him “Biff: what the hell is wrong with him?” “Linda: you called him crazy” we see how Willy is worthy of pity from us because his own son has called him crazy.
Miller makes it seem as though because of the way Willy’s sons have neglected him, that Willy is in his own world and it is as if dreams are his last resort, for a dream to come true because you need to have a dream for it to be realised. Willy continues to dream as a last resort for hope “Willy: I see it like a diamond”. When Willy is talking to Ben about grasping his future, he has a dream which he wants to grasp. Miller uses the diamond as a metaphor for his dream “shining in the dark” and the dark represents how unlikely it is for his dream to come true. “hard and rough” To make your dreams come true you have to work for them “I can pick up and touch in my hand” he feels so confident about his dream, he can almost make it realistic.
Miller immediately contrasts this metaphor of a dream with Willy looking forward to death because all he has are flashbacks of the past and he sees them as “all the great times” when he had hope for his sons and before Biff believed he was a “phoney”. He wants Biff to see everyone turn up to his funeral and show Biff how great he was “Willy: He’ll see it with his eyes once and for all” This makes Willy’s character welcome death and make the impact of his actual death seem more tragic than shocking because we can understand why he would do it.
Miller has portrayed Ben in the dreams as wise and understanding to the other characters feelings “Ben: he’ll call you a coward” showing how Ben understands how Biff feels, this shows us how would disagree with what Willy sees as important. Willy sees the economic and urban lifestyles, working hard and being liked, as important, whilst as Biff contrasts this, he is portrayed as rural and natural which shows that characters within the dreams build details of characters outside the dreams, indicating clashes between dreams that as Biffs dreams are almost the antithesis of Willy’s dreams. There is no one ideal “American Dream” and each person needs to aspire to what they feel is best for them.
Dreams can have a variety of different effects, Willy’s dreams lead to his demise, Ben’s dreams lead to success, and with this story I feel that Miller is trying to tell the audience that you can have dreams but you cannot always rely on them to come true. If they don’t then you shouldn’t dwell on the past, what’s done has been done and you should focus on your future which remains ahead of you. You might find yourself way “out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back – that’s an earthquake. A salesman has got to dream. It comes with the territory.”