Essay Plans

a) ‘How Does Miller subvert the American Dream in Death of a Salesman?’

Such a question should be looked in reverse: i.e. ‘how does he not subvert it?’ Death of a Salesman tears down the flimsy construct which is the American Dream. Firstly state the principles of the Dream: a nation founded on meritocracy, where any man can become president, free from class or racial prejudice.

Think of Willy as Miller’s eternal ‘common man’. He represents the experience of one man living the reality of the Dream. Think about how important money is to the play. Because Willy has grown old, he can no longer earn as much as he used to. He is put on commission pay. He declines and dies. What does this say about how the Dream looks after its own?

Think about Biff’s alternative world-view. Is he a drop out? Or is he merely taking his time in achieving his goals? To own your own house - the aspiration of every American Dreamer. Discuss the irony that it is only on Willy’s death that the mortgage is paid off. Think about whether Willy is the failure, or the value system which we are inclined to judge him by. Surely the mistakes that he makes are brought on by his strict adherence to the values of the American Dream.

b) ‘How does Miller portray the father-son relationship?’

Biff and Willy were ‘real pals’ when Biff was a child. Willy saw the potential in Biff to achieve things that Willy was too weak to achieve. The audience are made to understand the artificiality of the successes that Willy expects in Biff. Bernard is studious and attempts to get Biff to study with him. Willy prefers for Biff to prepare for the big football game. Bernard becomes a Supreme Court lawyer. Despite his earlier triumphs on the football field, Biff is a lonely and confused young man.

Miller is warning parents not to project their own failings onto their children’s successes. Biff tried to live up to his father’s value system - the American Dream - and failed. This failure paved the way for many others. How is this mindset evidenced in Biff’s character in the play?

Think about the incident with the woman in the hotel. Biff holds this against his father all his life. Is the affair with the woman an opportunity for Willy to be someone that he isn’t? Or is it merely the loneliness of the road? Is Biff right to hold his father’s infidelity against him?

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