American Dream Analysis In Literature
Miller’s Death of a Salesman and A raisin in the Sun presents “the efforts and frustrations of a family in pursuit of the American Dream” (Curtain 115). Dreams are the very different to each individual. Walter, the hero in A Raisin in the Sun is another Willy who struggles to realize his version of American Dream. In their attempts to achieve the Dream, Willy and Walter shows that they are common in some aspects. A social study by Alister Bull points out “America may still think as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world”(BBS). The American Dream is just illusion. It is illusions of chance for the future.
Walter has high expectation of himself and he try out to succeed. Hansberry has stated that “… Walter Younger is an American more than he is anything else,” he believes anyone can become anything he wants to be in the land of promise. He wants to quit his boring job. He works as a chauffeur for white. He wants to be successful businessman who runs his own business. As solid evidences of success, he wants to buy a Cadillac convertible and “some real pearls” for Ruth, big house with a garden for his family and opportunity to go to well known college in America for Travis(1537). For himself, he would like to drive a black Chrysler because “Rich people don’t have to be flashy”(1538).
Other common backgrounds of their dreams is the idea of being “big”, which they are obsess with. The word “big” is often used by Willy and his two sons: Willy tells around that ” … working on a very big deal”(1466). He believes his sons will “end up big”(1469). That is why Biff complains he has to “be boss big shot in two weeks,” to satisfy Willy’s dream.
The idea of being “big” also use as important in the life of the Younger family. Walter follows the idea of being “big”: “Big. Invest big, gamble big, hell lose big if you have to, you know what I mean”(1525). When Walter finds out his son want to be a bus driver, he responses, ” A what? Man, that ain’t nothing to want to be!…” “cause, man – it ain’t big enough – you know what I mean”(1537). Waiter’s attitude echoes Willy’s emblematic motto:”Start big and you’ll end big”(1452). Other members of Walter’s family also reflex his attitude. Lena is most realistic character in the play, also has desire for something big, something high in her life:
“Lord, ever since I was a little girl, I always remembers people saying, “Lena Lena Eggleston, you aims too high all the time.You needs to slow down and see life a little more like it is. Just slow down some “That’s what they always used to say down home “Lord, that Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing: She’ll get her due one day”(1553).
Lena seems to fulfill at least a part of her dream because she buys a decent house: “I just seen my family falling apart today…When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger…”(1530).The characters’ desire to be “big” reflects emptiness of their dreams. They are confuse by the bright appearance of the American dream.
Walter and Willy are not qualified to be “big” as they imagine because they have many weaknesses. First, they fail to understand the needs of education as the first major step to begin their search for the dream. Willy’s attitude toward education is well demonstrate when he teaches his sons:
Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead, Be liked and you will never want. (1435).
Willy believes that anyone can succeed by “being well-liked” or ” make an appearance” in the business world, even without education. Walter also miss importance of education. He accuses George and Beneatha:
“I see you all the time – with the books tucked under your arms – going to your (British A a mimic) “clahsses.” And for what! What the hell you learning over there? Filling up your heads -(Counting off on his fingers) – with the sociology and the psychology – but they teaching you how to be a man? How to take over and run the world? They teaching you how to run a rubber plantation or a steel mill? New – just to talk proper and read books and wear white shoes.”(1525).
He reproaches colleges produce only good-for-nothings. When he cannot understand the importance of education as meanings of dreams.
Walter and Willy both try to achieve American dreams without efforts, both of them are immoral. Willy once encourages his son to steal materials to mend their stairs. Their crime is evidence of courage and spirit. He even asks Bernard to help Biff cheat on examination. Walter is also corrupted by materialism. He only counts being wealth and have power is important. It is somewhat meaningful for him to run liquor store, which Mama thinks immoral. Walter doesn’t feel guilty when he decides to bribe the officials to get the license. They are immoral and also often blind to needs. Willy tries to kick out the woman he slept with in front of Biff. He try to cover his shameful situation. Willy tries to cut down Linda’s talking whenever she tries to open her mouth, while he keeps interrupting Biff’s talking. Walter says to Beneatha, “go be a nurse like other women-or just get married and be quiet…”(1501). He does not care about Beneatha’s dream being sacrifice to satisfy his own.
Willy and Walter share many weak points. Their dreams are closely related with their family, especially with their son. Willy and Walter differ by their family backgrounds. For Willy, he did not have any parental love: “Dad left when I was such a baby and never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel-kind of temporary about myself”(1445). In contrast, Walter has received full attention and love from his parents. Mama describes her husband as one who greatly love his children. One of the reasons Big Walter’s death was loss of his third child few years ago. Walter received love from his parents during his childhood led him to develop “his strong sense of self-esteem, enabling him fully to accept American values and giving him the confidence to pursue his dream”(Washington 115).
Willy and Walter are in love for their children. Willy have commit his desire for parental love though pouring his affection, and through making himself idolize to his sons. Linda points out, “Few men are idolized by their children the way you are”(1437). He expects his sons to fulfill the dream. He knows he fails to achieve through “being liked. Willy and Walter’s expectation for their sons can be combine by Mama’s speech, “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams-but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while”(1505).
Their desire to fulfill dreams is basically for their sons. Their search for the dream is also influenced by their marital situation. Linda deeply understand partner. She told her sons:
…I don’t say he’s great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person(1447). At this point, it seems natural for Willy to exclaim:”You’re my foundation and my support, Linda”(1427).
A closer examination of Linda’s attitude toward Willy, she does not fully understand him. Willy returns from a sales trip. He brags that he made more than twelve hundred on the trip and Linda starts to calculate how much their net income will be. His brag is followed by the terrible confession that he made only two hundred gross on the trip. Linda replies,”Well, it makes seventy dollars and some pennies. That’s very good.”(1436). Linda talks cold rather than generosity to her husband’s problems. Willy finds out other people laugh at him and he talks too much. When he admits the facts to Linda, he is revealing his true identity as a man of discouragement and failure. Linda fails to help him accept the truth, “Oh don’t be foolish” “You don’t talk too much, you’re just lively”, “Willy darling, you’re the handsomest man in the world”(1437). By sticking to illusion Willy try to implant. She avoids the painful moment, so she lose chance to help to accept the reality. Therefore, one cannot deny that “there is a clear connection between her refusal to challenge those illusions and death” (Bigsby, “In Memoriam”12).
Ruth in A Raisin in the Sun understands the frustration of her husband, Walter. Unlike Willy he does not complain of his careless wife, Walter openly complains:
“That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs and go to work. (passionately now) Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say-(In utter anguish as he brings his fists down on his thighs)-Your egg is getting cold!”(1499).
Facing Walter’s fault, Ruth try to help him: “No. Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is-but he needs something-something I can’t give him any more. He needs this chance, Lena.”(1504). She understands what Walter really craves for successful business. This is why she give the insurance money to Walter even though she knows she has nothing to do with the money. The relationship between Walter and Ruth reflex to Mama and Big Walter. Mama remembers ” “Honey, Big Walter would come on here some nights back then and slump down on that couch there and just look at the rug, and look at me and look at the rug and then back at me and I’d know he was down then…really down”(1505). Unlike Linda who keeps blind to her husband’s problems, Mama understands Big Walter’s situation. Her suffering acquire from helplessness. She has to feel in front of her husband’s frustration. Lena shows patience, understanding, selflessness and love toward her son as well as the husband.
Willy and Walter soon find out that their dreams are doomed to failure. Willy’s frustration of his own failure also come from his son, Biff’s. He already know about his own failure. “I (Biff) never got anywhere because you (Willy)`stand taking orders from anybody! That’s whose fault it is!”(1487). Biff has failed to get a stable and profitable job. He still earns only a dollar an hour. He has been imprisoned several times for the crime of theft.
As a result of the failure, they are faced with painful awakening moment. When Willy realizes his dream disappear, he clings to another new illusion: “He (Biff) will make it with their money.” He believes that Biff will have a good chance to get ahead in the world, if he can leave life insurance money for Biff through suicide. When Walter finds money gone with the imposter, he accept the guilty money collected by the white neighbors of the new community to buy the Youngers off. At last moment, he changes his mind. Instead of receiving money, he declares to Mr. Lindner, “We have decided to move into our house because my father-my father- he earned it”(1558). Here, Walter achieves manhood, realizing that “dignity is a quality of men, not bank accounts”(Weales 529).
In different reactions from each other, Willy and Walter still have something in common. Their desire “to hand the world to his son” in earnest way. For Willy, suicide is more than simple expression of illusion, it is an positive action to show dignity and meaning of his life. Walter’s spiritual growth is easily justified, considering his warm and strong affection for Travis. By rejecting Lindner’s offer in Travis’s presence, he hands down not disgrace but pride and dignity to Travis, keeping the dream alive. Because of their dreams “revealed, suspended, destroyed, and renewed again” spring from the heroes’ concern for their families, both plays are domestic under the seemingly social context.