When people accept an ideal to live by it can be a glorious and noble thing unless they become so obsessed with the the ideal that it becomes a yolk and they are unable to realize their dream. This is especially true for two characters in Arthur Miller’s plays Death of a Salesman and The Price. In these two plays Miller portays two lower-middle class men , Willie Loman and Victor Franz, respectivelly, who each live by an ideal that ultimately is self-defeating. Willie lived to pursue the American dream rather than living the American dream and Victor lived to serve and be decent rather than living a oble and decent life.
They pursed their ideal rather than living it and thus they are unable to succeed. Willie Loman, in Death of a Salesman,, has lived his life in pursuit of the American dream. Traditionally the American dream meant oppurtunity and freedom for all, and Willie believed that. However, hard work could not earn him everything that he wanted or thoght he deserved. Willy judged himsel and those arround him by theit material accumulation, as is demanded by capitalism and the protestant work ethic. The ethic demands accumulation and work as signs of favor in the eyes of god.
Thus in order to please god and himself he had to accumulate wealth and objects. The consumer oriented society in which Willy lives will not allow him to live the American Dream. Willy is fascinated by accumulating things. His desire fior goods makes him want objects that he neither needed nor could afford. Willy thinks that he needs to buy his wife a new refrigerator and new stockings even though she is content with what they have. As he tries to live the American dream he venerates those who have been successful at doing so, like Thomas Edison, B. F. Goodrich, and Ben, his succesful brother.
Furetheremore he punished those who did not work towards that ideal or accomplish it ,such as Biff, his son, and most importantly himself. The extreme to which he followed the dream brought him to disallusionment and lose sense of reality. Willy created a reality for himself where he “knocked ‘em cold in Providence,” and “slaughtered ‘em in Boston. ”(p. 33) The ultimate result of his disallusionment is his suicide. It is ironic that he dies for his ideals although they are misconstrued.
The problem with Willy’s ideals which ultimately kills him is that he has lost sight of achieving the true goal of the American Dream, happiness and freedom, and the dream took control of him. He struggled to achieve something that he could not; he did not have the talent to be a salesman. He became so obsessed with living the dream that he was unable to be content with his talents in carpentry and with his family.
There is also a manner in which he pusues the Dream. He is a salesman, a profession that is associated with trickery and illusion. He could not pusue a noble dream by doing something that is based in deceit. His quest was cursed from the start and the fact that he lived the quest and not the dream made it worse.
Similarly in Miller’s The Price the main character is a man who tries to life for an ideal and not the ideal . In The Price Victor becomes so obsessed with sacrificing for others that he ultimately fails to please himself . By not achieving for himself he hurts those he is trying to help, his family. Victor devoted his life to serving others at an early age. When he was younger he went to the police academy, a profession that is marked by self- sacrifice for others. Furtheremore he put his brother through medical school even though Victor had more potential in the field.
While his brother Walter was in school Victor cared for their aging father at a great expense to Victor econimically and emotionally. During the time period portrayed by the play Victor is still selfless as he constantly calls tries to make arrangements to include his brother in the business deal to sell off their families estate. Although Walter does not return Victor’s numerous phone calls Victor still refuses to rake the whole amount of money for himself although no one would blame him for doing so. He has a greater need for that money and deserves it, for all his earlier sacrifices for Walter’s sake, but he will not take it.
With ll that sacrifice one would assume that Victor’s family would be pleased however his sacrifices hurt them greatly. Those that he was sacrificing most are hurt most in the end. That is to say that his inability to please himself and to struggle to achieve his goals hurts his family. His wife Esther becomes disgusted by his inability to achieve and his not pusuing medicine caused him to remain a part of the lower- middle working class. Just as Willy does, Victor too, adopts a quest for himself however, he pursues that quest to the point that he loses sight of his original goal – to please others, and ends up hurting them.
Both men have decent and noble intentions however, they both live to fulfill those intentions rather than living and fulfilling the intentions. As a result they both fail to accomplish what they had intended, hurt the ones they love, and themselves. Willy’s obsession with acquiring wealth and being a salesman made it impossible for him to do so. Victor’s insistence on helping others made it impossibe for him to provide the life his wife wanted and deserved . Both men failed because the became so involved in living by impossible standards that they could never reach them and failure has harsh penaltis in both circumstances.