Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Divergent Roads of Success: Happiness and Wealth

As the curtain rises, “a melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine”(Act One). As the faint sound of notes trickle through the lives of the Lomans' and those who surround them it becomes apparent that its significance is confounding. The flute has an inevitable nature to drift away.  The first mention of the flute is in Act One as Willy remembers his father, the latter Loman. He was a traveling flute salesman. Willy’s dreams of success first become askew as he recalls his father's achievements. The perception of Willy’s father drives him to attain prosperity of his own, but what is the driving force of “success?” Wealth? Happiness? Willy sets to prove the correlation between the two only to find that dreams can be unattainable, but happiness is merely a choice to be made. The roads were distinct (thought derived from Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"). Willy chose the road of death as he encapsulated his life within an unattainable idea. 

Willy ascends into a trance-like state “as the entire house and surroundings become covered with leaves. Music insinuates itself as the leaves appear”(Act One). He recalls fond memories with his son. In a sense, the flute assimilates the road he could have taken and the missed opportunities along the way. It appears as though Willy has difficulty acknowledging the success he attained solely within his own home. Willy ultimately drove himself down a road of destruction. 

The lull of a memory once lost takes hold of Willy. “Ben’s music is heard”(Act One).  Admiration pours out of Willy as he recalls his recently departed brother Ben and his profound success. Willy’s depression contorts his view of Ben. He only sees the insurmountable wealth his brother has acquired. His being is shattered as he knows he can never attain such a wealth in his lifetime. 

Willy Loman allows the success of others to determine his own happiness, inevitably leading to his own demise. The dream of success cannot be defined. Willy chose a road in which he believed success was contingent on the endowments brought upon him by business. The absolute consequence of the path chosen by Willy was death.  As Linda summons the courage to address the suicide of her husband, Willy, “the flute begins, not far away, playing behind her speech”(Requim). As the last flow of air transcends through the wind instrument so does the end of an era. Biff whispers to his mother, “we’re free”(Requim). The insurmountable idea of success perishes with Willy Loman. If Willy would have recognized the significance of happiness within his own life could he have been saved? What does this say for society as a whole? Does Society overlook happiness in an attempt to attain success? What is the end result? 


  1. The last paragraph of your post was great. I completely agree with that, and it's sad that this is so realistic, not just a play. Sometimes people need to focus on what's close to them, not what they "think" they need.

  2. Well said! As a whole, I feel our population is financially driven to attain as you said, "what they think they need" whereas in reality wants and needs are not the same. From wants we do not always sustain happiness, but instead trigger a desire to secure more wants. It is a never ending cycle for some. As sculpture and artist Maya Lin has said, "to me the American Dream is being able to follow your own personal calling. To be able to do what you want to do is incredible freedom"(Maya Lin). I believe Arthur Miller's sole purpose was to create an allegory in which future generations could see the exploitation of the American Dream.

  3. I think when you replace the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of success you'll find exactly what happened to Willy Loman, a man/woman obsessed with their level of achievement in life and the level of achievement attained by their children and driven to madness when they are unable to be where they believe they should have ended up. There's a moment in the play that shows just how concerned Willy only was with himself and his immediate family. When Willy runs into an adult Bernard he is shocked to find out how successful his nephew has become. This young boy would wasn't athletic, who wasn't "well like" was presenting a case before the Supreme Court, he was well dressed with a wife and two boys. That's what Willy wanted for Biff but Bernard had it, in that scene you see his green eye of jealousy, it isn't malicious but he seems to need to prove to them that his son Biff is on the up and up. He needs them to understand that this deal is going to put his son on that map and that his son is going to be way more successful than Bernard at the end of it. He's not happy for Bernard's hard work and achievements at all instead he only looks to his child desiring for him to prove he's better. Willy must be better. It's so important to him. And he couldn't see past it, it drove him mad to see the world around him flourish while he himself felt his family was being left in the dust. It's truly sad but I think many people fall into this success = happiness mind set and inevitably become depressed because success is just a mind set, is a 6 figure income success, for some. What about a millionaire, maybe or billionaire, money is never going to be enough people are always going to want more. Heck they're printing more everyday. In the grand scheme of things money is never what will bring you true happiness, Willy Loman had everything he needed to be happy. He just couldn't see past his bills to understand that.

  4. I think your question about society overlooking happiness in an attempt to achieve success is very good. It does seem to be the case for a lot of people. The quest for more and more material things leads us to value things over people. Things can make you happy for just so long, but family and friends give you the lasting happiness that truly matters

  5. Katie,
    Very nice post! Good use of textual support!
    Another quote from the play I think helps to begin to answer some of these questions: "No man only needs a little salary." -Charley
    We haven't really talked about Ben much, but I think his character plays an interesting role in the play. At one point he says, "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy." We get a little bit different, more archaic vision of the American Dream with Ben, and I wonder how that vision fits in with these questions about success vs. happiness?

  6. I love your reference to Ben's quote "the jungle is dark, but full of diamonds, Willy." I feel his raw depiction of success validates the need for happiness as opposed to an "ideal" dream. Ben's depiction of struggle is unreal for many. Why wonder in darkness searching for a small shimmer when light illuminates in the next room. There are many choices that can be made. Success is not black and white.
    I also feel the use of diamonds in Ben's portrayal is pertinent Arthur Miller's allegory. Not only are diamonds rare, but also derive from the greek word "adamas" meaning unbreakable ( As Humans, we are meant to be broken. We are meant to rebuild and learn from our erroneous ways. The "unbreakable" dream is merely one man's delusion passed on through the generations. Our purpose is not to become encapsulated within an idea, but to live.

  7. Katie,
    I was thinking about that pioneer spirit of taming the wilderness, but these are great connections too!