What does Death of a Salesman suggest about the American Dream?

Death of a Salesman explores both the facade of the American Dream, and the supreme hold it has over much of the population. Willy ascribes to the notion that well-liked and attractive figures are guaranteed success in life, and in doing so feels eager and proud to be part of that world. Miller suggests Willy is being tempted by an impossible concept, and maintains a frenzied devotion to it without considering that the game may be rigged against him. He devotes his life to the American Dream and ultimately his death as well, as he participates in a martyr’s exit, attempting a final blaze of glory that he believes will bestow wealth upon his family.

How does Happy measure success?

Fueled utterly by the superficial, Happy’s views of success are even more base than Willy’s, and he represents the ambition and blind servitude of the American Dream. Happy believes himself entitled to the rewards he seeks, be they women, status, or money, and readily exaggerates his position, believing himself to be far more important than he is. Tragically, Happy lacks the capacity for self-analysis and is doomed to toil forever in service of an unattainable promise.

Who is "The Woman"?

Originally a secretary for one of Willy’s buyers who went on to become Willy’s mistress, The Woman serves as more of a symbol than a character. She is an embodiment of Willy’s restlessness and discontent with his life. She offers him ego boosts, and his dependency on her compliments further feeds his delusions. Her character also serves as the means by which Biff begins to lose faith in his father; when the teenage Biff discovers Willy giving Linda’s stocking to The Woman, the facade of his father begins to fade.

What is the significance of Willy's flashbacks?

Due to his extreme ambition and hope for success, Willy has lived a life fueled by fantasies and self-delusion, and his frequent forays into the past serve as a means of escapism. However, his daydreams also cause a splintered psyche to form, one where his viewpoints change drastically from one moment to the next. Reassessing his experiences allows him to engage with past memories in a self-serving way: he can either justify or self-edit events to suit his needs. Because of his preoccupation with the past, he is unable to ever remain fully present, and the contrast between fantasy and reality is indicative of the war in Willy’s mind.

Why does Willy commit suicide?

Willy has lived his life devoted to a belief system that cannot possibly lead to fulfillment. The American Dream suggests that anyone can find success and wealth if only they’re willing to commit themselves to achieving it. Furthering the tragedy of Willy’s death is that, by committing suicide, he only perpetuates and validates the very system that had already consumed so much of him. Knowing that he can atone for his perceived lack of success, and believing that Biff will benefit from the $20,000 insurance money, Willy sees ending his life as the best play to make in a game he never needed to play, and was destined to lose.