striving for being rich and have a wealthy life has always been present in the
American society. Often living in a capitalistic society leads people to become
greedy, and as a result many become too materialistic. This may happen because
of the challenge to pursue the American dream where most of Americans are
trying to fulfill it. Unfortunately, for most of people it is very difficult to
acquire this high status and to secure a spot in the upper-class society.
Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman, and Lorraine Hansberry’s, A Raisin the
Sun, are two plays that reveal two main characters: Willy Loman and Walter Lee Young,
characters that reflect typical features of the people who struggles to achieve
the American Dream. Although they may have common characteristics and share
similarities, they also have numerous issues and are very different, setting
them apart from other families and even each other. Therefore, the main focus
of this paper will be to compare and put in contrast these two great characters.
In both plays, A Raisin the Sun and
Death of a Salesman, the father (Walter and Willy) is the main individual that
holds his attention throughout the plays. Because of their roles are often
changing in the plays, Walter and Willy can be the protagonist and the
antagonist. That being said, they both have goals to possess their own business
and to be their own boss. They both strive to live wealthy. As Walter says “No…It
was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it” (Hansberry). This reveals
that Walter is more materialistic instead of considering the feeling of his
Willy and Walter are very similar in many
ways. For instance, they both are trying to be good fathers. Walter’s goal to
get rich is influenced by his restless desire to offer to his family a better
life: “You tired, ain’t you? Tired of everything. Me, the boy, the way we
live-this beat-up hole-everything. Ain’t you?” (Discovering Literature,
1295). Meanwhile, the love that Willy
has for his sons is undeniable. Very often he would slip into the past before
he drifted apart from his sons: “Remarkable. Remember those days? The way
Biff used to simonize that car? The dealer refused to believe there was eighty
thousand miles on it.” (Discovering Literature, 1216).
Willy and Walter hold a powerful desire to
become successful. Willy admires his brother and wants to be like him, a
successful entrepreneur. His brother offers Willy a place in Alaska, but he
refused it because he wants to prove himself that he can be successful in his
own city: “We’ll do it here, Ben! You hear me? We’re gonna do it
here!” (Discovering Literature, 1253). Meanwhile, Walter wants to be a
successful liquor merchant and break free from his white employer. For
instance, his despite for his job is relevant when he tries to explain to his
mother why he wants to open the business: “I open and close car doors all day
long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, “Yes sir; no sir, very
good sir; shall I take the drive, sir?” Mama, that ain’t no kind of job…
that ain’t nothing at all.” (Hansberry).
In the challenge to pursue their American
Dream, both protagonists end up betraying their families in one way or another.
For example, Walter wants to open a liquor business. Walter decides to invest
all the money his mother gave into business. Walter’s partner takes the money
and disappears, leaving Walter back to where he started. In the other hand, Willy
from Death of a Salesman betrayed his family twice. One, by having an affair instead
of making sales to support his family. Second, instead of confronting his
problems, he decides to kill himself thinking that this is the easy way to
solution of the problems.
Although both characters failed in achieving
their goals, how they actually process this failure is extremely different.
Walter is young and ambitious. He is more realistic, living in the present,
which allowed him to recover somehow in short time from his disappointment and
came to a state of mind that has more chances, became optimistic and supportive
to his family. However, Willy is an old man, didn’t have much patience. He is
living in his past, experiencing flashback that puts him in a state of
illusions which makes him to deny the present, and along with other
circumstances, eventually pushed him to kill himself. As a result, Willy became
a stagnant character because he was stacked in his memories and did not look
for other opportunities to support his family. Another component of the
protagonist’s image that needs to be compared is the position that they hold in
their family. Walter follows his mother’s orders, while Willy is the one who
give orders in the family. Before he takes a decision, Walter has to consult
and get approved by his mother. While Willy is the one who takes all the
decisions in the house.
Willy Loman and Walter Lee Younger are two
characters with a powerful drive toward success, but inevitably due to life’s
cruel fate they end up losing everything. In conclusion, the struggle shouldn’t
be about the pursuit of wealth, it should be the pursuit of happiness. What
brings people together is love and compassion for one another not how much
money you have or how big your house is or what name brand you are wearing.
Unfortunately, many people have forgotten that. Both characters were given the
opportunity at the end of the plays to choose between money/pride and family
values. In my opinion, Walter did the right thing standing by his family’s
values. Regrettable, I cannot say the same about Willy, who choose a different
path: money and pride, and we all know how the story ends.