The American Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal” with a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. It is this deep rooted national ethos that has become known as the ‘American Dream’, where any and every American, regardless of race, gender and social status, has the opportunity for success, prosperity and up ward social mobility as a result of hard work.
Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, running until July 18 at the Noel Coward Theatre, examines the cost of blind faith in the ‘American Dream’. The play is Miller’s commentary on what he perceives as a false myth constructed around materialism that has obscured the original notion of the dream.
Antony Sher & Harriet Walter (Willy & Linda Loman), RSC, Ellie Kurttz, 2015
Willy Loman’s belief in the dream leads him to assume that success and wealth are easily achievable, however, his lack of hard work to reach this goal ensures his demise. His disillusions and constant failure result in a decline of his mental health eventually driving him to suicide. His death allows his sons to achieve what he could not by giving them their inheritance.
Antony Sher & Alex Hassell (Willy & Biff Loman), RSC, Ellie Kurttz, 2015
His blind faith in the American Dream has diverse effects on his two sons, Happy and Biff. Happy tries to obtain what his father could not whereas Biff accepts that he will never accomplish what his father has laid out for him and rejects Willy’s grandiose ideas.
Alex Hassell, Harriet Walter, Antony Sher & Sam Marks (Biff, Linda, Willy and Happy Loman), RSC, Ellie Kurttz, 2015
The hippie culture of the 1970’s, popularised by the Woodstock Festival, is the antithesis of the middle classed idealised ‘American Dream’. Hippies rejected establishments, criticised middle class values, championed sexual liberation and promoted the use of psychedelic drugs to release inhibitions.
Freedom of expression is what defined this alternative culture. The urge to break free from societal norms goes against the notion of the middle classed valued American Dream, instead their doctrine favoured peace, love and personal freedom, opposing the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity.
Their lack of grooming and use of tie-dyed was a direct willingness to question authority and separate themselves from what they considered as “straight” or “square”. With no pre-defined life expectations, hippies weren’t subject to the stress caused by not achieving societal goals.
The 70s is an era defined by ideas that go against the middle class values established in Death of a Salesman. It was an era of togetherness, where political activism was rife and people lived in communes.