A Lifetime of Change- American Dreams The quest for truth and Justice, for social and economic equality. A place where everyone had a fair change at making it big. America! America! The land of the FREE and the home of the brave, set your sail and travel to the New World of wonder and where your wildest dreams come true. Through the eyes of Peter Noyes you can see a drastic change in America. Within his lifetime the American Dream became real, and the ways of life became a lot better. When Peter left England he left an entire system of rules and regulations unknown to the settlers in the New World. And then there was a change in the New World almost to what we think of as America today. In the 1630’s in Weyhill, England there was a firm set of beliefs and regulations in place. Life was how it was, and that was that. There was no changing it, so you might as well not try. First, government existed through the manorial system. It was a rural setting where farming was the way of life. At each manor there was a lord, and many serfs. Everything was communal. The property, which the serfs lived on, was communally shared using an open field farming system. Each person had their crops in rows, intermingled with rows of their neighbors crops. All of the cows were grazed together in one place, and all of the sheep grazed together in another place. Each farmer had the right to cut hay from the community field to feed his stock for the winter. The tools that the people used, such as plows, belonged to the lord. In exchange for use of the lord’s land and tools the serfs paid a tax, and maintained all of the lord’s grounds. The amount of land you had determined your social class, which was based on birthright. The king, of course was on top of everyone else. Next came the nobleman, such as landlords, after them came the Bourgeoisie who had a fair amount of $, and lastly came the peasants. There was no social mobility, you were who you were and there was no changing that. Your wealth was the same as your social status. The king, who collected the taxes, had money, and therefore power, so he was on top. Then came the rich landowner, and then all of the tenants. The government was a monarchy, with a manorial system. There were town meetings once a year where everyone made all of the decisions for the manor together. The only way that a common person could participate in government was to attend this meeting and have a small say in what was planted when, where, why and how. You also had to follow the lords’ rules, or be shunned by society as a poor beggar. You had to follow the same religious sect as everyone else, and you had to agree, it was thought that whenever you disagreed it just meant that you were wrong. So, one might say that there were a few problems. When Peter Noyes moved on to Sudbury Massachusetts he saw many changes. Things in America were vastly different than they were in England. The biggest difference was that there were no lords, and there was no manorial system. The land was managed by private property. There was still however an open field farming system, because it was easier. No one knew how to make a decision on their own, so they felt that this was the way that things were to be done. The social structure of Sudbury was very similar to that it was in England. There were higher people and lower people. The Minister happened to be placed with a lot of land, and the miller with lots of land, and the Town fathers the same. However, many of the other people had little to no land. This was all based, once again upon birthright, and what and who you were back in England. Important people in England received a lot of land so that they stayed important when they came to America. Still, in America there was no social mobility. The lower class stayed very low. The young people and the new people, who hadn’t had the chance to be important in England didn’t appreciate this system though, which would later lead to change. Your economic status depended on your money and you money on your importance. The same system as was used in England, there were Haves and Have nots, and like in England the Haves ruled. The government was a bit fairer that the one in England however. Everyone who owned land had a right to vote, so everyone had an equal say. They used ballots for voting purposes so that it was fair. However, it truly wasn’t fair because there were a great number of people who owned no land as a result of their land distribution method. However, in order to vote, you had to be a landowner and you had to attend church. So, as things went on, a change was needed, the people came to America so that they could all be equal and everything would be fair. In the 1650’s Marlborough Massachusetts was formed. Here was where the big changes occurred that gave way to the American Dream. Firstly the land was divided into lots of individualized private property. Everyone farmed on their own, so people had to learn how to make a decision properly. However they were no longer controlled by their neighbors. The society of Marlborough was divided by the interest in the town, not in their previous status. Although this left 38 families with no land it was a whole lot fairer because the more that you do, the more that you get. By participating in the town affairs you got to a higher social class. Participation can include things like Town Meeting, Voting, roadwork, and volunteering for school and church, along with other such things. Your land determines your economic status, because in the new society, as in the others, land is equal to wealth. There was no class for the Young, the low, or for the newcomers, but instead there was social and economic mobility. They worked under a free enterprise system where the more work you do, the more $ you get. As for politics in this new society the people now had rights. They could petition, assemble, speak and write whatever and whenever they wanted to. And they exercised their rights to do these things by participating in the town. By the 1850’s there was an American dream of sorts. America was a place where you could go if you were religiously persecuted against, if you were poor and couldn’t make anything of yourself in England you could in America where everything was “fair”. If you made it to America you were home free, so to speak. America was like paradise to the downtrodden of England, and so started the American Dream.
What specific ills does Miller diagnose in the America Dream? Discuss with reference to Death of a Salesman.
The American Dream is an idea that originated from the Pilgrim Fathers and has remained in the American society. It is the belief that America is the land of opportunity where everyone can be great. The word dream is in fact probably the best way to describe the problems that Arthur Miller can see in this belief. The word dream can suggest something wonderful to look forward to achieving, or, it may imply that something is only a dream, something that is impossible to achieve. We can see Miller believes dream to mean the latter of these interpretations when we see the character Howard in Death of a Salesman. It is implied through the way that he disregards Willys past loyalty to his company, that he has only achieved his dream of success through moral compromises, and therefore, that few achieve the dream without doing this as well.
The American society however, seems to support the first definition of the word dream. They have certain claims to self-perfection that are absent in a large part of the world: I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume, Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. Others tend to accept far greater, that conditions of life are hostile to mans pretensions. It is thought that if they live by this dream, that there is a natural order in favour of them and that everyone can succeed. Willy supports this idea and relies on being well-liked in order to succeed, rather than working hard and having ability. So convinced is Willy of the rightness of this doctrine, that he raises his sons by it and, without intending to, he subtly undermines their moral character, turning one into a lecher and the other into a bum and a thief. Thus Miller demonstrates how such great self-confidence that the American Dream can produce, can have adverse effects on young people.
Although the dream used to be one about self-fulfilment, it has become perverted by materialistic concerns so that it is now a dream of financial success; exterior wealth measures a persons success. Miller seems to appreciate the original idea of the American Dream as he shows through Willys flashbacks of good times, that the past was golden, as he himself describes. It is how people interpret the idea of the American Dream now; that if people live by it there is a natural order in favour of them succeeding; that is essentially the problem. This view that society has, makes it seem that success is easy to achieve, and so there is disgrace in failure and people feel there is a need to succeed. Such pressures that the individual can feel, due to societys laws, can have tragic results. Millers demonstration of this is through Willy, who ultimately finds himself a victim of such pressures of the American Dream. His downfall derives from both his personal failure in relation to his values and from the values themselves. He shows, through the way in which he lives and dies, the latent self-destructiveness of a society in which false advertising corrodes not only business lives, but also personal relationships.
Willy believes he must be professionally and financially successful, have a secure family life and have strong friendships. Due to societys pressures, he tries to be the person that he thinks other people want him to be: for his customers, the dignified drummer; for his sons, the firm yet indulgent and all-protective father; for his wife, the ever-dependable breadwinner,-Blooms. He feels he must sell himself, must respond to the demands of others and must make an impression in order to be well-liked, and therefore, successful. However, when he realises that he cannot do all this and has not achieved what he had hoped for, he no longer has the ability to battle against these pressures, and is finally destroyed by his commitment to them: he thinks as he has not achieved his view of success, imposed on him by the American Dream, that he is better off killing himself.
So we see the complexity of these two problems of the American Dream: there are tragic results when people feel they have failed, due to the pressures of the American Dream, yet it seems that the idea that everyone being able to easily succeed, the American Dream, is what has prevented them from succeeding in the first place.