Death of the American Dream?
I have been in Vermont for a few days. The leaves are turning late this year. Monsoonal rain has clouded the whole state in relentless moisture. We are here chasing the American Dream, or what's left of it.
One of the state's theatre companies is staging Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman. He wrote the play in 1948, when America was wondering whether a recession might turn into another Depression. His own family lost most of its money in the 1930s and Miller's uncle, who was locked in feverish competition with the playwright's father, failed to live up to the expectations that he and society had set him. He was a "loser" and inspired the tragic hero Willy Loman, who deludes himself about his role in the American Dream until reality makes him take his own life. Loman commits suicide the day before he is due to complete the mortgage payments on his house.
It is a brilliant play bleating with poignancy for an America that fears that the next generation will be worse off than the present one. At the time, one critic wrote that it was a time-bomb set to explode under the American capitalist system. That system has, of course, plenty of opportunities for self-destruction but it does raise some nagging questions about the cost-benefit ratio of the American work ethic and individual rewards. And yet, I am always surprised by the persistent embers of optimism in this country.