The American Dream: Willy Loman And Don Draper

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The American Dream is a concept that was always deeply embedded in the American psyche from the very beginnings of its earliest settlements. The concept emerged through the cognition of America as the “promised land”, the mythical symbol of a “new Eden”, a “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”, where man was in complete control of his political, social, mercantile and religious destiny. Despite the internal tensions the Civil War brought forth, the rapid growth of industrialisation of the nineteenth century led to a consolidation of the American Dream into a national consciousness. “As society became more secular, material progress became at once the Dream’s expression and proof. ‘The business of America is business’, Calvin Coolidge said in 1925. It …show more content…
While Willy Loman is a travelling salesman in the early 1950s, one who goes from door to door selling merchandise, Don Draper is the creative director of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, in the 1960s, whose modes of “selling” are the advertising ideas he pitches to his clients for their products. While Willy’s interaction with his buyers is at a more intimate, personal level, Don’s is through the images he creates, the advertising campaigns he manufactures to entice the consumer. In both the historical context, and the context of the circumstances surrounding both Death of a Salesman and Mad Men, we see how, in both forms of salesmanship, the harsh faultlines of the extreme commercialization of the American Dream become apparent. The pursuit of “selling” almost becomes a cultural necessity, in order to achieve both one’s individual professional success and the success of acquisition: to have material wealth coupled with domestic bliss. This success, however, remains an illusion-as transient and temporary as the images Don conjures for his clientele, in order to build their advertising campaigns. In this context, it is significant to note how the opening credits of Mad Men shows the silhouette of a figure falling through a cluster of images, amongst which we get brief flashes of the phrases “Enjoy the best …show more content…
Both employ flashbacks as an important aspect of storytelling. While in Death of a Salesman, the flashbacks form a means of contextualizing Willy’s present delusion in stark juxtaposition with his past aberrations, in Mad Men, Don Draper’s past becomes a means of undercutting his present. Draper’s past is almost always posited against his professional successes, and he is seen to be inextricably ensnared in its clutches—history is what “gets in his eyes”. It is the past that becomes inescapable, that continues to recur and to haunt both the individual and the salesman. While Willy’s salesmanship is thoroughly influenced by his romanticized ideals of what “selling” meant in the past, the dominant thrust in Don’s salesmanship is to shed the burdens of his past, to erase from his gamut of perception its sustained

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