In the Twentieth Century, America became more popular as more people from overseas were attracted to the ‘American Dream’. This meant that the population in America increased and so life in America became more competitive. Those who wanted to succeed needed to be strong in character and in mind; there was no place for the weak. Therefore, only some would survive and make it to prosperity and the others would be ‘trampled upon’ and left behind in the race for success. “That’s what’s ruining this country! Population is getting out of control! The competition is maddening!” Here in Act 1, Willy can be seen recognising that an increase in people means an increase in competition. Therefore, people have to try harder in order to become successful, since they have to beat those who are trying for the same position.
In the context of the play, this means that a salesman may achieve something big, whereas an ordinary worker, however secure the job, will never earn large amounts. Since money is the key to success, those who do not earn large amounts of money cannot survive in the capitalist world. This is because they are unable to purchase products that those with a lot of money have. Even though Willy is a salesman, he has never made large amounts of money. So, there is no opportunity for him to succeed on personality and popularity alone. It would take much more hard work and determination for him to survive in the ‘concrete jungle’. “Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived.” Here we can see Linda in Act 1 defending Willy, but she is also highlighting that Willy is an ordinary man and he is nothing ‘special’. Therefore, he has nothing extraordinary that will enable him to stand out of the crowd and be noticed.
Furthermore, Miller demonstrates that the American Dream leaves those who need a bit more community support, who cannot advocate for themselves as strongly, in the dust. If America is the land of opportunity, then even the poorest man should be able to move upwards in life through his own hard work. “There was a man started with the clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines.” (Page 32) This quotation shows that Willy strongly believes in this aspect of the American Dream, that even the poorest people can become successful. This belief may keep Willy determined enough to believe that he can still be successful and so he still believes that America is the land of opportunity for all; for those of all ages. However, it is impossible for everyone to gain prosperity simply through hard work and determination. Therefore, the poor become penalised as their poverty is seen as proof of their laziness. There is no opportunity for them and they are left behind in society. So, they are not allowed to progress through the ‘concrete jungle’.
On the other hand, one can argue that America is still the land of opportunity, but only for certain, privileged people. Hence, we have to take into account the family and wealth one is born into, as well as the traits that they have such as natural intelligence. These have a bearing on the potential success someone has in life. An example of this is Bernard, who has made the most of his opportunities by studying hard in school. He has risen through the ranks of his profession and is now preparing to argue in front of the Supreme Court. “How do you like this kid? Gonna argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.”(Page 75) Here Charley is shown to be very proud of his son, “[an arm on Bernard’s shoulder]” (stage directions), since his son has become successful through his own hard work. In Bernard’s case, one can argue that Bernard used America’s idea of being the land of opportunity to the full, and he was able to gain the most out of it.
This is because he used the opportunities that were there for him, like high school, to his advantage and he did not take then for granted. On the same point, Biff, while technically given the same opportunities as Bernard, ruined his prospects by a decision that he made at age of eighteen. There is no going back for Biff, after he made the fatal decision of not finishing high school. “And he came back…and took…those sneakers with ‘University of Virginia’ printed on them…and burned them up in the furnace.” (Page 74) Here Bernard recalls the moment when Biff had given up on high school. Biff turned his back on the opportunities that were there for him and, therefore, he was not a success. Overall, one can argue that America is still the land of opportunity but for those who are in a better position to succeed and for those who use the opportunities available to them to the full, like Bernard did. This way America can no longer be seen as the concrete jungle, where there are no opportunities for those who are not in privileged positions.
In conclusion, Willy’s image of America is a mistaken one up to a point. This is because Willy believes that one can succeed on popularity and personality alone and this is shown to be wrong. Hence, America cannot be the land of opportunity for those who are not willing to make the most of the opportunities that are there for them. Likewise, it cannot be the land of opportunity for those who turn their backs on the opportunities or those who are blinded form the opportunities that are best for them. This is in the case of Willy who did not recognise that he could have turned the skills he had in carpentry into a successful profession. That is rather than becoming a salesman, where he lacked in skill and ability. America then becomes a concrete jungle when those who are not successful struggle to become successful, since new opportunities do not occur over and over again. Therefore, those who failed to recognise a past opportunity in becoming successful cannot gain any more opportunities and they become stuck in a concrete jungle.