“He had the wrong dreams.” – Biff, Death of a Salesman
I watched “Death of a Salesman” last night with Amanda at the Noël Coward Theatre and it’s incredible how timeless the play by Arthur Miller is. The performance was outstanding and powerful, this was definitely one of the best things that I have done in London. There are many important themes in the play but what really struck me was how the concepts of dreams and dreamers were explored in the play. Consider these two lead characters: Willy and Biff. Willy dreams of becoming someone big and important, someone who is well-liked by others and someone who is rich. On the other hand, Biff dreams of owning a ranch, he dreams of leading a simple, carefree life and being close to nature. Surely, we must have met many “Willys” and “Biffs” in our lives. I can easily come up with names of people who aspire to be famous and others who yearn to live on a farm. What has previously never occurred to me is that Willy and Biff may appear to have vastly different dreams but fundamentally, their dreams are the same – both dreams are essentially illusions. To put it more graphically, both dreams play the role of a mirage in the desert (the desert being the present) and they provide the dreamers with a sanctuary that allows them to escape from the reality and hope for the better. Both Willy and Biff are unhappy with their current state but will they be happier if they finally get what they want? I don’t think so, when they get to where they want to, there will be new dreams conceived and new wants to chase after and dissatisfaction with reality will persist.
There is nothing wrong with dreams, everyone should think seriously about the kind of life that they yearn for. However, things do get problematic when dreams are unrealistic. I know an unrealistic dreamer when I see one – they paint overly beautiful images of where they could be and what they could have. “Imagine if I have that car and live in that house.” When you have imagined perfection, how can you be pleased with the imperfect world that we live in? The truth is the person who owns that car and that house has some issues to deal with as well, he/ she might have cancer for all you know. In more extreme cases like in the case of Biff/ Willy, their logic is that they are unhappy because they don’t have what they want. If happiness is, as common wisdom suggests, a state of mind then their dreams have played an integral role at destroying their happiness.
In my opinion, dreams need to be realistic in order to be constructive in our lives. Being constructive means that the dreams provide a direction in life instead of an avenue for escapism. What makes a dream realistic? My understanding may not be right but I think a realistic dream is first and foremost a dream that does not have an exaggerated self-importance. That is a problem with the society that we live in and its not just because we are our own little attention-seeking celebrities (think: social media). The problem is that we think of what we can achieve in our lifetimes (think: high pay, beautiful house, beautiful car and more recently, amazing vacations at exotic places etc) and we don’t think enough about what we can give to this beautiful world. A realistic dream should be about doing something for the society and not that elusive, egoistic to-do list. We think of personal glory and imagine that we are all heros (spiderman etc) but we don’t think enough about how we can realistically collaborate to make things work. A realistic dream should involve teamwork and the dreamer should see himself/herself as part of a team instead of possessing a superhero status. I have been thinking a lot about this lately and I think in order to make my dreams come true, I need to find a team who believes in it. I don’t aspire to be a Mark Zuckerberg but I aspire to leave a positive impact on the society.
“I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now, from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed”
– I dreamed a dream
Life didn’t kill the dream you dreamed; the dream you dreamed might have killed your life.