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Death of a Salesman: Free Study Guide / Summary / Analysis

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DEATH OF A SALESMAN BY ARTHUR MILLER

FREE STUDY GUIDE / BOOKNOTES

OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Happy Loman

Happy is the younger son of Willy Loman and is unattractive and overweight. As a boy, he was over-shadowed by his older brother Biff, who was doted upon by Willy because he was handsome and a star football player. Though Happy never expressed any overt resentment over the excessive attention paid to Biff, he constantly seeks his father’s approval. He always tells Willy that he is losing weight, trying to please the man.

On the surface Happy seems to be a responsible young man. Unlike Biff, he has settled down; he has a job, a car, and an apartment. He even claims that he has “relationships” with women. In fact, he tries to fill his life with a host of women, as seen when he easily picks up a female in the restaurant. It seems that the more women he can have, the more important, masterful, and the center of attention he feels he is. In spite of these things, Willy tells Biff that he feels lonely and empty.

In the restaurant, Biff pleads with Happy to help Willy, because he himself is not able to reach him. Obviously, Biff has a genuine concern for his father. In contrast, Happy easily dismisses Willy. He says to the woman he has picked up in the restaurant, "No, that's not my father. He's just a guy." It is a brutal rejection on the part of Happy.


Like Willy, Happy lives in a world of illusions and is unable to climb out of it. He spends his life believing that he will be promoted to store manager and become a big success. When Biff plans to tell Willy the truth about his stealing and losing jobs, Happy suggests that he tell Willy something that would make him happy instead. He is obviously content to live in a world of lies. At Willy’s funeral, Happy proves that he has not changed a bit. He says that Willy Loman "didn't die in vain. He had a good dream." Happy thinks that he is going to justify Willy's dreams in the next year by becoming manager of the store. In the final analysis, it is Happy who is lost in Willy's dreams and refuses to recognize reality. He is pictured as the weaker of the two brothers.

Charley

Charley is a long-time friend of Willy; in fact, Biff and Happy call him Uncle Charley. Charley is a successful businessman and father. He owns his own company, and his son, Bernard, is a successful lawyer. Where Willy lives in a world of dreams, Charley is a man of practicality. He does not care about personal attractiveness. He does not have time to tell jokes, and he thinks sports are a waste of time. He laughs at Willy’s fantasies and philosophies and tells him to get over Biff being a football star.

Charley does not care if people like him. He knows who he is and feels successful without the approval of others. He tells Willy that it is what you have that counts, not being well liked or attractive. He gives the example of J.P. Morgan, who looked liked a butcher, but was an unbelievable success. Although he disapproves of Willy’s ideas, Charley is very kind to him. When Willy repeatedly comes to him to borrow money, Charley always agrees to help his friend. Towards the end of the play, Willy admits that Charley is his only friend in the world.

Unfortunately for Willy, Charley is living proof that his own views are wrong; therefore, when Charley offers a job to Willy, he must refuse. To Willy, accepting the offer would be admitting that his entire life and all his philosophies are wrong. Therefore, Willy refuses to work for Charley even though he desperately needs a job to support himself and his family; instead, Willy unashamedly goes to him every week to ask for money to meet his bills.

The practical Charley sees Willy as a child; he asks several times during the play, "Willy, when are you going to grow up?" Surprisingly, at the end of the play Charley forgives Willy of his fantasies, for he says that a salesman has to dream. Instead, he says that Willy's flaw is that he did not know how to sell.

Ben Loman

Ben is Willy's dead brother, who exists in Willy’s illusions. He is a shadow figure in the play, who functions more as a symbol than he does as a character. Ben becomes the ideal for Willy, for he made a fortune at a young age. The story goes that he entered the "jungle" when he was seventeen; when he came out four years later, he was a rich man. This kind of success is beyond the reach of Willy, and he can only dream about it. Ironically, Ben usually appears to Willy when he is upset and depressed. When Willy cannot face the pressing problems of the present world, he talks to Ben, who cannot criticize him.

Ben as a character is only developed in Willy’s dreams. His success seems to have been built on brutal force and driving energy. He teaches Happy and Biff that they should not fight fair, especially not with a stranger. Ben seems to possess no time for personal relations, nor does he seem to indulge in human emotions. In fact, in Willy’s dreams, Ben is always in a hurry to leave.

It is amazing that Willy so easily accepts Ben’s success. Charley's success is a threat to Willy, because it is too close and visible for him. After all, the successful Charley lives right next door; but Ben's success is not a threat, since Ben is dead and has always been a distant figure throughout Willy’s life. Ben, therefore, functions mainly, not as a character, but as a symbol of success for Willy, the success of which he could only dream about.


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