Death of a Salesman: Free Study Guide / Summary / Analysis|
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DEATH OF A SALESMAN BY ARTHUR MILLER
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 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 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
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. 09 May 2017