Death of a Salesman Theme of Respect and Reputation
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Reputation is one of Willy’s primary concerns. He thinks that all you need to succeed is to be attractive and well-liked. Ha!—if only it were so easy. He celebrates his son’s popularity in high school, asserting that it is vastly more important to be fawned over than to be honest or talented. This might be true if you're Kim Kardashian, but alas, the Loman family has nothing on the Kardashians. Much of the time, Willy considers himself a well-liked man. He aspires to be just like a salesman he knew whose death was mourned far and wide. Despite his fixation on reputation, Willy and his family members are neither well-known nor well-liked, and Willy’s funeral is sparsely attended. Harsh.
Questions About Respect and Reputation
- To what extent does being well liked matter in the business world of Death of a Salesman?
- Who, if anyone, is well-liked? Does any link seem to exist between being well-liked and behaving virtuously?
- Let’s talk about Dave Singleman, the well-known salesman, and his death. How is he mythologized? How does his death compare to Willy’s?
- How does Willy idealize his sons, and especially Biff? How does he idealize Ben?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Willy’s obsession with being well-liked hurts his reputation by detracting from his focus on working hard, living ethically, and behaving virtuously toward others.
Willy mythologizes important figures in his life in order to validate his dreams. If others can achieve his hopes, so can he.
Death of Salesman
- Length: 1016 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Willy’s Idea of Success is Misguided
Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is idealistic, stubborn and has a false sense of importance. He exhibits skewed perceptions of society that have a negative impact on him and his family. Willy believes that his philosophy of life is one that will guarantee himself and his family a life of wealth and success. Willy cannot achieve this success because his perceptions and methods to obtain it are wrong.
Willy thinks that a part of a person’s success is measured by how well liked and how many friends an individual has. This is illustrated when Willy says “It’s who you know and the smile on your face! ... and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!” (Miller 86). The context of this quote makes it seem that this is applicable to anyone who believes Willy’s philosophy that being well liked is in direct proportion to success. Willy believes that it is the Loman family that is guaranteed success because they are well liked and have great personalities. Willy believes that he will be more successful than his neighbor Charley because he has a better personality and is liked by others more then Charley. Willy says, “Bigger then Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not-liked. He’s liked, but he’s not—well liked” (30). Willy and his family know that Charley is a good businessman and earns a good living. The Lomans will never believe he is successful because he lacks the ability to be well liked, which is the trait that is imperative for Willy’s definition of success. Willy equates success with being well liked, and by saying that Charley is liked, but not well liked is the same as saying Charley is successful, but not very successful. It is this belief that by being well liked, Willy has an advantage over all others. Willy tells his sons, “…Be liked and you will never want…” (33). This quote exhibits his philosophy of how success and being well-liked are one in the same. That by being well liked, doors of opportunities leading to great success will open.
Willy feels that personality and presentation are the most important aspect of creating opportunity for yourself. Willy advocates that how one presents oneself is more important to success then doing one’s job well and presenting oneself poorly.
How to Cite this Page
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Image is the other part of Willy’s perception of success. This is shown when Willy is speaking to Biff and Happy about the importance of appearance in contrast to Bernard:
That’s just what I mean. Bernard can get the bets marks in school, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonis’s. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead… (33)
In Willy’s guide to success, it is imperative that one have a good personality because everyday he is essentially selling himself to those who know and work with him. By having a good personality the potential to be well liked, and thus be successful, is unlimited. Willy states, “…It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it-because personality always wins the day” (65). In this statement it is evident that Willy feels that all men can do the same job, but it is those individuals who can stand out in a crowd, with good looks and personality, that will always come out on top.
Willy believes that stealing and cheating are two methods that will help to obtain the goal of success. He seems to believe that he and his family are above the rules of modern society. He encourages his children to steal and cheat almost always, and never shows any remorse for his or their actions. Willy states, in pride, to his brother Ben, “You should seen the lumber they brought home last week. At least a dozen six-by-tens worth all kinds a money” (50). Willy not only encourages the stealing but interprets it in another way. He shows his sons how it can be an worthwhile skill when Willy talks to Biff about the football he has stolen from school, “Sure, he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he? To Biff: Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (30). It is here that Willy shows that stealing helps to ensure an easier road to success. Willy advocates cheating as well as stealing. When Biff fails the Regent tests and does not have the necessary amount of credits to graduate and is not able to go to college, Willy is outraged. But he does not blame his son for failing. He instead blames Bernard, “You mean to say that Bernard wouldn’t give you the answers?” (118). This exemplifies Willy as an advocator of cheating as a way to obtain success. Willy uses this to manipulate others and the rules in order to better accommodate the greater goal of success. Willy applies the same techniques in his work, attempting to ease his ability to see the buyers. The woman who is a secretary for one of the buyers and is having an affair with Willy tells him, “…From now on, whenever you come to the office, I’ll see that you go right through to the buyers. No waiting at my desk any more…” (116). It is in this situation that Willy cheats his wife and the rest of the sellers because he takes a shortcut to see the buyers.
Willy Loman maintains a misguided perception of success which is caused by his lack of realization and by the suppression of reality and the world around him. Death of a Salesman focuses on Willy’s goal. The play analyses Willy’s implementation of his ideal of success in society. Willy’s dream is to achieve wealth and to be well liked based on one’s looks rather than the conventional idea that hard work and intelligence will ensure a bright and successful future.