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Ben Loman is Willy's older brother who apparently had success where Willy failed. How much of what we know about Ben is from Willy's mind, so it's veracity is questionable.
According to Willy, Ben was an explorer and adventurer who found diamonds in Africa and timberland in Alaska. Ben never appears in the reality of the play, but is revealed through Willy's thoughts. Ben is everything Willy wanted to be, and everything he wants his sons to be.
It is also through Ben that the reader learns about Willy's father-a successful inventor with a likeable charm. It's no wonder that, with these two as role models, that WIlly is unable to cope with the realities of his shortcomings as well as those of his sons.
Whether Willy's memories are accurate or exaggerated (which is more likely,) the reader understands more about why he is driven to suicide. The fulfilled dreams of his father and older brother stand in stark contrast to Willy's failures. Although Willy claims to respect and admire them, deep inside he knows that he will never be like them. Ben symbolizes the mirage that American Dream turns out to be: too good to be true, and too far away to ever reach.
that he is the future
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