How are Ben and Charley structured by Miller as dramatic symbols or social metaphors?
Essentially, how or what or why does the drama us them to tell us about the rhetoric of belief in America, the failure of the individual, or whether this is inevitable under an economic valuation of the individual?
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In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman Willy Loman, as a main character, is quite complex. In order to understand the complexity of Willy's behavior, and the foundation of his philosophy of life, one must look at his past and his present, and at the world around him, to appreciate with accuracy the extent to which this is true.
Ben Loman represents Willy's past. We know that Ben is much older than Willy, that he takes care of Willy during Willy's infancy after their father abandons the family, and that he ends up in Africa making millions of dollars. Ben is Willy's anchor and role model. Unfortunately, the only good that Ben does for Willy and his sons is to demonstrate to them that he is able to succeed. However, Ben is a foil of Willy. Ben has everything that Willy lacks. He certainly seems to be the initiator of the family, and the strongest in character. Willy is obviously just a follower. Hence, Ben represents the social risk-taker that jumps completely out of the comfort zone and risks it all...and wins. Willy is too scared to take risks, he simply imitates the life of another man..and fails.
Charley is the conservative, self-disciplined, and humble neighbor of Willy Loman. He is the complete opposite of Willy and Ben. Charley is a successful man who obtains his wealth and success by working hard. He is the American Dream. No risk-taking, no fears, just pure work and application. Charley ultimately becomes Willy's only supporter both financially and socially speaking. However, Willy laughs at Charley's conservative ways, not understanding that Charley uses prudence, and common sense to live his life rather than fantasy and ideals.
Therefore, Ben and Charley are structured to show Willy's past and present, respectively. They also represent social success. Ben gets it through taking risks. Charley gets his success from his measured and responsible hard working behavior. Willy, then, falls right in between the two men that represent something in his life and yet, he does not amount to much in comparison. This is how their relationships and interdependence becomes a social metaphor for the winner, the loser, and the hard worker in today's society.
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