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In the play Death of a Salesman what are the three examples of character foils and how...

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victoria3114 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM via web

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In the play Death of a Salesman what are the three examples of character foils and how do they each have importance on the play?

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angelanns | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 31, 2009 at 4:40 PM (Answer #1)

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Willy is a struggling salesman who can barely make ends meet.  Charley is a successful business man.  Willy thinks success means being well liked; success is being popular. Charley does not need people to like him, and he does not see that people’s adulation equates to success. Charley understands that people like others based on superficial material. 


Ben and Charley are successful businessmen. They are foils simply because the way in which they become successful.  Ben achieves success instantly; it takes Charley years to succeed.This foil shows how the American dream can be a disillusionment.  Willy sees Ben and thinks that success can fall into anyone’s lap.  In America, people can discover wealth, but this is not an everyday occurrence. Most American success is through hard work.  



Biff was an attractive, popular football star. Bernard was a nerd.  Biff never becomes the successful college athlete he was hoping to be.  Bernard, the one who is unpopular and “not well liked” (Miller 1576) becomes a lawyer.This foil shows how buying into an American dream without the ability to make wise choices produces more failure.  These two young men represent the next generation; they are extensions of their fathers.  However, if parents have the wrong values, they only bestow these ills to their children, causing more failures. Traditional hard work is always the best choice. 


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