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What are some examples of the use of irony in "Death of a Salesman"?

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sswww | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 13, 2008 at 4:14 AM via web

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What are some examples of the use of irony in "Death of a Salesman"?

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted April 14, 2008 at 1:43 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the ironies in the play involves the notion of the "American Dream."  Willie longs to live this dream; however, Willie is living an illusion.  The skills he learned in the 1920's as an up-and-coming salesman are now obsolete.  Now, the job market requires "specialized skills and knowledge, and because of this, Willie is doomed to failure" (Enotes).  The irony is that Willie keeps believing that he, in fact, CAN achieve this "American Dream," but the reader knows differently.  He cannot ever be the man he longs to be; therefore, he is a complete and utter failure. Another instance of irony is in Biff and Happy, Willie's sons.  They both, in their early years, appeared to be able to one day achieve success. Biff was a star athlete and Happy was more grounded than his father was about his career choices, etc. However, Biff never takes advantage of his opportunities and has the same grandiose visions of success without anything to "back" them up; he also doesn't possess the skills to have a rewarding job or career. Happy, on the other hand, seemed to be more grounded than his father and Biff; he seemed to possess more reason and logic when it came to his career and life; however, by the end of the play, he has also fallen victim to the grandiose visions of the "American Dream" and vows to become what his father dreamed of. There are more ironies, as well, that others may point out.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:26 PM (Answer #2)

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There is also irony in how the Lomans regard Bernard as a young man. He is mocked for trying to get Biff to study so he will graduate-

WILLY: Don't be a pest, Bernard! [To his boys] What an anaemic!

Willy goes on to qualify his criticism of Bernard by explaining that his lack of personal charisma will hold him back -

WILLY:...Bernard can get the best marks in school, y'understand, but when he gets out in to the real world, y'understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him...Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.

In Act 2 we see the grown up and successful Bernard visiting his father before he returns to his work. It is Charley's turn to boast, and yet he does so gently-

CHARLEY [An arm on Bernard's shoulder] : How do you like this kid? Gonna argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

We see the irony in Willy's inability to read or direct the future of his own sons, nor to predict the potential of his nephew.



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amandapisarski | eNoter

Posted October 4, 2011 at 5:06 AM (Answer #3)

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Just some pretty basic ones-

Willy's last name "Loman" pronounced Low-Man suggest his low place in society though he insists otherwise.

Linda's last line "we're free"- ironic because they are finally able to pay off all debt and be free of any burden only due to Willy's killing himself for the insurance money.

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keltong | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted October 27, 2011 at 3:43 PM (Answer #4)

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"We're free." is ironic because apart from being financially free, Linda is free from being dominated by Willy, too.

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