Throughout Act 2 of Death of a Salesman, explain the theme of individual vs. society & individual vs. self using quotes from the play.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In Act II of Death of a Salesman the theme of man verses society could be addressed through the fact that Willy feels like he being thrown away.  He tells Howard that a man is not like an orange that can peel and then the orange part is eaten and the rest is thrown away.  He had worked for the firm for 34 years and now he has no value to it.  In society the value of a man is often measured by his income and abilities that he can use to serve society.

"A man is not a piece of fruit!"(82)

In looking at the theme man verses self, Willy will not go to his sons for help.  He can not allow himself to admit to his family that he is washed up and can not make it anymore.  His self pride is evidence of his internal struggle.

"I can't throw myself on my sons."(84)

He continues to lie to himself just as he lies to the others around him.

"Sure, sure. I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, mustn't he?"

The inner part of his mind knows that there is nothing left for him, and he is torn between these two sets of thoughts.


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agradestudent | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

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Individual Vs. Society

Willy is constantly striving to find the gimmick or the key to winning over clients and becoming a true success. He worries incessantly about how he is perceived by others, and blames his lack of success on a variety of superficial personal traits, such as his weight, the fact that people “don’t take him seriously,” his clothing, and the fact that he tends to talk too much. While all of these concerns are shared by many people, for Willy they represent the reasons for his failure. In reality, Willy’s failure is a result of his inability to see himself and the world as they really are: Willy’s talents lie in areas other than sales, and the business world no longer rewards smooth-talking, charismatic salesmen, but instead looks for specially trained, knowledgeable men to promote its products. Willy fails because he cannot stop living in a reality that does not exist, and which dooms him to fail in the reality that does exist.

Individual Vs. Self

Willy’s perception of what he should be is continually at odds with what he is: A mediocre salesman with delusions of grandeur and an outdated perception of the world around him. He truly believes that he can achieve greatness, and cannot understand why he has not realized what he feels is his true destiny. He completely denies his actual talent for carpentry, believing that pursuing such a career would be beneath him somehow. Willy struggles with the image of his ideal self his entire life, until he can no longer deny the fact that he will never become this ideal self and he commits suicide.


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