What are the conflicts in Death of a Salesman and "Sonny's Blues?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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eNotes editors are only permitted to answer one of your questions. Each question needs to be posted separately. This response addresses the conflicts in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin.

In Death of a Salesman, there are numerous conflicts. There is the conflict of Willy Loman the salesman, and his boss, as Willy tries to get an office job so that he doesn't have to travel any more (as he's in his sixties). His boss refuses, and ultimately, Willy loses his job.

Willy and his son Biff have a conflict because Willy thinks his son is able to do great things, not recognizing that Biff is not in a position to take on the world, as Willy believes he is: Willy sees his son as he was in senior year of high school, and things have changed significantly for the young man since then. Willy is too caught up in the past.

This leads into perhaps the most central conflict of the play: Willy is losing touch with reality. He has lingering memories of his brother telling him that opportunities are there for the taking in Africa, where diamonds abound. Willy often thinks he should have taken his brother's advice. Willy is also caught up in the past thinking that conditions thirty years after he started a career in business should be the same, and he struggles with the realization that they are not— Willy is a "dinosaur" by comparison to the new generation of salesmen in his office. More and more, Willy seems to get caught up in his memories, avoiding the realities of the present day.

In "Sonny's Blues," the main conflict takes place between Sonny and the narrator, who are brothers. While the narrator has served in the army and gotten his education to become a teacher, Sonny has not followed a traditional path. Sonny is a musician and his brother cannot see that his dreams are worthwhile in that two things occur: Sonny has no gainful employment, and Sonny becomes deeply involved with heroin abuse.

The narrator feels greatly responsible for his brother because he promised their mother before she died that he would watch out for Sonny, but he and his brother cannot communicate and lose touch for a while. The narrator is intolerant of Sonny, and Sonny feels disconnected from his family.

It is not until the narrator hears Sonny play the blues for the first time that he even begins to understand how gifted his brother is, and how very different they are from each other. It is at this point that the narrator seems to be able to better accept who Sonny is and who he is not, and accept him as he is, "warts and all."


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