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What is Willy selling in Death of a Salesman?

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ladyc60 | Salutatorian

Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:08 AM via web

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What is Willy selling in Death of a Salesman?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 25, 2013 at 10:20 AM (Answer #1)

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It is important to note that nowhere in the play does Miller ever mention what it is precisely that Willy Loman sells. In a sense, this is because Miller deliberately presents Willy as a kind of universal "everyman," in order to depict him as a type of worker that could stand for all workers who are downtrodden and hardpressed, whereas if he was linked with selling a particular item that would lessen the impact that his character had. The force of Willy's character lies in the way that he sacrifices his entire life for a dream that remains unsubstantial throughout the play, and only brings him mediocrity and failure. However, at various points, he refers to the allure of being a salesman, such as in the following speech when he explains to Howard in Act II how the example of Dave Singleman caused him to become a salesman:

And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?

What is important in this play therefore is not what Willy Loman sells, but the fact that he is a salesman. Salesmen by their very nature are at the mercy of the capitalist system that they believe in so strongly, and thus Willy acts as the perfect "everyman" figure to point towards the evils of living by a capitalist system where everything, even a man's life, has its economic value, and where success is equated with the money you can earn.

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