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In Death of a Salesman, how does the fact that Willy keeps planting seeds when they've...

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qasenior | Salutatorian

Posted November 19, 2012 at 12:53 AM via iOS

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In Death of a Salesman, how does the fact that Willy keeps planting seeds when they've never grown before connect with Willy's plans for his funeral?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 19, 2012 at 5:36 PM (Answer #1)

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This scene of Death of a Salesman occurs after the infamous "restaurant scene" where Happy and Biff leave Willy alone in the restaurant, hallucinating and to his own devices, while the brothers leave with two unknown women, Letta and Miss Forsythe, who are just easy girls that Happy procured for himself and Biff.

This is a poignant moment for Willy who, suddenly, decides to buy seeds and goes straight to the hardware store from the restaurant to get them. The symbolic role of the seeds is that they represent two things: a) Willy's real side: the lover of nature, and the artist of the natural world which he denied himself to become and, b) the fact that Willy, at 63, has still not been able to harvest the dreams of success and riches that he had for himself and his children. Nothing has been planted, so nothing has been achieved. It is all a metaphor for Willy's last chance to "produce" something.

The changing scenery, and the urbanization of New York no longer permit the sunlight to hit Willy's home, so none of the seeds that he has ever planted have quite grown. This is also significant; Willy has succumbed to a rapidly-changing society the way that his intended plants have succumbed to industrialism. However, Willy continues to try because this is his tragic flaw: he invests time and wastes energy on things that will ultimately amount to nothing. Such is the story of his life.

It is toward the end of the play, and while he plants his seeds, that Willy has new hallucinations involving his deceased brother, Ben. Willy discusses his funeral with him, claiming that people from all over the area will come and pay their respects. He compares his future funeral to that of Dave Singleman, and he is sure that Biff will be quite proud of him when he sees how great his father actually is.

...that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben because he never realized- I am known!

The tragic side of these words is that, at 63 years of age, without a commission, and nothing to provide for his family, Willy continues to hang from the fantasy that he is known. Moreover, he continues to place a lot of weight in the erroneous notion that being popular is a marker of success. Willy still has not learned his lesson, and it is clear that he never will.

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